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The 24th annual Women in Construction Week kicks off in Portland on March 6, celebrating advancing women in the trades.

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON TRADESWOMEN - Oregon Tradeswomen's programs include Pathways to Success, which includes the Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class, and RISE Up (Respect, Inclusion, Safety and Equity in the Construction Trades). As the 24th annual Women in Construction Week kicks off March 6, Portland is celebrating continuing advances for women working in the trades and filling leadership positions at contracting companies while looking ahead to further industry improvements.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up 11% of those working in the construction industry — out on jobsites and in company offices — during 2021. The number of female construction managers has seen a steady increase, with salaries averaging $97,000 a year, the BLS states.

The national Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) notes that recent passage of the federal infrastructure bill will create new opportunities for women to access good jobs in the industry. However, this positive forecast is shadowed by some ongoing negative realities.

A recent survey of more than 2,600 tradeswomen by IWPR shows that while many women reported earning high wages and experiencing good working conditions, close to half of all respondents said they are regularly held to different standards than men. Women of color reported harassment and discrimination because of their gender and race.

IWPR highlighted Oregon for leading the way in anti-harassment and anti-discrimination programs developed to take a stand against workplace hate. These include Safe from Hate, which unites public owners, trade associations, unions, contractors, subcontractors, apprenticeship programs and community-based organizations in the construction sector to advance diversity, equity and inclusion by improving jobsite culture.

Initiated by Oregon Tradeswomen, Safe from Hate involves a jobsite culture pledge that participants sign as a commitment to recruiting and supporting diverse talent, instituting jobsite culture trainings, improving leadership development for women and people of color, and enforcing clear anti-harassment policies.

Oregon Tradeswomen also is part of the RISE Up (Respect, Inclusion, Safety and Equity in the Construction Trades) program in partnership with Professional Business Development Group and RISE Up Oregon. RISE Up provides industry best practice workplace consulting and training to help contractors and subcontractors foster an environment of productivity, safety and equity in construction management and on work sites.

Oregon Tradeswomen's Pathways to Success program includes the Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class, a 192-hour apprenticeship and employment readiness training program to prepare women for careers in construction. The class introduces participants to several skilled trades through field trips, guest speakers, hands-on workdays and trades-specific training. Participants also learn about registered apprenticeship, an "earn while you learn" model.

An annual Career Fair hosted by Oregon Tradeswomen, suspended during the pandemic but returning next year, provides a forum for tradeswomen, introducing young people to construction careers. It also offers a networking opportunity for women just starting their careers and those who are in leadership positions.COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON TRADESWOMEN - Oregon Tradeswomens Career Fair includes workshops led by tradeswomen to introduce girls and women to careers in construction. The pandemic forced the event to be cancelled the last couple of years, but it is back on the schedule for 2023.

An example of the increase in women filling leadership positions within construction companies is Pence Construction, which recently announced that two women have joined its new ownership team. It's a first for the 73-year-old contracting firm.

Shannon Parker, Pence's director of employee and client experience, grew up as the daughter of a builder and spent time with him as he drew plans and built homes during the 1980s. In high school, she went through a Career Technical Education program for drafting with plans to become an architect.

Parker said her love for communication won out and she began working in political consulting and marketing, keeping her ties to the construction industry by working with NECA-IBEW and the Oregon Building Trades Council before joining Pence in 2015.

Pence is focused on growing its female leadership internally through management training, employee resource groups, its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, and an upcoming mentorship program. The company also is recruiting more regionally, she said.COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON TRADESWOMEN - Elisabeth Kenaston, director of finance and Shannon Parker, director of employee and client experience at Pence Construction

"Our local construction engineering management programs are heavily skewed male and we're looking at how branching out to other states and schools can increase our chances of recruiting women," Parker said. She added that the company also has increased the number of minority- and women-owned (MWESB) subcontractors it works with by 150 percent since 2018.

Elisabeth Kenaston, Pence's director of finance, also recently joined the ownership team and said she has worked with many women in support roles throughout her career in construction, but rarely in the field or leadership.

"It's thrilling to see that landscape change as more women are in the field working in the trades, and more female graduates are coming out of school as project engineers passionate about careers in construction," she said. "Shannon and I becoming owners will hopefully also contribute to an evolution towards a growing group of women construction executives and owners."

Leadership roles for women and other topics will be up for discussion as Portland marks Women in Construction Week. Events organized by the National Association of Women in Construction's (NAWIC) Portland chapter begin Monday with a virtual "job walk" through the Hattie Redmond Apartments to view the framing stages with Bremik Construction.COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON TRADESWOMEN - Makeda Hubert is among many women who have taken part in Oregon Tradeswomen's training, career education and leadership development programs.

March 8, Lease Crutcher Lewis will lead an in-person jobsite tour of the Oregon Zoo's polar, primate and rhino habitats followed by a happy hour at Conservation Hall. NAWIC also will host an online networking event and auction on March 10. For more information about both no-cost tours and the online event, visit their website.

The national organization founded WIC Week in 1998 to continue its mission of strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the industry. This year's theme is "Envision Equity."

"WIC Week gives chapters nationwide the opportunity to shine a bright light on the construction industry and women's very important place in it," said Crissy Ingram, executive director of the national NAWIC chapter. "There has been a long culture of construction being only for men. If we can get the women who have worked past that barrier out of the shadows and into the spotlight, they can show other women, no matter the age or background, that there are countless opportunities for them in the industry."

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