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Women in Construction (WIC) Week is an observance fittingly placed in the middle of Women’s History Month. This week is set aside to focus on supporting and empowering women within the construction industry, addressing the challenges and systemic barriers that have prevented them from entering and succeeding in the field. In doing so, over the years, WIC Week has facilitated much-needed dialogue of encouraging others to pursue careers in construction trades like plumbing, electrical and carpentry.
Getting women to consider a skilled trade job is key to boosting their representation — and, as a result, their success — in the industry. Only 10.9% of the total construction industry workforce are women, and they make up only 1.1% of the plumber, pipefitters and steamfitters occupation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a huge disparity, but the industry can start to move the needle through the continued support of women who do choose to follow this career path and by promoting its benefits, such as job security, flexibility and good pay. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states the average median wage for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters is just under $60K with an hourly wage of $28.79, and salaries can go as high as $100K.
Given that the skilled trades are predominantly made up of men, stereotypes are another challenge that will need to be addressed for more women to see jobs like plumbing as an attractive and fulfilling career path. Women like Kim Yeagley, the owner of Gold Canyon Plumbing, fight these stereotypes every day.
Through her successful business, Yeagley encourages others, especially women, to seek out a plumbing career via her social media channels. “I wanted to create a place like @PlumberWoman, where I could showcase that being a plumber is fun and rewarding — it’s not about being a frumpy, dingy stereotype,” she says. “You can be a plumber and also rock it as an amazing, talented woman.”
Yeagley also encourages women entering the plumbing field to not get discouraged as they get started. “There are so many different aspects of plumbing and construction,” she says. “If you don’t like residential, then pursue commercial or new construction. Just as any doctor takes the time to discover their specialty, you can spend the time to find the right fit for yourself.”
Plus, the reality is that the plumbing industry — and all other trades — need new talent, as they’ve seen a drastic influx of projects and the decline of available labor. According to the Associated Builders & Contractors’ recent report, “the construction industry will need to attract an estimated 546,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet the demand for labor.” In order to meet this demand, the trades need to look toward a more diverse workforce. The different skill sets available in talent can improve processes, enhance creativity and boost efficiency while inspiring new products and innovations.
Plus, a plumbing career offers women something in return. “Plumbing has empowered me in a lot of ways,” Yeagley says. “I learn so much every day, especially with all the new technologies becoming available. It has given me the self-confidence I have now to do anything I set my mind to.” She also sees the importance of promoting the opportunities available in the trades. “To do that, the industry needs to come together in spreading the word about a plumbing career and other trade opportunities.”
Organizations and initiatives, such as the Home Builders Institute and the National Association of Women in Construction, have been gaining momentum in recent years and are dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in the trades, as well as the plumbing industry. Companies, such as Reliance Worldwide Corporation (RWC), are also stepping up by promoting the stories of women in the plumbing trades, which can help inspire others to follow their lead.
Whether through Yeagley’s story or other female plumbers, we must continue to communicate the benefits of a career in the construction trades — not only during this significant week but beyond. To help ensure this workforce grows and flourishes, it’s a message that should be amplified constantly.
Chris Carrier is the Senior Director of Product Management, Americas at RWC, which includes SharkBite, HoldRite, Cash Acme, John Guest, EZ FLO and Eastman. With over 15 years of experience in building brands, marketing strategy and driving growth, Chris oversees the company’s marketing strategy and execution.