- In an informal survey of 432 National Association of Women in Construction members, bullying or harassment on the job site were reported by 213 respondents.
- While the authors of the study said the number of women who reported never having experienced bullying, sexual harassment, or sexism was larger than expected, many of the responses seemed to be “No, but….”.
- Construction companies need to set up clear policies on sexual harassment, focused on creating a safe workplace and protecting them against liability.
Being called “honey” or “sweetie.” Being denied opportunities to advance or access continuing education. Unwanted kissing or groping, hearing inappropriate jokes or comments, being sexually propositioned, and not getting promoted after refusing to date the boss.
These are just a handful of the examples of bullying, sexism, and sexual harassment that women reported experiencing on the job site in the 2017 National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Sexual Harassment Survey, conducted by the OSHA-NAWIC Alliance Committee on Harassment in the Workplace.
The unscientific survey yielded 432 responses from NAWIC members, representing 10 per cent of the organization’s membership. Of those surveyed, 213 reported experiencing bullying or harassment; 160, sexual harassment; and 323, sexism. While the study’s authors said the number of women who reported never having experienced bullying, sexual harassment or sexism was higher than expected, many of the responses seemed to be “No, but….” and continued on to detail some other or lesser negative experience related to their gender.
The #MeToo movement put a spotlight on sexual harassment, and NAWIC is working to educate both men and women in construction about the issue.
“In reviewing the responses, it is our belief that sexism, bullying, and sexual harassment are still present in the construction industry. In spite of educating the workforce, webinars, seminars, required harassment prevention training, etc., these three issues still exist, although in many circumstances, they may be more subtle and less overt than previously seen,” the survey’s authors write.
Women currently make up only 9 per cent of the U.S. construction workforce. Even though the NAWIC survey sheds some light on the issue of sexual harassment and sexism in the construction industry, it’s difficult to say how many women experience it on a daily basis, explains Jessica Murphy, of counsel at Mirick, O’Connell, DeMallie & Lougee, a Boston-area law firm, and past president of the Greater Worcester, Massachusetts, chapter of NAWIC.
The #MeToo movement has put a spotlight on workplace sexual harassment and abuse, and NAWIC is working to educate both men and women in construction about the issue. The aim is for everyone to be able to “experience a safe workplace environment that is free of threats, harassment or assault, whether they are employees, managers, supervisors, employers or business owners,” the organization’s position on harassment says.
Last month, NAWIC hosted a webinar for its members. It covered definitions and types of sexual harassment, what constitutes legally actionable sexual harassment, what sexual harassment victims can do, protections for those reporting sexual harassment, and the steps employers can take to prevent and defend against sexual harassment claims.
“It’s about how to help their companies put into place the things that should be there, the things that we hope are going to stop sexual harassment, and the things that can help companies deal with issues like this,” Murphy says.
“I think what’s going to turn the tide in the construction industry is more recognition and awareness that there are women in the industry, that women are valuable to the industry, and making sure that people understand that the type of behavior that’s gone on in the past isn’t acceptable. It often crosses the line and might be a legal issue, and it needs to stop.”
Sexual harassment takes many forms. It can involve unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical harassment that is sexually charged, or comments about a person’s gender. It can occur within a worker’s company, or it can be perpetrated by subcontractors, project owners, or others who are encountered on a job site.
“What’s going to turn the tide in the construction industry is more recognition and awareness that there are women in the industry, and making sure that people understand that the type of behavior that’s gone on in the past isn’t acceptable.”
yMurphy says companies need to establish clear sexual harassment policies for two reasons: to foster a safe workplace and help them guard against liability. She notes that the policy should define sexual harassment and include a multi-tier reporting system.
“If you feel like you’re the only one this is happening to and that you don’t have support, it’s a very lonely place to be,” Murphy says. “That’s why getting a critical mass of women in the construction industry is so important. And, it’s also why organizations like NAWIC are so great. Some women are the only female in their company. It’s nice for them to have that resource of other women to rely on.”
Sexism and sexual harassment has been a barrier to bringing more women into the construction industry, according to NAWIC, and Murphy says a culture shift is needed to make more women choose a construction career.
“I think women in construction industries probably find themselves in a situation more akin to joining a police force or the military, a predominantly male field. One of the issues that’s been holding back change, I think, is that women in construction feel like they have to be tough,” Murphy comments.
“I’m very happy to see some of the young women in NAWIC who are excited about being in the construction field, excited about building and being a part of a changing physical landscape. Those are the women who are going to make the changes, although I hope we don’t have to wait that long.”