Creating Equitable Worksites

Creating equitable worksites that are free of harassment and provide equal opportunity for women to learn, work and advance in your organization is critical to retaining tradeswomen and other underrepresented groups in the industry.   Moreover, a more respectful and inclusive culture benefits all workers, improves cooperation, cultivates the best talent, and builds your reputation as a fair and desirable employer and progressive builder whose workforce mirrors the make-up of the community. This section outlines the issues that continue to discourage women’s participation in the construction workforce along with resources to support you in evaluating and addressing these factors within your company.



Inequities and Discrimination in Hiring and Layoffs

Many women still report that they the last hired and first fired, even on projects that have goals for women’s participation.   While periods of unemployment are expected in the trades, women’s careers are particularly impacted by unemployment as few have been successful in gaining access to the core crews a company relies on from project to project.  A recent survey of carpenters, for example, revealed that just 51% had worked 9 months or more the previous year and, in CWIT’s experience, lack of fair access to employment is the primary reason women give for leaving their trades careers.   This remains the case, even for those who work sufficient hours to complete apprenticeship, and tradeswomen’s organizations observe that women often leave the industry just a few years later, discouraged by the challenges of finding and keeping employment and pessimistic about their ability to advance into more stable employment in the industry.  While federal, state and local EEO laws and affirmative action goals, are designed to promote hiring of women and other underrepresented populations and address discrimination, these regulations only govern publically funded projects, and even then, there is often limited enforcement or attention paid to the goals. Women often report that they are not hired when there is no goal or enforcement, or once a public project is completed or goals have been met, they are laid off.

Gender bias and discrimination limit employment opportunities, as do other factors that govern or inform hiring practices and ultimately have a disparate impact on women. These include implicit bias or decisions based on personal connections, word of mouth or comparisons to previous female employees. It is imperative to monitor hiring and layoffs, watching for disparity in these practices for women, and adopt policies and practices that ensure fair and equitable opportunity for all employees.

Inequitable On-The-Job Training

Inequitable On-the-Job Training

Over the course of an apprenticeship, students are in school for only a fraction of the time they are in the field, so the majority of training and/or opportunity to practice what they have learned takes place on the job site.   Since women typically enter the industry with less hands-on experience than their male counterparts, they particularly need time with the tools to build their skills and speed on the job.   Too often, however, female apprentices complain that they are relegated to the least skilled tasks (cleaning, organizing, material handling, etc.) and may encounter resistance to requests for more relevant training. This can be a conundrum for female apprentices.  On the one hand, they are well aware of the fact that they are “lucky to have a job” and do not want to jeopardize it, while, on the other hand, if they journey out with skills that are limited to organizing the tool box and fire watch, they have no future in the trade. Setting standards for on-the-job training and carefully monitoring apprentices’ work assignments and attainment of competencies is essential to developing the skilled workers the trade needs and invests heavily in building.  Below are some ideas for supporting female apprentices in the field.

  • Set standards for on-the-job training and carefully monitor apprentices’ work assignments and attainment of competencies.
  • Conduct and discuss performance evaluations with apprentices so that they know how they are progressing and have the opportunity to address any identified weaknesses.   Be as specific as possible.
  • Prepare journey workers and supervisors on effective gender inclusive and neutral teaching practices for “Inclusive and Equitable OJT” worksites using best practice guidelines
  • Assign female apprentices to a mentor
  • Hire women and minorities in leadership positions, as project superintendents, engineers, supervisor and crew leaders.

Isolation and Lack of Support

Many women still report that they are the only woman on a job and face not just isolation, but a lack of support from male coworkers. This can be complicated especially during apprenticeship when women face unfamiliar work environments, still have limited skills and understanding of the expectations and norms of the industry, and few established relationships.  Below are some tools for promoting women’s inclusion in the industry.

(1) CWIT’s report, Breaking New Ground offers recommendations for employers, unions and apprenticeship programs on establishing guidelines for equitable workplace environments that promote respect and inclusion.

(2) Conduct training for supervisory personnel and workers on how to foster and support a workplace that is culturally competent, respectful and inclusive.   Professional development activities for in “building cultural competency” can raise awareness of how beliefs about and treatment of women in the trades impact retention.

(3) Train and assign mentors to new female apprentices to make introductions, answer questions, and advise/support women as the adjust to the workplace and integrate into work crews.  Mentorship can and should take many forms   Formal mentorship programs, job coaches, and regular opportunities to check in with an apprenticeship director or instructor can combat the isolation. Mentoring is critical to facilitate relationship building and help tradeswomen navigate their careers, build skills, develop coping strategies, and solve issues.  Mentorship can and should take many forms, including assignment to a journey-level worker on the job and connection to other women in your workforce on on the job site.  Here are some great resources to get you started.


