According to scholars at the University of Texas at San Antonio, single and very poor married women could be given unskilled tasks on job sites, including carrying water, digging ditches, thatching roofs, and mixing mortar. Middle-class women also sometimes worked with their fathers or husbands in trades such as masonry and carpentry. High-class women were sometimes given power over the design and management of construction projects, especially when they served as patrons of the project.
Even so, women were discouraged from working in construction and most of their labor was not recorded. It was considered socially unacceptable for women to work outside the home, especially in hard labor. Women’s acceptable occupations included sculpting, painting, and weaving tapestry, but construction was seen as nearly on par with prostitution.
Today, construction remains a non-traditional occupation for women, meaning that women make up 25% or less of the people employed in the field. However, social perceptions of women in construction have improved and opportunities have greatly increased. Since the 1960s, when women made up less than 1% of workers in construction, professional societies and unions have pushed to increase opportunities for women in construction, and specifically to address the issues that women might encounter on the job site. As of 2008, women’s presence in the workforce has grown to 3.3% of construction laborers and 8.2% of construction managers.
As a result, there is still work to be done to make construction a more gender-equitable field, but women today can be seen fulfilling high-paid skilled labor and managerial positions in the construction industry. One prominent example is Kris Young, who in 2011 became the first woman president of the Association of General Contractors!
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