Smith College forum to promote women in construction

  • Tyeka Robinson, of Springfield, is one of several female carpenters scheduled to speak Feb. 15 at Smith College for an event on diversifying the construction workforce. ELLEN WEBBER/SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Theresa Copeland, of Northampton, who is one of several female carpenters speaking on Thursday, Feb. 15, at Smith College for an event on diversifying the construction workforce. ELLEN WEBBER—SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 2/7/2018 9:20:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Looking at statistics, it’s obvious that the country’s construction workforce is far from diverse.

For one, the field is male-dominated. Women make up less than 1 percent of brick masons and roofers, and account for only 2.2 percent of carpenters, according to 2017 numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor. Additionally, looking at race, almost 87 percent of those in construction and extraction occupations are white.

The movement to change those dynamics — to increase diversity in construction — is the subject of a forum taking place Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. in Smith College’s Weinstein Hall.

“It’s a place where there are good jobs that can sustain families,” event organizer Lisa Clauson said of the construction industry — especially when those are union jobs.

Clauson works with the Strategic Partnerships for the Carpenters Labor Management Program.

“It’s a problem if that work, those careers, are not open to women and people of color,” she said.

The Smith College event will feature a panel of female carpenters who are organizing around racial and gender equity in construction jobs. Local institutions of higher education, Clauson said, can play a big role in changing the face of construction.

“Private colleges that have large endowments, in particular, do a tremendous amount of construction work,” she said. “That construction work they do creates opportunities and jobs in our area.”

Under the leadership of former Gov. Deval Patrick, Clauson said, the University of Massachusetts implemented diversity requirements for its construction work. So, too, she added, has the state’s gaming commission, and those goals are being fulfilled in the building of the MGM Springfield casino.

“As that casino work winds down, those women and people of color are going to be looking for additional construction opportunities,” she said. “The colleges are a big place where that happens.”

Smith College itself is currently building a new Neilson Library, which is slated for completion in the fall of 2020. Clauson urged the college to promote diversity in that work.

“As a women’s institution, Smith can play a leadership role opening up its own work to women,” she said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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