Breaking Into the Boy’s Club

Whether it’s a result of not seeking out women workers or not being able to attract them, or a combination of factors, some fields remain heavily male-dominated.

Many of these same industries—construction, automotive and trucking, to name just three—are facing a worker shortage fueled in no small part by scores of retiring baby boomers.

It seems that at least some of these traditionally male-centric sectors are focusing more closely on female talent in an effort to fill the vacuum.

Earlier this month, for example, the Iron Workers Union and the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust began offering a new paid maternity leave benefit to members.

According to a statement from the organization, it is “the first to introduce a generous paid maternity leave benefit in the building trades,” where adequate paid maternity leave is “virtually unheard of.”

The new policy includes six months of pre-delivery maximum benefit and six to eight weeks of post-delivery benefit, according to the union. In addition, members are eligible for up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth of the child and two additional weeks for Cesarean deliveries, regardless of what was covered pre-delivery.

The Washington Post recently detailed the new Iron Workers Union policy, noting that all baby boomers will be over the age of 65 by the year 2029, which means one-fifth of the U.S. population will have reached retirement age.

Iron Workers President Eric Dean feels that offering benefits such as paid maternity leave finds the organization well-positioned for the ongoing boomer exodus.

“The whole world is suffering the baby boomer retirement tsunami,” Dean told the Post. “All the construction trades are in competition for capable people. Wouldn’t it be a distinct advantage for us to be the first?”

These trades have other issues to contend with, of course.

The same article points out that “millennials, the workers who would replace [boomers], aren’t as interested in pursuing careers in the trades.” Enrollment in vocational education has dropped over the last three decades as well, according to the Post, adding that the current opioid epidemic “has zapped some of the male workforce, because men are more likely than women to both use and overdose on illicit drugs.”

Other fields with predominantly male workforces—such as the trucking and automotive technician sectors—see such factors draining their applicant pools as well.

“There’s a shortage of high-end, heavily trained individuals who can do diagnostic work,” Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association, told the Post. “We’re graduating about 30,000 new technicians a year, mostly men, but that’s not enough to keep up with attrition.”

In response, automakers have been funneling more corporate sponsorships to groups that work to recruit female trainees, such as the Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation and the Car Care Council Women’s Board, according to the paper. Meanwhile, some trucking companies have begun to hire “female driver liaisons” in addition to creating support groups geared toward female truckers, the Post reports.

Naturally, there’s no promise that these efforts will pay off in the form of more female workers in male-dominated industries. And there’s still the long-standing, problematic perception that women “aren’t cut out” for some work; a stigma that can be extremely difficult to shake for those who do pursue careers in certain fields. But there seems to be an acknowledgement in some corners that change is needed if these industries wish to survive, as Dean told the Post.

“We have to innovate,” he said, “if we want different results.”