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Report: Pay differences persist between men, women in construction

A newly released report is once again calling attention to the wide pay disparities found between men and women in construction, architecture and other fields in the Milwaukee area – evidence that many women say shows more work is still needed to diversify these industries.

A Wisconsin Policy Forum report released on Thursday finds women made up just 3% of the workers in Milwaukee County’s construction industry in 2018 and earned just 65% of what men do on average. That made for one of the biggest disparities among the 23 industries the non-partisan research group analyzed. In each category, women earned less than men did, but the differences varied greatly from one industry to the next.

Women were paid much closer to what men make when they worked in architecture and engineering than other fields. In those two professions, they made 93% on average of what their male counterparts did.

Even so, men made up a full 80% of the workforce in architecture and engineering in 2018. Throughout the county, women were more likely to be in lower wage fields such as health care support and less likely to be in high-paying professions like architecture, according to the report.

Dawn Filtz, president of Milwaukee’s chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, said old-fashioned attitudes can still be a barrier on many job sites. Many women continue to complain of “taking a lot of harassment.”

Filtz, who is an administrative manager for Menomonee Falls-based Duwe Metal Products, said parents and students are still deterred from trying construction by longstanding misperceptions about who can work in the industry.

“When I asked several high school girls to describe construction some of the things they said were: dirty, hard, physically difficult, long hours and unattractive,” Filtz said. “All of which is true, but it is also very rewarding.”

Filtz said the construction industry will never be able to overcome its labor shortage without broadening its view of who can work on job sites. Oftentimes, the starkest differences are between blue and white collar workers. For tradespeople, union rules tend to prevent pay discrimination by sex. But women can still find it hard to break into well-paid administrative roles, she said.

“I think we need to do more outreach in our communities and educate about the industry,” Filtz said. “Efforts are being made by many companies to require interns to do volunteer work in the communities where they are working. We also need to get more construction education in the schools.”

Mo Zell, who chairs the Department of Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said she has found in her 12 years at the university that students in UWM’s architecture school tend overwhelmingly to be male – a vexing situation she’s been trying to combat by working closely with high school students. For similar reasons, she and her colleagues have been trying to recruit more female faculty members.

“That’s important, I think for students to see – for both men and women to see,” Zell said.

Ursula Trombley, who retired after 20 years of running Continuum Architects + Planners, said she often sees women-owned business being shut out by bankers, builders and clients.

“You’re always five or 10 steps behind,” she said.

In recent years, Trombley said she’s called on prominent architecture firms in the city to eliminate the differences in pay for women and men. Although she has seen some progress, there’s still a long way to go.

“When I started in architecture 40 years ago, women architects represented about 14 % of the profession. Now we’re at 18%,” Trombley said. “I figured out how long it’s going to take to get to 50%, and I can tell you I won’t be alive by then.”

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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