By Vicki O'Leary
It’s a time to celebrate the progress we have made in women’s rights but also time for reflection. We ought to stop and look back at the progress we have made or the lack there of. In many areas we have made progress but in many others, progress is rather illusive. Women are viewed as equal bread winners and they hold key positions in many industries. Does it mean that we have achieved gender equality?
Let’s turn to the construction industry. Despite the progress we have seen in the societal acceptance of women as equal breadwinners, capable leaders and successful entrepreneurs, in many industries such progress is less prevalent than others. Construction industry has a long history of sexism and discrimination against tradeswomen. In some cases, such treatment ended in tragedy such the fate of carpenter apprentice Outi Hicks, who was killed on the jobsite by a coworker.
An uphill battle
In the 21st century, it is shocking that women in the construction industry still face an uphill battle when it comes to advancement. But when you consider the root causes and statistics, it’s not such a shock.
Almost a third of women working in construction fear sexism will hold them back from the industry’s top jobs, a recent study by Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found last year. The construction trades have long been among the industries with the lowest percentage of gender diversity in the workforce. Women represent only 9% of the overall construction workforce and 3% of the building trades.
Why does it matter? The construction industry is experiencing a dire skilled labor shortage and women make up half of the population and workforce. It’s intuitive to conclude that a large part of the solution to the skilled labor shortage is in the hands of the untapped talent — we need more tradeswomen! It’s that simple. If the construction industry doesn’t act promptly to address and mitigate sexism and breakdown gender bias, it wouldn’t just be hindering progress in closing the gender gap but also the skilled labor gap.
It is true that we must address gender bias and sexism in the construction industry. But is it sufficient just advocating for gender diversity to be addressed? To create a diverse and inclusive culture and eliminate long-standing gender bias, we must advocate for diversity to be embedded into business strategy. It goes beyond proving adequate restroom facilities for tradeswomen and personal protective gear in smaller sizes.
Steps toward progress
Some building trades are beginning to make significant progress using both approaches. Tradeswomen and their allies, with the support of their leadership, are making headway in eliminating gender bias and turning hostile work environments into fostering work conditions for tradeswomen.
Iron Workers made headlines in the news with the announcement of its groundbreaking paid maternity leave last year with six months of pre-delivery and six to eight weeks of postpartum benefit for qualified ironworker women. Paid maternity leave is virtually unheard of in the construction industry. The leadership hopes the initiative will boost recruitment and retention of ironworker women.
As an ironworker and tradeswoman, it makes me incredibly happy to know that the building trades are leading the way in making diversity a priority. We have a better chance of closing the gender and skills gaps by incorporating diversity into the business strategy.
With the paid maternity benefit, the Iron Workers rolled out its “Be That One Guy” campaign, which challenges sexism in the construction industry. It is intended for curtailing the workplace bullying, hazing, sexual harassment and discrimination tradeswomen face. The campaign seeks to educate and raise awareness and using tools such as “bystander training” and dedicated town halls, address the root causes and create strategies to mitigate the problem.
See article on costructiondive.com