More women than ever work in the construction trades. The Infrastructure Bill, signed by President Biden last week, will create new opportunities for the construction industry to further improve women’s access to good jobs in the industry. Doing it right will require input and direction from tradeswomen themselves.

A new report from IWPR shares the insights and experiences of more than 2,600 tradeswomen—uncovering what brought them to the trades, what challenges they face, and what helps them stay and succeed. Across racial and ethnic backgrounds, many women report earning high wages and experiencing good working conditions. But the survey also shows that for the industry to succeed in becoming more diverse, it will have to modernize.

Working as a woman in the men-dominated trades can be tough—close to half of all respondents report that they are regularly held to different standards than men, and far too many report discrimination and harassment. For women of color, harassment and discrimination at the intersection of race and gender is often particularly severe. Being pushed out of a good trades job because of harassment can be very costly. In response to these issues, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination initiatives in the trades have been developed to take a stand against workplace hate.


Charting a Way Forward in Oregon

The Safe from Hate initiative in Oregon unites public owners, trade associations, unions, contractors, subcontractors, apprenticeship programs, and community-based organizations in the construction sector to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion by improving jobsite culture. It was initiated by Oregon Tradeswomen and businesses that sign on to their jobsite culture pledge commit to recruiting and supporting diverse talent, instituting jobsite culture trainings, improving leadership development for women and people of color, and enforcing clear anti-harassment policies.

Some organizations in Oregon have also adopted the Green Dot Violence Prevention Strategy in the trades to train employees in bystander intervention and violence reduction with promising results. The Green Dot strategy trains participants to identify and interrupt situations of harassment, violence, and discrimination. The program gives bystanders the skills they need to successfully intervene when they see harassment and discrimination and engages them in proactive behaviors that shift community norms to prevent a toxic workplace environment.


Toward a More Inclusive Workplace for Tradeswomen

On too many worksites, policies to address harassment are failing. Case studies like the ones from Oregon show what can be done to create safe, inclusive work environments for women in the trades. Responses to IWPR’s recent survey show the urgent need to make such policies more universal.

For the tradeswomen in the survey who made the difficult decision to speak up about the harassment or discrimination they experienced, the outcomes were unsatisfactory in the majority of cases: 57.9 percent of those who notified someone in authority say that the incident of harassment or discrimination was not addressed effectively.

Worse, 63.9 percent who reported an incident to a union representative and 62.2 percent who reported to an HR official or someone else with company responsibility felt that the response was unsatisfactory. Even reporting to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) left over half (55.6 percent) unsatisfied with the outcome. The structures that are supposed to protect and support workers are simply not working as they should for many tradeswomen.

Such failures to provide respectful and non-discriminatory workplaces have consequences. Over four in ten tradeswomen say they are considering leaving the trades; and of those, 47.2 percent report that a very important reason for considering to do so is that a problem they raised was not taken seriously.

Clearly, there is still much to be done to ensure safe workplaces for a diverse construction workforce. It is important for worksites across the country to institute harassment and discrimination prevention models like those in Oregon, and to remain committed to diversity, inclusion, and justice initiatives. Examples from Oregon and beyond prove it can—and must—be done.

Ensuring that women and people of color can access—and thrive in—careers in the trades is worth fighting for. As one survey respondent described what brought her to the trades and made her want to stay: “Great pay, [I] love working with my hands… and I believed I could make a change.”

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