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Is There an Employment Barrier to Female Construction Workers?

Is There an Employment Barrier to Female Construction Workers?

The answer to that question is yes, at least according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). They found that the U.S. construction industry and extraction occupations employ 206,000 women and 7.6 million men. That’s only 2.6 percent compared to 97.4 percent. Why does this disparity in employment persist? The report suggests sexual harassment and hostility, a lack of apprenticeships and mentors, and stereotyped assumptions about women’s capabilities all contribute to the problem. And with 1.8 million fewer construction jobs than before the recession, competition for opportunities in the industry is fiercer than ever.

Sexual Harassment and Hostility

The NWLC’s report mentions a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor in 1999. It found that 88 percent of women construction workers had experienced sexual harassment on the job. It’s likely that an even greater percentage has experienced the hostility that women in the industry regularly report. This may take the form of intimidation, exclusion, and reluctance by supervisors to discipline harassing or hostile male workers.

Stereotypes and Apprenticeships

According to the NLWC report, young women in technical education programs are often encouraged to choose occupations that satisfy traditional gender stereotypes. This means they are rarely welcomed into programs for careers that men have traditionally filled, such as construction. If they do make their way into a construction program, administrators may not tell them about the apprenticeship opportunities that are available. And those that manage to land a construction apprenticeship often drop out. In fact, the NLWC reports that 51 percent of the women in construction apprenticeships between 2006 and 2007 did not complete their programs.

What Should You Do?

Regardless of whether your construction company currently employs women or not, you should develop a written sexual harassment policy. Make sure it provides a clear description of sexual harassment, examples of prohibited actions, disciplinary measures, and the procedures for reporting sexual harassment claims. Experts advise against requiring workers to report claims only to their direct supervisor, as it is sometimes this relationship that is considered a harassing one. Instead, provide a number of reporting options.

Take immediate action on every report of sexual harassment. This means you need to promptly investigate each claim and discipline the harassing party according to your sexual harassment policy. While it is not always necessary that you terminate employment of the harassing party, you do need to ensure that he or she will not harass the victim again. You should also review your sexual harassment policy regularly with all of your workers—both male and female.

To ensure your sexual harassment policy complies with any Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations, ask your legal advisor to review it. You may also want to engage the assistance of your risk management advisor to help you analyze your company’s risk of a discrimination or sexual harassment lawsuit and adjust your jobsite policies accordingly.