It’s been more than half a year now since Harvey Weinstein was revealed to the wider public as a serial harasser of women, with scores of allegations of sexual abuse and harassment being levelled against the disgraced former film producer. If one good thing came out of the whole sordid affair, it was that the aggression, exploitation, harassment, and prejudice experienced by women of all ages, social, and cultural backgrounds, in all types of workplaces, was placed squarely in the spotlight. This was the start of what was deemed the women’s #metoo movement, and construction workers have recently commented.
The #MeToo movement got people talking. It highlighted the sheer pervasive scale of a problem and, while it’s still in its early days, it is working as a catalyst for change. People in every industry have been forced to take a long hard look at themselves and their behavior in and outside of work.
Vice has interviewed groups of lawyers, actors, technologists, hospitality workers, and even construction workers, to try to capture the types of conversations taking place in some of these workplaces. Females are still very much a minority in our industry and, rightly or wrongly, construction has a reputation for being particularly biased.
Vice wrote of the interview: “Construction workers in Houston said they've witnessed changes on their job sites in recent months. But they also describe an industry that has a long way to go. Construction is still a male-dominated field, and stereotypes of the job and its workers are slow to change.”
Male construction workers respond
The Vice report spoke to five male construction workers about the changes they had noticed in the way women are treated on job sites.
Take a look at the video below for more details.
Field engineer Keith McCray said: “My honest answer on the job site we have now I’ve seen some stuff that would probably touch my soul if I was a woman. They [male colleagues] choose to draw pictures on the wall of the woman and not-so-flattering pictures at that.”
McCray called the behaviour “inappropriate” and put it down largely to “immaturity”.
When the interviewer asked whether the other participants had seen similar things, safety advisor Rolando Sepulveda agreed, but said there was a difference in reactions between women who work in the office environment and those on the field.
“Ladies on the field have harder skin, they can take jokes,” he said.
“They’ll see the drawing and it’s just a drawing. Versus someone from the office, it’s going to hit human resources. It’s going to explode real fast.”
Sepulveda acknowledged that some of the issues had existed for a long time but were only now coming to prominence in the media. He added that when he first started working in construction there were hardly any women in the sector. As more started joining the construction workforce, he said that foremen had to adjust their language. He added that he delivers a training class that sets out clear boundaries.
Drywall foreman and former marine Kyle Brown said: “I don’t think we need to change the entire environment. I think it’s impossible to change what it is in construction specifically. It’s been a men’s workplace for so long but I think that together we can work it out.”
Sepulveda added: “Change is difficult but eventually everything is just going to settle down because it’s a whole new generation taking over.”
Women in construction
The fact that women are still very much outnumbered in the construction industry is not up for debate, although what – if anything – should be done about it might be. According to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), women now make up 9.1% of the construction industry in the United States. Numbers aren’t divided equally across roles, however. Women make up 43% of the office and sales staff, for example, 31% of management roles, and 21% of natural resources, construction and maintenance roles. By contrast, they only fill 1.5% of service occupations and 1.4% in production, transportation, and material moving.
Interestingly, women in construction earn an average of 95.7% of their male counterparts’ salaries – still a wage gap, but smaller than the 81.1% for the US jobs market as a whole.
In the UK, CITB figures showed that at the end of 2015, women represented almost a fifth (19.9%) of the construction industry’s workforce. This was a significant rise from 11.8% when figures were first recorded in 1978.
Research by Randstad and Construction News found that one in five companies had never employed a woman in a senior position and that half of all firms said they had never had a female manager. A quarter of all women surveyed believed they had been passed over for a project or promotion, and 28% of women said they had experienced inappropriate comments or behaviour from male colleagues.
The vast majority (93%) of all respondents to the survey claimed that having a female supervisor or manager would either not affect their jobs or it would have a positive effect, while 31% of women in the construction industry thought that having a female manager would improve the working environment.
The rise of #MeToo
The 'Me Too' movement (URL without the hashtag) actually predates the Harvey Weinstein scandal by more than a decade, and it certainly bears noting that cultures of harassment and abuse did not start or end with one person. Civil rights activist Tarana Burke founded the initial Me Too movement in 2006 “to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low-income communities, find pathways to healing.”
The movement’s slogan ‘You are not alone’ resonated with millions and was able to spread last year through the power of social media. Actress and activist Alyssa Milano popularised #MeToo, encouraging women to spread the hashtag to "give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Millions of women did just that, and the movement went viral on a global and multilingual scale.
Now, more and more industries have been implementing changes in the workforce, like sexual harassment training, in response to this global movement. What actions are your firm taking? Comment below and let us know.