In May, employers introduced 339,000 jobs in the U.S., bringing the total number of positions added to nearly 1.6 million for the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Meanwhile, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) aim to ensure that more women and minorities have an equal shot at those opportunities. New initiatives by both agencies follow a damning report issued last week by EEOC chair Charlotte A. Burrows, showing that women and people of color remain underrepresented in the construction industry—most notably among higher-paid, higher-skilled trades.

EEOC’s report includes a brief overview of the construction industry, followed by a discussion of discrimination based on race, national origin and sex, gathered from publicly resolved cases seen by the commission over the past decade.

“Harassment is pervasive on many worksites and poses a significant barrier to the recruitment and retention of women and workers of color in the industry,” the report says, adding, “Racial harassment in construction often takes virulent forms and nooses appear with chilling frequency on jobsites across the country.”

EEOC’s report issues findings and next steps based on enforcement experience, along with witness testimony from a May 2021 hearing on discrimination and academic research. Among the actions planned by EEOC officials are industry-specific technical assistance for employers, unions and workers to help ensure fair hiring practices, equal treatment on the job and safe and inclusive workplaces. EEOC also plans to provide information about lawful diversity, equity inclusion and accessibility practices that the commission has found to be effective in fostering equal opportunities. The commission will work cooperatively with other federal, state and local anti-discrimination agencies to advance equal employment opportunity, officials say.

EEOC’s report and initiatives follow a separate announcement in April by DOL for 14 grants, totaling $5 million, to help attract and support access for women to registered apprenticeship programs, including fields such as manufacturing and construction. With another 5.5 million persons seeking to join the labor force, according to BLS estimates, DOL is producing $5 million in grants to open more apprenticeship opportunities to women, while designating $1 million for preventing and responding to gender-based violence and harassment against underserved and marginalized women workers. Currently, women only comprise approximately 14% of registered apprentices, while they account for nearly half of the U.S. labor force, DOL officials report.

Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grants are administered by the department’s Employment and Training Administration, and Women’s Bureau.

But apprenticeships are just one measure that door and window companies should implement to attract more diverse candidates to their labor pools, says Bonnie Blueford, of the Blueford Group, a consulting firm that helps leaders with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) planning. Other strategies should be outward facing, Blueford suggests.

“I think that it’s common for companies to build robust internal programs around diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. “Some are very intentional and very successful. But what I find interesting is they’re internal strategies.” At the same time, “What’s the external strategy?” she asks. “How are we filling that pipeline? I think this is another piece companies could [focus on]—having both internal and external strategies.”

Once more women and minorities are drawn into the labor pool, workers must feel safe and accepted in their new roles and positions, Blueford and other experts say. But a separate study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) shows that isn’t always the case. Women and racially/ethnically diverse populations are more likely than all employees—as a whole—to voluntarily leave their jobs within their first year of employment, PwC finds. This emphasizes the need for organizations to understand the various experiences of the sub-populations within their workforce, experts tell [DWM].

“You can include people, but if they don’t belong, or they don’t feel like they belong, they’re not going to do their best work, and [DEI efforts] aren’t going to work,” says Robyn Hatcher, keynote speaker and inclusive communication consultant.

According to DOE officials, workplace violence and harassment disproportionately harms women from underserved and historically marginalized communities, including women of color, individuals who identify as LGBTQI+, women with disabilities, and women affected by persistent poverty and inequality. For this reason, in addition to Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grants, DOE is producing $1 million in funding for up to four grants aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence and harassment against underserved and marginalized women workers.

Fostering Access, Rights and Equity (FARE) grants will help survivors and women at high risk for violence and harassment in the workplace, officials say. Administered by DOE’s Women’s Bureau and the Employment and Training Administration, the FARE grant program will support the efforts of various non-profit organizations to address gender-based violence and harassment. Successful applicants for FARE grants must demonstrate strategies for developing and distributing worker and survivor-centered materials to raise awareness, reduce workplace risks and prevent workplace gender-based violence and harassment. Applicants must also show how they will work to connect working women to services, benefits and legal assistance, while encourage working women and survivors to become focal points in their communities.

According to BLS, in 2022, 87.2% of construction workers identified as white, while only 3.9% identify as women. By that measure, while discrimination is a long-standing issue for the industry, “We can decide the future,” Borrows says. “I look forward to working with industry leaders, employers and unions to help ensure safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers.”

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