Caution: Female Construction Workers Routinely Experience Harassment and Discrimination

female construction worker on site

Caution: Female Construction Workers Routinely Experience Harassment and Discrimination

In the construction industry, men rarely speak up against working with women or other minorities but their actions speak louder than words. Some ignore the female construction workers while others subject these women workers to sexual harassment. When studies try to reason why so few women work in the construction industry, blame falls heavily on sexual harassment and gender bias. Although the high pay is a motivator for female employment, the harassment by fellow coworkers is often so bad that many women would rather be paid less than deal with this ongoing treatment.

But, female construction workers do have some resources for counteracting sexual harassment and gender discrimination. In some situations, speaking with an employment lawyer provides possible legal solutions.

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The Number of Construction Workers: Men vs. Women

Although women easily make up half of the workers throughout most occupations, women workers in construction only make up 2.6 percent of workers in construction. This number hasn’t budged for almost three decades. For reference, in the United States, about two hundred thousand women work construction while more than seven million men work construction.

Worse yet are the numbers that represent minorities within the female population of construction workers. Out of the 2.6 percent of women in construction, only .4 percent are Hispanic and only .2 percent are black. Despite the high pay of construction, women clearly don’t feel welcome in this occupation.

But, if the construction industry is scrutinized, women are usually most concentrated in office positions, which is traditionally seen as a more feminine position. However, these positions have a lower wage. Women are less likely to be placed in labor intensive roles. This further reinforces the idea that women do not belong in physically demanding job positions.

When the question of “why” is aired alongside the low numbers of women construction workers, the usual answers are flung around. Women face sexual harassment and gender stereotypes. Meanwhile, it’s tougher for women to find mentors within the industry. And yet, statistics reveal that sexual harassment cases have dropped in number between 1999 and 2012. So despite not having a clear plan of action for increasing the numbers of female construction workers, the construction industry is changing.

Money, Money, Money: A Smaller Pay Gap

Despite the transient nature of construction jobs, construction is well known to be high paying. Women who work construction reap the benefits of a higher paycheck. A median hourly wage is approximately $19, and this is almost double the median hourly wage of most women, in female-dominated fields. While full-time women make 82 percent of what full-time men make, women in construction earn about 89 percent of what male construction workers make in a week.

With the smaller pay gap in construction for women, working in construction could easily improve the quality of life for many women and their families. However, women also face discriminatory action in construction that could lessen their income. For example, some construction companies choose to hire female apprentices to save money or offer women construction workers less work time.

The Issue of Less Hours

Despite receiving the same wage and benefits as men, certain people within the industry do note that women often receive less hours than men do. A good wage is not helpful when work is only consistent for seven months out of the year. With more government regulations on companies to be equal opportunity employers, companies still find ways to discriminate against potential or current employees.

Caution: Entering Construction Sexual Harassment Zone

For decades, construction zones alight the imaginations of marketers. Famous songstresses create sexy music videos in construction zones with shirtless, 6-pack ab men pretending to be construction workers. Meanwhile, other brands have a lone construction worker whistling at a beautiful woman. Basically, society sets the tone and even encourages sexual harassment in construction zones.

Mary Battle speaks up about the sexual harassment and other difficulties she experienced in her 30-year career as a construction worker in Washington, D.C. Working harder than male coworkers was just part of the gig. She learned how to protect herself from sexual harassment along the way, too.

“Sexual harassment on the job, off the job — it happens. But you got to know how to handle yourself,” Mary Battle explained, specifying that if a male co-worker brushed her purposefully or accidentally, she jerked away, “to let him know don’t touch me.”

Patricia Valoy, a construction apprentice, ended up leaving the construction field after experiencing ongoing sexual harassment. She recalls that she had to work harder to be treated with respect by supervisors, but she also shared that one man wouldn’t let her out of storage room until she agreed to go on a date with him. Treatment like this creates a hostile work environment, which is against governmental standards.

“Men would stop their work to stare and wolf whistle. On a few occasions I got called a ‘bitch’ for refusing to reply to inappropriate remarks. Some men felt the need to give me ‘how to get fit’ advice and make comments about my body.” – Patricia Valoy

Another woman started a construction apprenticeship with the plan to stop relying on public assistance for herself and her two children. She faced harassment throughout her education in the field. Male coworkers sexually harassed her, exposed themselves, and accused her of sleeping to the top positions in the industry. Once again, this type of treatment in the workplace is illegal.

A female construction worker who deals with ongoing sexual harassment and a hostile work environment can seek relief by filing a complaint with the government or speaking with a lawyer for legal solutions.

female engineer in hard hat working

Reconstructing the Construction Industry for all Genders

Leaders within the culture understand that to make a true change in industries where traditional stereotypes guide behavior that perceptions must be reconstructed. From a young age, we must show children that all roles are open to them and that treating each other respectfully is the best social norm. Meanwhile, certain organizations are taking a stab at change for adults today.

Although some discrimination is malicious and intentional, sometimes employers and coworkers have not considered the repercussions of discrimination on the workplace and society. In cases of subtle and extreme discrimination, speaking with a lawyer might be the best option to receiving a legal solution for illegal employment discrimination.

Managing Sexual Harassment on the Construction Job

Sexual harassment and similar actions demoralizes an entire team, not just the victim. In a hierarchy of bully and victim, no one is safe from the mean attentions of a bully. But when a woman or man experiences sexual harassment in the working environment, whether an office or a construction site, this can foster a hostile work environment.

Employers and coworkers alike must know how to deal with sexual harassment.

1. Role-play recognizing and responding to sexual harassment.

One comment is not illegal. But a pattern of comments that are categorized as sexual harassment should be reported.

2. Know the company policy.

Check the employee handbook for how instances of sexual harassment or a hostile work environment should be handled. In some cases, the report should be to a manager. But sometimes, the human resource department handles the complaint.

3. Document every detail.

The more written evidence of the incident along with the following steps to deal with the problem, the more chance of receiving better legal assistance should a lawsuit be filed.

4. Consult an employment lawyer.

Although certain aspects of seeking justice for an employment problem might seem very doable by anyone, an employment lawyer improves every chance of a positive outcome for a lawsuit. A sexual harassment case is rarely clear cut and a lawyer knows what needs to be done to have the best possible outcome.

If you are a female construction worker and have experienced employment discrimination of any type or sexual harassment, contact an employment attorney now to hear your legal options.

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