Providing Research and Technical Assistance to Union Construction Partners on Recruiting and Retaining Tradeswomen
The Boston Employment Commission (BEC), under the leadership of Director Karilyn Crockett and Chair Travis Watson, has done a great job of stepping up enforcement of the City’s goals. For ongoing projects, the goals are 10% women, 25% people of color and 50% residents. As of last January, Boston’s goals for new projects are 12% women, 40% people of color and 51% residents.
Among the issues raised at today’s monthly meeting:
- Some contractors continue to conflate their contracts with Women-owned Business Enterprises (WBEs) and the number of tradeswomen on their projects. As we showed in our study of 6 million women’s work hours on Boston’s Big Dig, WBEs actually hire women at lower rates than contractors across the board. We think this makes sense. As long as construction is a male-dominated industry, women business owners cannot risk being painted as a “women company.” Not fair, but the real world. The Big Dig study is available here.
- We have seen the best and the worst here today. Turner Construction is hitting 9% women’s hours and 37% people of color and 36% Boston residents on Harvard’s $400 million Science and Engineering Complex in Allston. PGTI took the opportunity to point out that Turner is a leader in the region because company leaders– and especially Maureen Kirkpatrick and Allison Stanton– have participated in and supported PGTI, Building Pathways and our sister efforts since our beginnings 10 year ago. They have ensured that our best practices, “Finishing the Job,” are integrated into Turner’s business practices. Proof that the best practices work. The worst today was BC Construction Co. A $4 million job in the middle of neighborhoods of color has 0% women, 6% people of color and 10% Boston residents. The excuses were comical and tragic. “We are trying.” “It’s a small job.” “We shuffle around our one minority worker.” (Really said that and then backtracked.) Commissioner Travis Watson pointed out that there are 526 carpenters and laborers in the Boston Jobs Bank database and there is no excuse for this level of failure. It was suggested that BC Construction might want to stay out of Boston in the future.
- The most outrageous event of the meeting was the contention– in writing — by New England Foundation Co. (NEFCO) that “Given the rugged nature of our work, the only position that can be safely performed by women is the oiler.” Unfortunately, NEFCO was not in the room. We madetwo suggestions. First, we asked that the owner of the project, Boston College, and the BEC write to NEFCO and appraise them of their disappointment in the claim that women cannot do the work. Second, we asked the BEC to review their use of the job category “oiler.” The trade is archaic and largely non-existent. One concern is that the category may be a used to add women and people of color to a site without real work and training.
- The Commissioners concluded the meeting with the discussion of further steps in compliance and implementation of sanctions. PGTI continues to raise concerns about the poor numbers for women across all projects. While women’s work hours have increased and more than half of those hours are being worked by women of color, progress is not being made in the percentage of women’s hours across all City-monitored projects. Check out the data below which indicates that women are getting half as many hours as men. We have requested that the BEC run its own analysis to confirm or contradict these apparent findings.
A guy in a hardhat calls out to a woman walking past a construction site, “Hey, ya looking hot.” The woman shoots back, “Get a friggin’ life, you moron.” Sitting amidst 5 male co-workers, the catcaller slowly rises to his feet and soulfully says, “You know what? Toxic masculinity is a set of velvet handcuffs and gender norms have the hidden key.”
This is the conclusion of a Saturday Night Live sketch with Charles Barkley playing the woke worker who opens the eyes of his construction brothers as he muses on why women’s clothes have the best colors. The guys explore the fashion choices they would have if only they were women. “My closet is a sea of tans and browns. “Why do women get to echo the seasons in playful ways?”
Just a joke or have guys in construction really changed?
In another, much more serious, video that made the rounds of social media recently, five men who work in construction in Texas discuss how the #MeToo movement has affected their work lives. Their stories of how their female co-workers are treated are stereotypical and not pretty. Lewd pictures of women drawn on walls, sexist and abusive comments. They have all seen it. One acknowledges that women “sometimes have to work twice as hard to get the job.” Two admit to behavior they are not proud of when they were younger. The discussion is thoughtful and sensitive, but none see themselves as part of the problem. The HR guy thinks it’s not really harassment if the woman plays along and he brings a witness whenever he talks to a woman. The ex-Marine thinks life is the way it is and it’s impossible to change the construction workplace but, in the same sentence, says “together we can work it out.” He echos a sentiment often expressed by men when he says, “I don’t know what the MeToo movement is but my big changing point was my daughters…” Women of the #MeToo movement have asked if men really need to have female relatives in order to overcome their own sexism? When one guy questions the legitimacy of harassment that happened years ago (“…depending on how bad it was… It’s his word against her word, right?”), another defends the right of women who have been shamed into silence. “With the MeToo movement that’s the whole point of it is, ‘you’re not crazy. I know you were scared back then.'” The discussion concludes with these younger guys saying the construction workplace has changed and that the problems of the sexist and hostile workplace are dying with an older generation.
