Issue Brief

Historic Investments in Good Infrastructure Jobs Can't Leave Women Behind

September 2022

By Sharita Gruberg, Jessica Mason and Katherine Gallagher Robbins

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides one of the most significant investments in the creation of good jobs in recent years. However, without intentional efforts to address occupational segregation in the key industries funded by the law, women could miss out on more than a million jobs in the next decade.

These investments come at a critical time for our economy. Not only are they essential to address our crumbling infrastructure, they will provide stable, well-paying jobs across the country. Accessing these jobs is particularly important for women and women of color, who were hit hard by the pandemic. Between February 2020 and April 2020, women lost nearly 11.9 million jobs. These job losses were especially large for Black women and Latinas, and women's recovery has been slower than men's. Even before the pandemic, women workers, particularly women of color, faced significant obstacles to economic security in large part due to racism, sexism, and discrimination which created barriers to good jobs that pay well, offer quality benefits and support workers' right to come together in unions.

The IIJA, which provides $550 billion in historic new investments in transportation, communications, clean water and energy, and more, is estimated to add nearly 800,000 jobs to the economy annually. This offers a critical opportunity to increase women's access to quality, well-paying jobs – but only if federal and state investments are implemented with gender and racial equity in mind.

Racism and sexism have combined to leave women historically underrepresented in industries funded by these investments. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, globally women account for fewer than 15 percent of all jobs in sectors pertaining to infrastructure and only 32 percent of all jobs in the renewable energy industry. The United States is no exception. Women comprise only ten percent of the construction industry and less than a third of manufacturing and wholesale trade jobs.*

This occupational segregation has severe implications. New National Partnership for Women & Families analysis reveals that if this funding is not implemented with a deliberate focus on increasing women's footholds in these industries, women will lose out on this historic investment. We find that if the status quo persists:

  • Women will account for only 29 percent of jobs created by the IIJA (220,230 annually).
  • Black women will account for less than 4 percent of new jobs, Latinas less than 5 percent, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women less than 2 percent, multiracial women less than 1 percent and Native women 0.1 percent – just 1,150 jobs out of nearly 800,000 per year.

By comparison, if occupational segregation were eliminated – in other words, if women filled these jobs at the same rate they hold jobs across the economy – women would gain an additional 145,070 jobs per year, including 18,130 more jobs for Black women, 21,140 more jobs for Latinas, 8,820 more jobs for AAPI women, 3,610 more jobs for multiracial women, and 830 more jobs for Native women.

Given the significant role infrastructure investments play in a country's economic growth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recommends the following activities to ensure these investments promote sustainable and inclusive growth:

  • Long-term infrastructure vision for gender-responsive infrastructure
  • Inclusion of women’s voices and agency in infrastructure decision-making
  • Gender considerations in project appraisal, selection, risk assessment and design
  • Gender-sensitive infrastructure procurement and delivery
  • Gender angle in monitoring and evaluation

Ensuring investments through the IIJA will be effective in promoting gender equity will expand good jobs for women workers, particularly women of color. Meaningful inclusion of women in infrastructure planning is not just an OECD best practice, it is also in line with President Biden's executive order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities, which directs the Federal Government to “allocate resources to address the historic failure to invest sufficiently, justly, and equally in underserved communities as well as individuals from those communities.” Most of the new jobs funded in construction are subject to Davis-Bacon requirements, which call for workers on covered construction projects to be paid at least the local prevailing wage including fringe benefits. Prevailing wage standards have been found to reduce racial pay gaps and can be an effective tool to increase recruitment of women and workers of color in well-paying construction industry jobs. In addition to adding funds to programs already covered by the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts, the IIJA adds new programs by extending prevailing wage protections to all energy infrastructure jobs, and jobs created through bridge investment and airport terminal improvement. The occupations with the lowest weekly earnings are women-dominated, but jobs in the trades, like those funded by IIJA, can help lift them out of poverty.

Federal and state policymakers should adopt the following principles to ensure women workers are fairly included in good jobs created by the IIJA:

  • Ensure that pathways for people to enter industries funded by the IIJA are intentionally gender inclusive of women and nonbinary people.
  • Look to the work of unions, tradeswomen organizations and associations and others who have been working to expand women's access to these jobs for decades by building on existing successful models and pilots.
  • Engage directly with unions, tradeswomen organizations, and people with lived experience to identify barriers for recruitment and retention.
  • Prioritize contracts for unionized workplaces, which are shown to have smaller racial and gender wage gaps.
  • Require agencies to include diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility measures in notices of funding availability and prioritize awards to projects that have strong equity plans, including detailed information on how the project will comply with applicable nondiscrimination laws.
  • Prioritize awarding contracts and subcontracts to employers that provide paid family and medical leave and other caregiver supports, and provide guidance to states on the importance of these policies.
  • Collect, and make publicly available, data on gender and race in IIJA implementation, as well as other intersecting and marginalized identities that might impact recruitment and retention such as disability, LGBTQIA status, and parental or caregiver status.
  • Ensure projects meet worker needs such as bathrooms which women and nonbinary workers can access.
  • Require workforce development programs to recruit and train women, particularly women of color, for jobs in the construction and manufacturing trades that have lacked gender diversity. Including for example, recruitment materials that feature photos of women in non-traditional roles, recruitment materials in multiple languages, posting on career sites and other recruitment avenues targeted towards women and women of color, engaging trusted community messengers to share opportunities.
  • Include training and technical assistance on sexual harassment prevention and response.
  • Increase Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations funding.
  • Increase funding for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to ensure robust enforcement of protections for contractors and meeting OFCCP's goal of 6.9 percent work hours for the participation of women in construction.
  • Pair issue experts with diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility experts in reviewing funding proposals.

Our country cannot afford to leave women workers out of these historic investments. The federal government and state governments must ensure the benefits of these investments are equitably distributed, both in terms of where projects are located and who is employed to rebuild our nation's infrastructure. Doing so could add nearly 1.5 million good jobs for women over the next decade.

The authors would like to thank Jocelyn Frye, Mettabel Law, Donna Lenhoff, Jake McDonald, Amaya Smith, and Gail Zuagar for their thoughtful review.

*Methodological note:

This analysis builds on the Economic Policy Institute estimates of the jobs created by the IIJA. The authors use American Community Survey Five-Year Estimates (2016-2020) via IPUMS to analyze the industry composition by race and gender. We then apply the current composition of the industries to the jobs created by the IIJA. Latinas are analyzed separately and not included in racial groups.