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Building Bridges: Advancing Gender Diversity in the Trades

By Liz Kilkenny & Renee John

The trades in the Greater Sacramento region, like many other areas, has long grappled with a significant gender disparity, with men predominantly occupying the majority of roles. However, evolving workforce demographics and the increasing demand for talent have spotlighted the untapped potential and valuable contributions women can bring to these occupations. Fostering a diverse talent pool becomes imperative to ensure industry demands for talent are met. This article explores the challenges facing women, potential solutions, and calls the region to greater action to address this inequity.

Women continue to be significantly underrepresented in the trades, posing a substantial obstacle to achieving gender diversity and hindering progress. Statistics reveal that only 3.5% of individuals enrolled in apprenticeships, a crucial entry point for the industry, identify as women. Nationally, the representation of women in the trades remains low. Gender diversity brings numerous benefits to the trades, enhancing innovation, problem-solving capabilities, improving productivity and teamwork, and reflecting the needs and preferences of diverse stakeholders. Research conducted by The Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY suggests that organizations with diverse female leaders experience a significant increase in their net margin. This research underscores the economic advantages of cultivating a more inclusive workforce.

Women in the trades face various challenges and biases, with the lack of affordable and accessible childcare consistently cited as a significant barrier. As primary caregivers, addressing the need for childcare is crucial to ensure women’s accessibility to trades occupations. Recent developments, such as California’s allocation of $25 million in Equal Representation in Construction Apprenticeship Grants (ERiCA), demonstrate a commitment to creating career opportunities for women, non-binary individuals, and underserved populations in the building and construction sectors. Funds granted can be used for supportive services for childcare, and outreach for state registered construction pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs.

Additionally, individuals identifying as women and girls need increased exposure to trades occupations to envision themselves in these roles. Events such as a Women in Skilled Trades Day sponsored by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) play a crucial role in fostering interest and creating connections toward these careers. This event provided on-site childcare to increase participation by women wanting to attend. The event also offered an opportunity to network and learn from experienced professionals. Social factors, including gender role expectations, contribute to many women being less prepared than their male counterparts for positions in the trades resulting in reduced exposure to math and technical skills, familiarity with tools and equipment, and knowledge about the breadth and pathways for these careers.

Fostering gender inclusion in the trades is essential to meet the talent needs of the Greater Sacramento region. Increasing exposure to these lucrative careers by creating career exposure events tailored to the unique needs of women can expand access to more talent and build stronger and more equitable talent pipelines. Efforts to foster a more diverse talent pipeline require challenging stereotypes, confronting biases, improving access to apprenticeships and career pathways, and providing necessary support, such as child care assistance. These efforts will contribute to a more diverse and vibrant workforce in the region, leading to stronger long-term growth, innovation, and economic success for our future.