The construction industry offers a growing number of well-paying jobs for individuals without college or graduate school training. According to an article on high-employment-growth firms by the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, among 20 different industries, construction is the nation’s fifth-largest contributor to job creation, generating more than 300,000 jobs from 2009 through 2012.
Construction jobs often represent a means of entry into the American middle class. Data from BLS show that construction is a comparatively well-paying field. Unfortunately, women have traditionally been excluded from entering these good jobs and continue to be denied their fair share of employment in the industry. Despite a modest increase between 1969 and 1990, BLS data for 2012 show that the percentage of construction jobs filled by women has declined to 2 percent.
Those who oppose taking affirmative steps to end gender discrimination in construction may argue that women’s low participation reflects a lack of ability or willingness to perform “dirty and dangerous” jobs. However, such assertions are not founded on reality. In fact, women’s representation in many “dirty and dangerous” jobs comparable to construction has increased over the past 30 years.
Even in cases where women obtain construction jobs, they face significant barriers to success. In particular, women on construction crews are frequently subjected to severe sexual harassment and hostile environments.
That is why it was important that OFCCP just settled a major sexual harassment case with L&M Construction based in Capitol Heights, Md. In this case, OFCCP investigators found pervasive sexual harassment, including inappropriate touching, lewd acts, sexual gestures, comments and propositions directed at female employees.
What’s more, investigators found that the company unlawfully terminated the employment of nine employees, including several men, for opposing the hostile work environment at L&M’s construction work sites in the Washington, D.C., metro area. The company also interfered with OFCCP’s compliance evaluation by terminating five workers in order to keep them from being interviewed by OFCCP compliance officers.
But this story has a happy ending. The settlement includes a commitment to restore nearly $13,000 in back wages to the terminated workers and to extend job offers as positions become available.
Ending blatant discrimination that excludes women from working in construction and increasing their representation in the industry is long overdue. OFCCP remains committed to abolishing such inequity, and ensuring federally funded and assisted construction contractors take affirmative steps to increase the employment of women. The realities and demands of the U.S. economy and our increasingly dynamic workforce demand no less.
Donna Lenhoff serves as the senior civil rights adviser in the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.