The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 18, 2014

Construction industry is still a man's world

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

WASHINGTON D.C. – Women represent nearly half of the U.S. labor force, but hold only 2.6 percent of construction jobs, according to a report released last month by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

The minuscule share of women in construction has barely budged in the past 35 years “and is due in large part to the discrimination that blocks women from entering and staying in this nontraditional field,” the law center said in releasing its findings.

There are more than 7.6 million male construction workers in the U.S. but only about 206,000 women. In sharp contrast, the share of women in many other male-dominated jobs—such as correctional officers and firefighters—has grown dramatically during this same period.

The report, Women in Construction: Still Breaking Ground, examines the data on women’s participation in construction and how sexual harassment, gender stereotypes and lack of training drive the low percentage of women in the industry and offers practical solutions to increase their opportunities to enter the field.

“It’s not surprising that the construction trades are sometimes called ‘the industry that time forgot,'” said  NWLC Vice-President for Education and Employment Fatima Goss Graves.  “Thousands of women are already proving their mettle on construction sites across the country.  But many of these high paid jobs remain out of reach for women.  And for the few who do get hired, their careers are often short-lived as a result of widespread sexual harassment.  It’s time for this industry to enter the modern era—to expand apprenticeships and training opportunities for women, hire qualified female workers and enforce a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment.  This would be a win-win strategy for the industry—and for women.”

From the report:

*In career and technical education programs, young women are often subtly encouraged and explicitly steered into occupations that align with traditional gender stereotypes instead of being encouraged to enter traditionally male programs such as construction.

*While apprenticeship is the traditional path to jobs in the skilled trades, entry into those programs is highly dependent on access to information about when, where, and how to apply, as well as the training and skills necessary for particular occupations. “Access to such information has historically been tightly controlled by construction workers, who are overwhelmingly male,” the report said. This has helped to perpetuate what has been described by female construction workers as the “FBI,” or “Friends, Brothers, and In-laws” network.

*The small number of women in the construction industry also limits access to mentoring and other supports that would help women complete apprenticeship programs and progress throughout their careers.

*In fact, research shows that women leave apprenticeship programs at higher rates than men, citing problems such as hostile work environments, sexual harassment, and lack of child care. In many cases these problems consist of “conscious discriminatory” behavior, designed to discourage and push women out of the industry

*The NWLC report cited a U.S. Department of Labor study which said that 88 percent of women construction workers experienced sexual harassment on the job.

The report highlights several recommendations aimed at federal policymakers to increase women’s participation in the construction field, including: better oversight of contractors in the area of recruitment from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs; a revision of affirmative action regulations from the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship, and better enforcement of federal discrimination laws from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.