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Recruit and Retain Women in the Workforce

Workforce Development

By Sami L. Barry, Construction Executive

Gender diversity is an important topic in the U.S. workforce, especially in sectors known for being male dominated, such as architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C); facilities management; and real estate development.

While organizations in these industries realize the positive attributes that women can bring to the table and want to enhance their gender diversity at all levels, there is an extremely small talent pool from which to draw qualified candidates. Therefore, organizations need to have best practices in place to successfully recruit and retain this valuable talent resource.


There’s no denying the significant impacts women can make on organizations, and many studies prove that point. The Peterson Institute for International Economics recently conducted a survey of 21,980 publicly traded companies in 91 countries which found that having more female leaders in high levels of corporate management correlates with increased profitability.

From its analyses, the institution believes that having more females in high level corporate roles leads to increased skill diversity in top management, enhanced monitoring of performance and less gender discrimination throughout all levels of management.

Currently, women hold about 33 percent to 37 percent of management, senior management and director positions, and only 25 percent of C-suite roles across all industries in the United States, according to McKinsey and Company’s survey, Women in the Workplace 2016, conducted in conjunction with

These statistics are much different when looking at the fields of A/E/C, facilities management and real estate development. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent analysis reported that only 9.3 percent of the construction workforce are women. According to the International Facility Management Association, women represent 24 percent of facilities management professionals. While the numbers are more positive for real estate, women are still at 36 percent (including within real estate development).

Worthy to note is the fact that, while women make 82.1 percent of what men make across the board of U.S. industries, they make 93.4 percent in construction. However, the findings aren’t as positive for women in architecture, with females in this profession only earning 76 percent of what men earned for the same positions.


In 2015, the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) San Francisco’s Equity by Design (EQxD) committee released a report that outlined the challenges women face in working in the architecture sector, which are highly applicable to the related aforementioned industries. Among top challenges noted were concern about work/life balance and the long work hours that make it difficult to start/raise a family; lack of female role models; and generally lower pay compared to men for the same work.

To improve their recruitment and retention of women, organizations can develop and implement practices and procedures, including the following.

  • Create an inclusive workplace culture in which men and women are valued equally.
  • Brand their organization as an employer that values diversity. For example, provide an equal amount of photos of men and women workers throughout its website and on its social media platforms.
  • Remove the subconscious bias of internal recruiters.
  • De-bias job descriptions and employment ads. A study by Zip Recruiter found that by removing gender-biased words in position descriptions can increase applicants by 42 percent. Share information about company culture and leadership with ads.
  • Highlight diversity and a female-friendly culture when interviewing and have female employees involved in the recruitment process.
  • Tailor professional development opportunities that align with female employees’ preferences.
  • Develop benefits/perks that appeal to women (i.e. family-friendly flexible work policies, professional development and mentoring for women, and maternity and fertility benefits.)
  • Measure and report diversity turnover.

Additional Resources for Recruiting & Retaining Women


Anyone who understands business management knows that a front-end process, such as diversity recruiting, can have a long-term impact when follow-up procedures are monitored as well. Therefore, analyzing metrics, such as the ones below, can ensure that gender diversity recruitment initiatives are appropriately supported and successful.

  • Gender representation by level;
  • Attrition by gender;
  • Gender representation of external candidates for hire;
  • Gender representation of promotions;
  • Salary differences in comparable positions by gender;
  • Bonuses in comparable positions by gender; and
  • Assignment of high-visibility projects by gender.

While the pool of female talent in A/E/C, facilities management and real estate development is limited, it is valuable to recruit and retain high-performing women. In doing so, an organization will strengthen its team, diversify its perspective and brand itself as a forward-thinking, diversity-friendly entity—a vital attribute to continually progress and ensure success in a competitive business environment.

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