The Surprising Solution to the Equal-Pay Problem

The Surprising Solution to the Equal-Pay Problem

By Neil Parmar

Women in non-traditional employment roles.
SourceCourtesy of WINTER Facebook


Because this is how to build bridges across the wage gap.

By Neil Parmar

OZY is coming together with JPMorgan Chase to bring you an inside look at how an emerging group of women and men are redefining what it means to be a powerhouse in today’s workplace. Enjoy the rest of our special series here.

When was the last time you saw an all-female construction crew? Exactly. 

Occupational segregation by gender contributes to a stubborn wage gap. It has kept women making less than men, per dollar, and still limits their access to well-paid jobs that don’t necessarily require higher education. According to Closing the Skills Gap: On-Ramp Occupations to Middle-Skilled Jobs for Women Workers, an Institute for Women’s Policy Research study commissioned by JPMorgan Chase & Co.:

Women make up a mere 3 percent of workers in well-paid, middle-skill construction jobs.

The report also found that while women make up 83 percent of workers in middle-skill jobs that pay less than $30,000 a year, the number drops steeply to 36 percent for growing, middle-skill jobs that pay at least $35,000 a year, a disparity that can have significant long-term economic implications. Ariane Hegewisch, who co-authored this report as well as a prior study on occupational segregation and the gender wage gap, knows that in addition to being unfair in principle, those disparities have macro-scale economic effects. Occupational segregation, she notes, “slows down how much the economy can grow and how quickly you can respond to new opportunities. … It’s as if having occupational segregation means that the economy is under-oiled.”

Women have the lowest representation in middle-skill industries such as construction and engineering, where historical, practical and social norms have combined to make those occupations the realm of men. That tangle of barriers is currently limiting women’s access to jobs that require skills training but not a bachelor’s degree. For example, the study found that fewer than one in 10 apprentices in the U.S. are women. 

Alexandra Torres Galancid, the executive director of Southern California–based nonprofit Women In Non Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), is determined to change that. Placing women in higher-paying jobs has a “tremendous” impact, she says. “Not only does it change the children’s lives and the family’s life, it also changes the community, the way women are seen in the community, and what they think they can do with their job.” To help, WINTER offers a 10-week training program that empowers its students with a range of construction or engineering certifications, as well as practical experience with the tools and processes they would use in their future work. When necessary, WINTER also facilitates everything from child care to financial training and housing assistance, granting students the skills and foundation they need to change their entire lives, not just their jobs. 

Joundi W., one of WINTER’s graduates, is now an operating engineer apprentice on construction sites in Southern California. She came across WINTER while she was incarcerated, and as her parole came up, she was determined to find stable work that she enjoyed. “I already knew I enjoyed being in the process of things getting built. I love it,” she says, adding that being on construction sites exposes her to the opportunities and experiences she hopes to have later in her career. And with WINTER’s help, Joundi established a relationship with a union, ensuring that she maintained workplace rights and ongoing jobs as she made her way through a field dominated by men.

My credit score went up, I walk differently, I have time to do things that I want to do, and I actually have the money to invest in myself.

Joundi W., a WINTER graduate

At first, Joundi was frustrated when male construction workers didn’t allow her to handle tools like pickaxes or shovels; later, she worked under a foreman who didn’t think women belonged on construction sites and gave her unfair performance reviews as a result. “When it comes to women in construction,” Joundi says, “if they want to work, they have to be better, they have to be smarter, they have to work harder. It’s a double standard.”

But that didn’t — and doesn’t — stop Joundi, and she cites her job and WINTER’s training program as a pivotal force in her life. “My credit score went up, I walk differently, I have time to do things that I want to do, and I actually have the money to invest in myself. It’s a great opportunity, and I think more women need to know.” She firmly believes that if more women knew about groups like WINTER, as well as the wages and career opportunities that come with working in construction, their influx into the industry would help balance the scales and hopefully change its entire dynamic. “We can do a lot more united rather than separate,” she says.