Over the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of women in the construction industry. A 2008 survey, sponsored by Ernst & Young, indicates that of the eight Fortune 500 construction companies, each averaged 2.3 women officers. Though there has been some progress in breaking down the gender barriers, women still face a number of challenges in this industry, such as outdated recruitment practices and the male-dominated work environment. To encourage more women to enter the construction field, all government agencies offering construction contracts or grants give special consideration to woman-owned companies.
Free business assistance is not a true grant program. However, the free services offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help women start construction businesses are extremely beneficial. The SBA offers small business classes, mentorship programs with construction industry experts and help in creating financially viable business plans, which are needed when applying for grants or loans. In addition, many states offer free programs to assist women in starting construction business and help in getting grants or loans.
The federal government offers a number of grant programs for women. Women also receive special consideration when applying for grants in areas where women business owners are the minority, such as the construction industry. An example of a federally funded construction grant that gives women owners special consideration in their applications is the Housing and Urban Development Agency’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grants program. HUD provides grants to cities and counties to build new housing in low-income areas. The woman-owned construction companies are reimbursed for part of their construction costs in order to keep housing costs low.
Every contractor must have a Surety Bond Guarantee (SBG) for contracts. A surety is a type of insurance product, which provides security in the event the contractor does not fulfill the terms of the contract. Administered by the SBA, this is another program which gives special consideration to women business owners. Using this subsidized service increases the contracting opportunities for women.
States, such as Illinois, also provide Surety Bond Guarantee programs. In Illinois it is directed toward minority and women contractors. This program also provides resources and tools to help assure that women contractors fulfill their contracts.
Another form of grant money that is offer by both state and federal governments is the 100 percent guaranteed loan to lenders. An example of this is the Illinois Capital Access Program. This program encourages private financial institutions to grant loans to minority businesses that would be turned down for a traditional loan. Participating CAP lenders are guaranteed to get repayment of the loan from the state should the borrower default.
Some grants are given to women construction contractors indirectly. An example of this is the National Institute of Science and Recovery Grants, which are used to build such scientific places as research laboratories, marine biotechnology centers, nanotechnology labs and quantum physics testing centers. The grant is normally awarded to a higher learning institution, which then awards the money to a construction firm.
Women’s engineering and construction professional organizations often offer scholarship programs to encourage women to enter the construction industry. One such scholarship program is the National Association of Women in Construction Founder’s Scholarship, which awards over $25,000 a year to women wishing to start a career in construction.