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By Neena Chaudhry, National Women's Law Center
Cross-posted from NWLC's blog

When you think of a construction worker, what image comes to mind? Chances are you think of a man, and that’s no surprise. Women are only 2.6% of all construction workers, and that number is the same as it was 30 years ago. Our new report, Women in Construction: Still Breaking Ground delves into some of the reasons why women are so underrepresented in construction and what can be done about it.

Despite women’s increasing share of other male-dominated jobs—such as sheriffs, police detectives, and firefighters—the numbers of women in construction have barely budged. The roadblocks women faces to entering the construction field have serious economic consequences for them and their families, especially given that construction jobs typically offer women the opportunity to earn higher wages. The median hourly wage for construction occupations is about double the median wage for female-dominated occupations such as home health aides and child care workers.

One major obstacle is the persistent harassment and hostility that women face in construction. According to a U.S. Department of Labor study, 88 percent of female construction workers face sexual harassment on the job.

Shané LaSaint-Bell (pictured here) knows all about that. She is a woman who loves welding. But the discrimination she has had to endure is enough to make many women quit. As she says, “On the construction site, men . . . see you as a woman who shouldn’t be there. They give you a hard time to press you to quit. Women are groped, grabbed, and relentlessly harassed. A lot of women leave the job before a year is out. It’s just too stressful. It’ll never change without having more women on the work site.”

There is lots of work to do to ensure that women have equal access to these high-wage jobs. Federal agencies charged with enforcing antidiscrimination laws must step up their enforcement on worksites, as well as in career and technical education classes and apprenticeships that are the pipeline for these jobs. Only then will we begin to see more women in hard hats.

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Comment Preferences

  •  but we have lots of women with hard heads (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ... that should do it, no? :-)

    Just kidding around. Hope you don't mind. No offense, just my simple end of the day silliness. Now I am going to read the diary. /ducking.

    We know a hell of a lot, but we understand very little. Manfred Max-Neef

    by mimi on Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 01:49:59 PM PDT

  •  Where Are The Union Reps? (4+ / 0-)

    They should be protecting women that work in construction!

  •  Unquestionably, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "we" (meaning the U.S., the "west", and the world" need more women in all male dominated fields, from a completely practical standpoint, if nothing else: valuable work needs to keep going regardless of supply of gender of workers to get it done.  

    Men have increasingly entered female-dominated fields of work and often rise faster and further there, in large part because of small new-boy networks in which men who have already advanced in female-dominated fields more readily give a boost to other men more recently arrived than be egalitarian about it, because they want more men as direct subordinates who share their supervisory and administrative outlook and their management philosophies. Obvious case in point: how many females have held the position of Librarian of Congress?

    The women most likely to be accepted, promoted, and advanced first in male-dominated systems are the ones who operate well as combined token&mouthpiece (Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin re-exemplify Phyllis Schlafly). What happens in any one male-dominated field tends to be mirrored in others to some extent. But not equally, because in fields in which a very high level of precision of expertise matters drastically to the entire group result, ability powers advancement rather than gender, e.g., we now have had a larger proportion of female astronauts out of the total than of female construction workers!

    It appears we also have a larger proportion of female members of the House and Senate.

    Women with serious ambition may choose to channel their energies into fields in which achievement advances their families as well as themselves, and construction work may not be one of those fields. But around the world we're seeing women have moved into basic-industry male-dominated fields when the survival of their communities and families made it a necessity for them and when the productivity of the field made their acceptance into it an advantage for the field and the people running it, especially in the developing world, and in the "old world." Patterns of work-type by gender are very different from those patterns in the U.S., and not just at prime minister level or in the medical fields.

    Given the often "little boxes made of tickytacky" quality of the product of the American construction industry, and the tremendous profits than can be realized up the ladder (no pun intended) when corners are cut, male-dominated management philosophies may include encouraging harassment of women at the actual get-the-work-done level on the assumption that women would tend to change way-of-work less profitably for top management and ownership, and crews may be cooperating readily in order to ensure that they retain their hire-ability. Consider any construction site you've seen, and project what might be different if a full 51% of the crew and supervisors were female (women are the majority gender globally, not merely half far less a minority). If top management doesn't want those differences, line and staff all the way down will close ranks with management in order to protect their own necessities and prerogatives, and this has always been the key resistence in fields of work where revolution seemed most poised to benefit the workers yet failed to take hold. As valuable as unions have been for working men, they have rarely seen women as "workmen" the same as themselves because differences can result that threaten the livelihood and perqs of the male majority in those fields.

    I wouldn't have gone on so long about it, except that I've worked in several of the fields mentioned above in my nearly 3-score-&10, and I've seen the same dynamics over and over. If male workers as a group could rely on female workers as a group to not make any differences that might result in decreased pay and/or decreased job opportunities because top management insists on keeping its scope of profit regardless of the costs of differences made, and if in fact male workers could rely on the increase of females in their field to effect higher pay and other advantages, the response to that "new" kind of worker in their ranks would be less harassment and more welcome.

    Bottom line: what's in it for men to welcome and encourage women to join their field of work?


  •  I can think of two more reasons (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, Dirtandiron

    women don't go into construction. Firstly, they don't see their female friends and relatives doing this work. Men often have a male friend or relative to steer them into the the beginners' ranks of the various trades involved. Secondly, they often think the work requires some kind of physical strength that they imagine only men possess. It doesn't. Crane operators, for example, are often the best-paid workers on a construction site and women often excel at the hand-eye coordination required do do well at this job.

    The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right. Mark Twain

    by BlueMississippi on Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 08:25:52 PM PDT

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