'Hard hats have no gender:' Women sparking change in industry usually dominated by men

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Women lost more jobs during the pandemic than men, but there are growing opportunities for females that could provide a higher paying income.

New data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows Black, Hispanic, and white women had higher unemployment rates compared to men last year. To help women find new jobs, a local trade school is trying to attract more females.

MIAT, a private technical school with several locations in Houston, recently hired four female instructors. They're educators with real-life experience who are ready to get more women involved in careers in aviation, engineering and welding.

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"You shouldn't be worried about getting your hands dirty, because you know what? Soap and scrubbing takes all the grime come off," said MIAT instructor Sarah Hussing.

The majority of students are men, but the instructors hope learning under teachers that look like them will attract more women to the school.

"You can get a family environment out of this," said Summer Marshall, another MIAT instructor. "To me that's important to not only make a good living, but love what you do. I think women are a little bit more passionate, and when we like to do something, it's easy."

"Hard hats have no gender, but it pays the same," coordinator Brandy Holloway said.

It doesn't pay exactly the same, but women in construction get paid better than in other industries when compared to their male counterparts. Overall, the wage gap between men and women is about 20%. In the construction industry, it's only 10%.

"We are growing," construction career collaborative director, Angela Robbins-Taylor said. "We are gaining traction, and I think some of that is because we're getting visibility out to young women that there are viable trades and living here."

Taylor said companies are trying to attract women. Right now, only about 10% of the workforce is held by women.

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During the pandemic, 25,000 construction jobs were lost locally. When the Houston-area starts to rebound, there will be plenty of jobs available.

"If there are 2 million open jobs, and you don't have one right now, you should be looking for it," Taylor said. "There's going to be growth and there's going to be continuity."

The latest numbers from the Department of Labor show 10% of Black women lost their jobs during the pandemic, 8% of Hispanic women lost jobs, and 5% of white women lost jobs between February and December 2020.

The wage gap at the end of 2020 showed white women earned about 20% less than white men, while Black women earned 30% less than white men.

Knowing this, local construction experts say their industry is one you should consider.

"A career in construction, especially in some of our underserved populations, could be the difference of living in the poverty cycle they've lived in for generations and not," Taylor explained.

If you want to make it a career, there are places looking to help women do it. At MIAT, not only can you learn how to get it done, but you can be trained by those who can relate.

The fact that four female MIAT instructors want to see change, there are many opportunities for women in construction, and you don't always have to get dirty.

"Put a little right here, and take a picture and say, 'You know what? Look what I'm doing,'" said MIAT instructor Mary Short.

Getting into construction jobs may require additional training. Workforce Solutions said there are ways to get scholarships, and grants, including if you've been impacted by the pandemic.

Watch "Our America: Women Forward" streaming now on the ABC13 Houston app through Roku, Fire Stick, Google TV, Apple TV and Android TV.

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