We’ve entered some tough economic times. The pandemic did quite the number on the U.S. economy, and the recent labor crisis has left many wondering what we can do to stay afloat. At least part of the answer may lie with the gender labor gap in trade industries. Historically, women have been significantly underrepresented in the skilled trades. But statistics showthat when there are higher rates of women in the trades, the economy does better.
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Trade jobs were one of the only industries to experience steady growth during the pandemic, presumably because those services were still essential. But the trades workforce—decreasing largely because of retiring Baby Boomers—couldn’t keep up with growing demand. Today, that gap only grows wider.
Other than medical, culinary, and cosmetology trades, women make up far less than half of other skilled trade jobs, like plumbers, construction workers, electricians, mechanics, or even office jobs like paralegals.
Interestingly, in over half of American homes, women are the primary supporters of the household. And while the average female with a bachelor’s degree makes about $40,000 per year, women experienced in a trade can make upward of six figures annually. So what’s holding women back?
Barriers to Trade Entry for Women
There’s no doubt that there is a demand for skilled trade workers and thus room for women in trade industries. And even though all the signs point to the benefits of integrating more women into this workforce, there are still many barriers to entry.
The Western Resources Center for Women in Apprenticeship outlined several entry barriers for women in the trade industries. We’re going to cover a few highly relevant ones.
- Women are generally perceived as less competitive applicants for trade jobs because they have less relevant previous experience.
- There are stereotypes in society that trade work requires extreme physical strength and that it is low-quality, low-paying work. These prevailing ideas often prevent women from seeking careers in trade industries.
- Career and school guidance counselors and family members don’t tell women about trade career potential. These industries don’t gear their marketing women, as advertisements typically feature men.
- Females applying to trade jobs and apprenticeships tend to downplay their accomplishments and past work experiences compared to male applicants. This can inadvertently give interviewers the impression that the female applicants are less qualified.
On top of all that, women in almost any industry, not just the trades, must perform exceptional work to “prove themselves.” An issue of Gender and Society stated that “a lot of experimental research has shown that people rate the same performance as better when told it was done by a man.” It can be daunting for women trying to enter a skilled trade because they must perform extremely well for others to perceive them as comparable to male workers.
This all paints a depressing picture for women looking to enter trade jobs. But the future may be looking up.
The Future of Women in Trade Industries
To evaluate the future, it’s often helpful to first look at the history of women in trade industries. Women cemented their place in the U.S.’s skilled labor force during WWI when their work was desperately needed in factories to sustain the war effort. Women helped design, test, and distribute products. Demand for women in the workforce skyrocketed again during WWII for similar reasons.
Today, there are many benefits to entering trade industries, and these don’t just apply to women:
- As noted previously, demand for trade workers is very high.
- The average price tag on a four-year college degree can be upward of $100,000. But a trade school can take less than a year to complete, with an average cost of $35,000.
- Workers with the right opportunities for advancement could earn upward of six-figure salaries in some trade industries.
- Trade careers offer great job security. Despite a global crisis like the Covid-19 Pandemic, the services and products provided by trade industry workers are essential for the continued functioning of a society and economy.
Our society as a whole needs to accomplish some specific objectives to open doors for women in trade industries and help solve the labor crisis.
- Educate men and women equally in interview skills. While it’s best if interview applicants are true to themselves in the interview process, encouraging everyone to be confident in their abilities and experiences and project this during an interview will help level the playing field for women.
- Encourage school and career counselors to present trade jobs as potential careers to female students. As a part of post-high school preparation, counselors should present trade jobs/schools as equally viable options to college programs.
- Integrate career mentoring into trade schools and apprenticeships. Helping women specifically thrive in industries where they have lower representation is critical to those industries becoming more diverse. Mentoring programs would help encourage women in trade work and help them understand that there are women who have gone before them and understand their experiences.
Women interested in trade careers can take online assessments to help determine if trade work is right for them. Many trade businesses offer a multitude of apprenticeships and assistant positions in trade careers to help women get started.