With National Women In Construction Week before us, NEW is taking a moment to reflect on the recent past and looking to the near future. While few of us imagined that we would still be in the midst of a worldwide pandemic two years after it began, there are promising signs that the worst may be behind us. NEW extends its thanks to the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation for allowing us to share our thoughts, for their steadfast support of our organization, and for advancing the cause of tradeswomen and lifting up women and their families.
The construction industry in New York was severely affected by the pandemic. In 2020, New York State had the highest construction job losses of any state and accounted for nearly 20 percent of the industry’s job losses nationwide. As we look past the COVID crisis and towards recovery, NEW is eager to work with partners, employers, and policymakers to meet the challenges ahead.
Numerous articles have highlighted the greatest challenge for the construction industry is the looming demand for workers. With a backlog of projects, federal legislation to fund infrastructure, and local capital spending by the MTA, Port Authority, among others, the demand for workers locally is growing. Additionally, the industry is aging, as fewer young adults are choosing to enter the field. Many see a stigma attached to physically demanding work done outdoors, in contrast to the comforts of office work.
NEW is dedicated to changing the way society views the role of women in the workforce, and for the past 44 years, has embraced challenges as opportunities. NEW’s programming transforms the lives of women across New York City by providing pathways to careers in the building and construction trades. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that unionized women make on average 23% more than women without a union. Being represented by a union reduces women’s wage gap by nearly 40 percent, compared to the pay gap experienced by non-union women. Women in unions are also far more likely to have paid leave and stronger protections against discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.
NEW’s students and graduates bring their whole selves to their work and have great potential; with a little support and guidance, they find their confidence, ability, and agency. As they head off on their individual career paths, they are looking for workplaces where they can thrive, where diversity is valued, and where employers invest in their continuous learning and training. Among its partners, NEW knows that many in the construction industry recognize they need to do more to welcome and retain women, young adults, and people of color.
In the current environment of stress and trauma, all workers need different kinds of support to thrive. Much attention has focused on the ‘Great Resignation,’ in which workers are leaving employers that do not provide safe working environments and resources for work-life balance, among other needs. NEW anticipates working with employer and community partners to advocate for and expand on supportive services that enhance retention and advancement.
NEW recognizes the ongoing challenge to prioritize the needs of women amid the widespread economic disruption. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the lack of childcare infrastructure. Prior to the pandemic, childcare challenges were already a significant barrier to work and workforce development, especially as women disproportionately take on unpaid caregiving responsibilities. The two years of the pandemic has laid bare the burden placed on women, as they are leaving the workforce in unprecedented numbers. This issue is front and center for NEW, as many students and graduates care for young children, work nontraditional hours, and worry about finding and paying for quality care. NEW is thinking creatively and, while advocating for public policies that will provide solutions for families across society, looking to make impact with our students and graduates. NEW continues to build upon its decades of advocacy experience and strong relationships to influence opportunities for women to enter once-exclusionary trades unions, thrive in their careers, and uplift their communities.