Why International Women’s Day Matters in Construction


Today, March 8th, marks the 110th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  This day was established across the globe during a tumultuous time in which women fought for improved working conditions, equal pay and voting rights, and included large marches on the streets of cities all over the world. The day was recognized by the United Nations starting in 1975 and is celebrated each year on March 8th.  While the issues of women across the globe may have changed over time, there remain differences in pay and rights between women and men across all nations. 

It’s hard to imagine now, but in the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s, the idea of women having equal voting rights was considered radical. It took years of marching and protests until the 19th amendment was ratified and white women were allowed to vote starting in 1920. Colored women were still barred from voting until, in 1965, all races were allowed to vote.

The history of International Women’s Day is important to remember, as the times of direct discrimination against women are historically speaking, quite recent.  While our laws have modernized, there is still work to do to ensure equal pay, equal access and a world where discrimination is no longer tolerated.

In an effort to support and celebrate this day, we want to take a look at the local organizations that are working to reduce the gender gap in fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as well as the construction trades.  We know that a diverse workforce brings greater intelligence, collaboration and innovation to the table, and that if we want to improve on our ability to deliver projects, we must expand the talent pool and find ways to bring more women to the table.

Join us as we celebrate these organizations and their contributions to empowering and educating young women.

Girls Build: Girls. Power. Tools.

A local favorite, Girls Build teaches 8 – 14 year old girls the basics of the trades skills, including carpentry, electrical, plumbing, roofing, painting, auto and bike mechanics, sheet metal, and more.  Through their summer camps, girls learn how to use the tools for these critical trades, network with other girls, and see female role-models in the trades that are experts at their crafts. Many of their camp positions are filled with foster kids that are able to attend thanks to scholarships managed by Girls Build. 

Founder Katie Hughes, a trained carpenter, has inspired hundreds and thousands of girls over the years with her camps.  She recently wrote a book with inspiring stories of girls across the nation that are using their skills in the trades.

Here at Perlo, we self-perform multiple items on our jobsites and employ hundreds of craftsman – primarily carpenters – to complete our work. There has been talk in the industry of a looming labor shortage for many years, and we are now entrenched in that reality. The success of the Girls Build mission will directly impact our ability to recruit and retain craftspeople, and we want to see women empowered to join and stay in this rewarding career.       

If you would like to donate to the efforts of Girls Build, you can find their donation link here. If you cannot donate financially, we encourage you to reach out to see how you might be able to volunteer your time and talents.     

Girls, Inc: Empowering all girls to be strong, smart and bold.

Girls, Inc. is a national organization with a local presence in the Portland market.  As their website states, ‘we focus on the development of the whole girl. She learns to value herself, take risks, and discover and develop her inherent strengths. The combination of long-lasting mentoring relationships, a pro-girl environment, and evidence-based programming equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up healthy, educated, and independent. Informed by girls and their families, we also advocate for legislation and policies to increase opportunities and rights for all girls.’

Girls, Inc of the Pacific Northwest chapter follows this mission and helps to equip girls with the skills they need to grow up safely, and become a valued member of the workforce. Much of their educational programming focuses on introducing girls to the STEM fields.  While only 31% of STEM degrees are awarded to women, more than 72% of the girls enrolled in Girls, Inc. programs want to learn more about these fields.

Perlo applauds this mission, as we want to see more young women interested in math, science and engineering.  They are part of our future. 

If you would like to donate to Girls Inc. of the Pacific Northwest, you can find their donation link here. You can donate to the national organization here.  Of course, if funding is not an option for you, we encourage you to reach out to see if there are other ways for you to donate time or referral sources. 

Oregon Tradeswomen

Founded in 1989, Oregon Tradeswomen is designed to support women in the trades with education, leadership training and mentor programs.  In addition, they also help organizations to be more inclusive of women in their trade occupations. 

Partnering with Girls Build, the Oregon Tradeswomen organization helps introduce youth to the construction trades.  They host pre-apprenticeship classes, skills and advocacy training, and recruitment through their annual career fair. 

Oregon Tradeswomen relies on support from members, corporate sponsorships and individual donations.  They also host a blog and send out a regular newsletter.  If you would like to get involved through sponsorships, donations, volunteer time or to keep up to date with their news, you can visit their site here

National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)

NAWIC is an association for professional women in the trades, as well as project management, marketing, administration and executive leadership.  Founded in 1953 in Fort Worth, Texas, the group aimed to provide support for the few women in the industry.

Today, 115 chapters exist across the country, including Portland. They have recently become affiliated with chapters in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and South Africa.  Through networking events, educational opportunities, and mentorship programs, the organization provides a safe space for women in the industry to learn and succeed. 

NAWIC relies on sponsorships and membership fees to provide their programing. Visit their website for more information.     

Crew Network

Commercial Real Estate for Women (CREW) is a global network of professionals dedicated to the advanced of women in real estate.  With a local Portland Chapter, the organization provides networking, education, research and scholarships related to women in all facets of the real estate process, including construction, accounting, legal, banking, brokerage and many more. 

At both the local chapter and national Crew Network levels, CREW provides extensive support to women and significant contributions to highlighting and advocating for gender parity in these fields.  In addition, they provide leadership training and volunteer opportunities that enhance the career paths of their members. Across the network, members connect to refer business to colleagues in other geographical locations, striking real estate deals via a ‘warm’ call made possible by the group’s strong commitment to networking and professionalism. 

Perlo’s own Elissa Looney (shown in the photo on the right) was the CREW Portland Chapter President in 2016 and continues to be actively involved. She attributes much of her leadership training and growth to the experiences and mentorship received through her involvement in CREW. 

CREW Network relies on donations for their research and scholarship programs.  If you would like to contribute, you can donate here.

Final Thoughts

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, join us in contributing to the organizations in our communities that are working to enhance the careers of women in the industry, and recruit our youth into fulfilling and rewarding career paths.

To the groups working towards these efforts, a hearty thank you from Perlo Construction for everything you do.