This is a feeling expressed by many tradeswomen working in Boston today. While threats and danger still exist (see our February post on the murder of Laborer Outi Hicks), the everyday working life of Boston’s tradeswomen is very different from what it was a decade or more ago. The number of tradeswomen has tripled in Massachusetts and not being the only women on a site is a common work day experience for tradeswomen today in Boston. These changes may indeed also change men. A study of the military in Norway found that the best way to get men to change their attitudes about women working in male-dominated environments was to have men work with more women. Women were assigned to some Norwegian miliary boot camps and not to others. Researchers concluded that living and working with women “causes men to adopted more egalitarian attitudes.” (Research– often the big duh!)
These changes were anticipated twenty years ago when the women of the HASWIC (Health and Safety of Women in Construction) work group made this recommendation to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:
“To address the problem of workplace isolation of female construction workers, employers, apprenticeship programs, and unions (where responsible) should assign female workers in pairs, or more when possible, especially those who are relatively new to the construction trade.”
More women on sites has made the work safer and less stressful for women. It has also made it normal for women and many of the men. In a video on dealing with gender bullying produced by the British Columbia WorkSafe program, longtime Electrician Kelly Keinleitner says, “Do I have to be the female journey? … I don’t think there’s gender in trades other than two– apprentice and journey. That’s it.”
Construction, at least in Boston, is less and less a “man’s world” and more and more a world of highly qualified and proud construction workers.
For the week ending 3/4/18, NASDI, a demolition company working on the Gilbane site at 48 Boylston St in Boston’s Chinatown, has 22% tradeswomen’s hours, 75% people of color and 55% Boston residents. This was also the first site in Boston to hang the Build A Life That Works scrim on the site. Congratulations and let us know when your project or training program hits #20percentby2020!
Today, Valentine’s Day, is the one year anniversary of the murder of Outi Hicks, Carpenter apprentice, killed by a co-worker on a construction site in Fresno, CA.
The article below from the New York Times discusses the connection between sexual harassment on the job and the concept of “manly jobs” or, as the author describes it, “blue-collar jobs that once scored a kind of manly trifecta: They paid a breadwinner’s wage, embodied strength and formed the backbone of the American economy.” This certainly describes the benefits of the construction trades today for both women and men–good wages, hard work and building communities.
But along with those benefits has come a long history of sexism and discrimination against tradeswomen. Outi’s fate is one story and most tradeswomen have endless and often horrifying stories of their experiences of being the only woman in a “hostile work environment.” [PGTI’s founding document, Unfinished Business, documents this history.]
Over the past decade, tradeswomen and their allies, with the support of their unions and industry leaders, have been transforming the construction workplace in Massachusetts. In Greater Boston, it is now nearly normal for women to not be the only one on a construction site and, when harassment does happen, tradeswomen’s formal and informal networks across the state provide resources to protect the women and even to confront the problem man.
And that is usually where the story begins and should end– with one sexist man with the bad attitude, the bully, the idiot. He starts it, the teasing, demeaning, touching, threatening. The woman knows she could lose her job or worse and lacks the power to stop it.
That is when the another tradesman, That One Guy, is needed. That One Guy who tells the idiot to it cut out. That One Guy who takes the woman aside to find out what is going on. That One Guy who will speak up for the woman if the story needs to go higher to a super or steward to get the bully to back down and shut up– or to lose his job. That One Guy stands up for the simple right of women to do their job with dignity and respect, the same as every other tradesperson on the site.
At the 2017 Women Build Nations Conference in Chicago last October, Outi Hicks was honored and the Ironworkers’ Union debuted their Be That One Guy campaign. It is another tool for making the work safe for women and reaching the goal of 20% women by 2020, a tool that should be used on sites and in training centers throughout the industry. The alternatives, embodied in the memory of Outi and spelled out in the article below, perpetuate not only the danger and discrimination of the past but also an image and reputation that has injured the entire building trades movement. For a stronger and unified building trades movement, sisters, #WeAreOutiHicks, and brothers, #BeThatOneGuy.
Thanks to the Building Trades Employers Association and the Building Trades Training Directors Association for hosting our February 8 webinar, “HOW AND WHY: Best Practices for Recruiting and Retaining Women to Joint Construction Apprenticeship.” In the 50 minute presentation, we review area best practices and suggest questions for JATC directors, staff and trustees. Upcoming revisions to the federal apprenticeship standards will require JATCs to rethink their Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policies and reorganize their outreach, recruitment and selection practices. This can be an opportunity for JATCs to step up their recruitment of women and bring greater diversity to their apprentice classes and to the union workforce as a whole.
Click below to watch the webinar and contact us with questions, comments and requests for in-person technical assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Only the union sector can supply the tradeswomen of the future.”
–Brian Doherty, General Agent, Metro Boston Building Trades Council