Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Department of Labor: Few Women in Constructions Jobs Due To "Blatant Discrimination" [SWA]

    A post appeared Monday on the official blog of the Department of Labor entitled "Construction Jobs are Good Jobs – for Women, Too!"  Although the title sounds upbeat, the tone of the post is hostile and accusatory.  Donna Lenhoff, a senior civil rights adviser at the DOL, wrote the entry, and to hear her tell it, one gets the impression the split between men and women in the industry would be much more evenly balanced if not for harassment, hostile work environments, and blatant discrimination.  Any suggestion that women might not choose construction work due to the demands of the job is dismissed as detached from reality:
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.
    The post links to a document published in May 2012 that bemoans the lack of progress on a 35-year old goal set by the DOL's Office for Federal Contract Compliance Programs to "for women to work 6.9 percent of federal construction contractors’ work hours[.]"  The tone of the document mirrors that of Lenhoff's article.  Among the reasons cited:
  • "gender inequity in construction vocational and training programs"
  • "women are often pushed by mentors, family, and friends into occupations that align with traditional gender stereotypes"
  • "gender stereotypes, sexual harassment, a lack of awareness about opportunities in construction, and insufficient instruction"
  • "barriers that women face in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs drive their miniscule share of the field"
    Nowhere in either the May 2012 document or the blog post is any suggestion that there might be alternate reasons for the low representation of women in construction.  It does not seem to occur to the authors that traditional reasons for the overwhelming dominance of men in the field might still hold sway, such as physical strength or risk-acceptance. (One does not have to observe a playground for long to recognize which sex is more risk-prone.)  If women are underrepresented, the authors infer it must be because "women have traditionally been excluded from entering these good jobs and continue to be denied their fair share of employment in the industry."
    No doubt the reasons listed by the authors at the DOL play some role in the status quo, and the stereotype of a construction site is likely well based in reality.  Yet a myopic view of the issue and an apparent desire to equalize the sexes in all areas does a disservice to both men and women.  Men are stereotyped as Neanderthals crudely defending their turf at all costs, and women are infantilized as being helpless to break into a field where everyone knows they would if they only could be protected.  Yes, "blatant discrimination" should be stamped out.  But sometimes disparate impact is simply disparate choice by women (and men) who know what career is the best fit for them.


  1. I like this one, Uncle Jerry. On an unrelated note... do you say "SWA" like SwaaaaH! the way we used to pronounced all the acronyms at BAC (and well, I guess maybe some of us still do)?

    1. Of course! And I am organizing an army of followers to join the SWA Team, or, as we like to say, SWAT!

  2. :-) If I were the sort of person who types "lol," I would type it now. I sort of cringe just to write it in quotes, though.