I have never thought of myself as an anomaly, but here we are in 2021 and I can count on one hand the number of black women that I personally know in the construction industry. I am the president and co-owner of Smith Flooring Inc., a commercial flooring company headquartered in Pennsylvania. My mission as a woman business owner is to support MBE (minority business entity)/WBE (women business entity)/DBE (disadvantaged business entity) businesses and, more specifically, to support women in construction.
In 2006, my husband and co-owner started our business in the basement of our home. Today, with help of our entire team, we own and operate a thriving business with the assistance of our network of business development agencies, lenders and customers who respect and trust us. We hold certifications such as MBE and WBE.
There have been many challenges due to the lack of diversity in the construction industry, and those challenges have negatively impacted the lives of primarily minority groups and women. Although the lack of diversity in construction has been an issue for many generations, there is a more pressing need to include historically discriminated groups as we move into the future.
With baby boomers retiring and with fewer young people wanting to join the industry, contractors are struggling for manpower and skilled craftsmen. Of the 160 million people employed in the United States, more than 31%, or 50 million, are employed in the construction industry. The National Association of Minority Contractors reported that the Latinx community makes up 30%, or 15 million, of construction workers, and African Americans represent only 17%, or 8.5 million, of those workers nationally. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) reported that women made up just 9.9% of the construction industry in the U.S. in 2018. It also reported that, overall, women in the U.S. earn on average 81.1% of what men earn. However, the gender pay gap is significantly smaller in construction occupations, with women earning on average 99.1% of what men earn.
Ever the optimist, I see hope on the horizon. Construction sites today look a lot different from those a few decades ago. Today, I am optimistic about the future of the construction industry where there is increased support and encouragement of construction technology by a new generation of diverse workers, allowing worksites to become a connected ecosystem with people from various backgrounds.
Kristin Smith is the president and co-owner of Smith Flooring, a 20-year-old commercial flooring company headquartered in Chester, Pa. Smith Flooring was the first stop on President Biden’s “Help is Here” tour that kicked off earlier this year.