In Their Own Words: Women in the Blue-Collar Construction Trades

Organization(s): Cornell University

Summary Statement: Report of a Cornell Study on women in construction, including statistics on demographics, job retainment, and factors leading to success.

Cornell University's Institute for Women and Work is preparing to release a study in early Fall 2001 entitled, "In Their Own Words: Women in Blue-Collar Construction Trades" The study is the first in a series of Working Papers on Women in Nontraditional Employment and focuses on women's progress in blue-collar construction craft trades. The study reports on a database of approximately 2000 women in New York City who have entered pre-apprenticeship training programs in the skilled trades through the grass-roots organization, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW). The report is significant in that it is the first time in which a consistent database of women seeking and entering the blue-collar trades has been collected. The report documents their involvement and achievements in various trades, such as carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, stone masons, and the significant factors that led to retention or attrition in the trades. The study clearly illustrates the emerging trends over a twenty-three year period since Presidential Executive Order #11246 required contractors to count women separately from minority men in meeting a "good faith" effort in integrating construction sites. The data for the report is analyzed by new methods in regression analysis and answers key questions regarding women's progress, such as: has the population of women changed over time regarding race and age, educational differences, and income? What were clearly the most significant factors in women entering and being successfully retained in this blue-collar work? What was the role of grass-roots organizations such as NEW in helping women to bridge the "nontraditional work" divide? And what implications does their experience have for the broader population of women seeking to enter highly remunerated male dominated occupations? The report will also profile over 100 women's personal stories in the trades (who for the most part will remain anonymous) to determine what factors were relevant to their success.

Preliminary results of our database indicate the following emerging trends for women in blue-collar construction trades:

The racial composition of these women was African American 67.6%, Hispanic 20.2%, White 10.0%, Native American 0.8%, and Other 1.3%. One respondent was of unknown ethnic origin.

Age played an important role in the study on women in non-traditional jobs. The majority of the women were under the age of 30 (54.8%), while 33.4% were between the ages of 30 and 40. Only 7.7% of the women reported being between the ages of 40 and 50, and just 1.3% was over 50 years old.

Regarding children living in the same household as the women, the majority of women, 44.4%, gave no answer to this question. However, 36.8% reported having 1-2 dependents, 10.8% had 3-4 dependents, and only 1.7% of the women had over 5 dependents. 6.3% reported having no dependents.

When investigating the success of women in the construction trades, a number of areas were examined including rates and conditions of job placement, job retainment, salary, and area of the trades entered. The following are some of the results found:

Concerning job placement, women that were on public assistance were less likely to be placed in a job than a woman who was on unemployment benefits (an indication that they were moving between jobs). (we should include the chart for sources of income)

Age, SSI benefit status, and previous exposure to non-traditional work all increased the probability of job placement for women. Whereas racial characteristics, education, criminal record, and mental health problems had no effect.

In terms of job retainment, similar factors such as sources of income prior to entering and graduating from a pre-apprenticeship program were found to be influential in the women's success rates.

Women on Public Assistance have a 14.4% lower probability of retaining their jobs 30 days as compared with women who were not (39.3% versus 53.6%)

Women receiving Unemployment Benefits have a 14.5% lower probability of retaining their jobs 30 days compared to women who do not receive unemployment (39.2% versus 53.7%)

Working after 1993 increases the probability that a woman will remain in her job for 30 days by only 3.7%, it increases that probability that she will remain in her job for 90 days or more by 34.6%.

Women who trained after 1993 had a 3.7% higher probability of retaining their jobs 30 days or more (57.4% versus 53.7%)

Women who entered job placement after 1993 had a 30.5% higher probability of remaining in their jobs 90 days or more (30.5% versus 4%).

The Institute for Women and Work conducted this research with the assistance of Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), a successful grass-roots organization in New York City that assists women who wish to enter nontraditional work and with funding provided to Cornell University's Institute for Women and Work by the Stephen P. Vladeck Memorial Fund. The Institute gratefully acknowledges both NEW and the Fund without which this research would not have been possible. With entrée provided by this pioneering organization for women workers, the Institute for Women and Work has collected a unique database of demographic, work history, household information, education, entrance and retention rates of women in the craft construction trades. In addition, since 1998, the Institute has been interviewing women construction craftworkers and compiling a profile of their challenges, successes and advice for women wishing to enter nontraditional employment.

For important findings and more, click here to read the Literature Review.

1 Cornell University's Institute for Women and Work is a program of Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, which provides intellectual, research, and educational resources for working women in New York State and on the National Level. The Institute is now adding another project entitled, "Working Paper Series: Tracking the Progress of Women in Nontraditional Employment" --- this project and its resulting publications will develop an analysis of women's progress since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Title VII which amended that act in blue-collar and professional employment in the new economy.


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