Sexual Harassment, Micro-Inequities and Exclusionary Workshop Practices

Sexual harassment happens in all worksites, but can be especially pervasive in a male-dominated environment. Establishing and disseminating policy that lays out guidelines for preventing, reporting and redressing sexual harassment is primary, but good policy will also be supported by a strong education program to raise awareness of all workers about what it is, how to stop it and what to do if you experience or witness it. Including sexual harassment prevention training  for your workforce can aid in creating harassment free worksites by setting expectations and creating respectful environments that benefit not just women but all workers.

Microinequities are the behaviors, practices, statements, and/or actions that in many cases may be unintentional and without malice, and that, taken individually might seem slight or minor, but can cumulatively constitute severe or pervasive harassment when they are a consistent part of the work environment. Also referred to as micro-aggressions, these behaviors may not rise to the level of overt discrimination or harassment, but can still have a deleterious impact over time on underrepresented groups, causing them to feel excluded and unsupported on the worksite and discouraging them from continuing in the field.  For equal employment opportunity standards and policies to be effective in retaining women, shifts in behavior and practices are required. Even when apprenticeship personnel are willing to adhere to such policies, they may not have the experience or training necessary to act in a culturally competent manner. Training on cultural competency complements EEO/AA policies by providing personnel and apprentices a set of tools, knowledge and skills to take into the classroom and the worksite.

Supporting Women’s Success in the Building Trades goes beyond just preventing harassment.   Women in the workplace greatly benefit from male allies, who understand the issues and can effectively work to change attitudes that are detrimental to women’s acceptance in the industry.   Tradeswomen often say most of the problems the encounter are caused by just a few individuals, but the silence of the many tacitly supports the behavior.   The “Being a Male Ally” curriculum helps potential allies understand their importance in changing the culture and provides them with the tools to support tradeswomen.

Creating Female and Family Friendly Worksites

Creating female and family friendly apprenticeship programs and worksites can make the industry attractive to all workers, especially those with primary caretaking responsibility for children, or sick and aging relatives. It allows for everyone to benefit from standardized practices that all workers can take advantage of in relation to personal hygiene and when it comes to balancing both work and family. Guidelines on the following issues can be embedded in human resource policies, apprenticeship agreements and union/employer contracts.

Pregnancy and maternity leave during apprenticeship

Many pregnant tradeswomen may be able to work through much of their pregnancy, but others may require temporary accommodations to protect their health and safety on the job, particularly pregnant workers in physically demanding, inflexible, or hazardous jobs. The Supreme Court’s recent holding in Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. requires workplace accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions in many instances. Accordingly, apprenticeship programs and employers should make reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and related conditions, both as required to avoid discrimination on the basis of pregnancy under Young v. UPS, and also to demonstrate support for women’s retention and advancement in the skilled trades.

Personnel policies that address work/family/caregiver responsibilities

Apprentices with caregiving responsibilities may find themselves challenged by less favorable scheduling or assignments based on assumptions of caregiving responsibilities outside of work.   Apprentices with parental responsibilities may not be able to adjust their schedules at the end of a regular shift to fulfill an overtime assignment, without advance notice. As a result they may be judged less favorably or denied future opportunities for a similar assignment. Apprentices with parental responsibilities or other family care may be “docked” pay for taking time to fulfill caregiving duties while other apprentices are not similarly penalized for taking time off for activities that are not related to caregiving responsibilities, such as attending a court date. Clear and specific guidelines can standardize the approach to these situations for all workers.

Sanitary Facilities

The availability and cleanliness of restroom facilities are a major concern for tradeswomen. “Women in the Construction Workplace: Providing Equitable Safety and Health Protection” known as the HASWIC Report, found that temporary facilities on worksites are usually unisex, often without privacy, and are generally not well maintained. Sometimes there are no sanitary facilities available for women to use. Due to the lack of facilities, women report that they avoid drinking water on the job, risking heat stress and other health problems. Courts have found that the lack of appropriate sanitary facilities is discriminatory and violates OSHA standards. Unclean facilities can result in disease as well as urinary tract infection (for those who delay urinating rather than using such facilities). The HASWIC Report recommended, among other things, that gender-separate, enclosed, external and internal locking sanitary and changing facilities be provided on worksites, that employees be allowed to use such facilities as needed and be provided keys for gender appropriate facilities, that the toilet facilities be maintained in a sanitary condition and in good repair (e.g., with working locks), that clean toilet paper be provided within reach of the toilet, and that hand washing facilities be located within close proximity to toilet facilities to ensure privacy between the sexes and support safety and health measures.