Contact Us

EEOC Pledges To Combat Racism In Construction As $1.2T In Infrastructure Funds Get Doled Out

The EEOC recently heard about the need for more diversity training — and hiring — in the construction industry.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission called on the construction industry to better prevent worksite harassment and institutional biases against women and minorities as the federal government is poised to spend more than $1T on infrastructure, EEOC commissioners said at a hearing this week

“The federal government and our public and private partners have really a historic opportunity and a duty to ensure that taxpayer money does not fund harassment or discrimination and that the doors of opportunity are open to everyone,” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said during Tuesday's hearing, according to the trade publication Construction Dive.

“Unfortunately, many women and people of color have either been shut out of construction jobs or face discrimination that limits their ability to thrive in these careers," Burrows said.

Commissioners heard personal accounts of racist and sexually biased incidents from workers in the industry, which remains overwhelmingly male and White. A 21-year ironworking veteran from the Chicago area, Japlan “Jazz” Allen, told the five-member commission that women in the ironworking industry face a lack of steady work, have more difficulties obtaining training and face biases and hostility toward women in the workplace. 

“The construction work culture is not like an average office workplace. Yelling, cussing, hazing, raunchy behavior, off-color jokes, bullying are the norms. A macho culture, or what some might call the locker room culture, is typically the norm for behavior, communication and practices in our workplaces,” Allen testified. “Women feel enormous pressure to fit in, to be one of the guys, and complaining about it or trying to change it just feeds into the idea that women are just not cut out for this type of work.”

Allen also said companies sometimes hire women and minorities to meet diversity goals, only to lay them off once the requirement has been fulfilled. In all, many minorities and women are reluctant to speak out, fearing retribution and a reputation that could prevent them from getting future work, she said.

“Tradeswomen are often the last hired and first to be let go,” she said. "Many are directly told they are only there to fill a quota. Or that they can’t be sent to a job because the company didn’t specifically ask for a woman."

At the hearing, advocates called for more diversity and anti-harassment training among construction industry executives and foremen. Associated General Contractors of America Chief Economist Ken Simonson called for more career and technical education funding to increase the employment base and said companies are already taking “a number of steps” to promote more inclusivity at work. 

“It’s certainly appropriate to call out cases of harassment and discrimination. These are outrageous examples that no responsible employer or association support. We’re glad to be publicizing that with you, but we think that going to mandates and restrictions is the wrong approach,” Simonson said, according to Construction Dive.