The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) aim to ensure that more women and minorities have equal opportunities. New initiatives by both agencies follow a damning report issued last week by EEOC chair Charlotte A. Burrows, showing that women and people of color remain underrepresented in the construction industry—most notably among higher-paid, higher-skilled trades.

EEOC’s report includes a brief overview of the construction industry, followed by a discussion of discrimination based on race, national origin and sex, gathered from publicly resolved cases seen by the commission over the past decade.

A damning report issued by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chair Charlotte A. Burrows shows that women and people of color remain underrepresented in the construction industry—most notably among higher-paid, higher-skilled trades.

“Harassment is pervasive on many worksites and poses a significant barrier to the recruitment and retention of women and workers of color in the industry,” the report says, adding, “Racial harassment in construction often takes virulent forms and nooses appear with chilling frequency on jobsites across the country.”

EEOC’s report issues findings and next steps based on enforcement experience and witness testimony from a May 2021 hearing on discrimination and academic research. Among the actions planned by EEOC officials are industry-specific technical assistance for employers, unions and workers to help ensure fair hiring practices, equal treatment on the job and safe and inclusive workplaces.

EEOC also plans to provide information about lawful diversity, equity inclusion and accessibility practices that the commission has found effective in fostering equal opportunities. The commission will work cooperatively with other federal, state and local anti-discrimination agencies to advance equal employment opportunity, officials say.

EEOC’s report and initiatives follow a separate announcement in April by DOL for 14 grants, totaling $5 million, to help attract and support access for women to registered apprenticeship programs, including fields such as manufacturing and construction. With another 5.5 million persons seeking to join the labor force, according to BLS estimates, DOL is producing $5 million in grants to open more apprenticeship opportunities to women while designating $1 million for preventing and responding to gender-based violence and harassment against underserved and marginalized women workers. Currently, women only comprise approximately 14% of registered apprentices, while they account for nearly half of the U.S. labor force, DOL officials report.

Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grants are administered by the department’s Employment and Training Administration and Women’s Bureau.

But apprenticeships are just one measure that glass and glazing companies should implement to attract more diverse candidates to their labor pools, says Bonnie Blueford of the Blueford Group. This consulting firm helps leaders with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) planning. Other strategies should be outward-facing, Blueford suggests.

“I think it’s common for companies to build robust internal programs around diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. “Some are very intentional and very successful. But what I find interesting is their internal strategies.” At the same time, “What’s the external strategy?” she asks. “How are we filling that pipeline? I think this is another piece companies could [focus on]—having both internal and external strategies.”

Once more women and minorities are drawn into the labor pool, workers must feel safe and accepted in their new roles and positions, Blueford and other experts say. But a separate PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study shows that isn’t always true. Women and racially/ethnically diverse populations are more likely than all employees—as a whole—to voluntarily leave their jobs within their first year of employment, PwC finds.

“You can include people, but if they don’t belong, or they don’t feel like they belong, they’re not going to do their best work, and [DEI efforts] aren’t going to work,” says Robyn Hatcher, keynote speaker, and inclusive communication consultant.

According to DOE officials, workplace violence and harassment disproportionately harm women from underserved and historically marginalized communities, including those of color. These individuals identify as LGBTQI+, women with disabilities, and women affected by persistent poverty and inequality. For this reason, in addition to Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grants, DOE is producing $1 million for up to four grants to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and harassment against underserved and marginalized women workers.

According to BLS, in 2022, 87.2% of construction workers identified as white, while only 3.9% identify as women. By that measure, while discrimination is a long-standing issue for the industry, “We can decide the future,” Borrows says. “I look forward to working with industry leaders, employers and unions to help ensure safe and inclusive workplaces for all workers.”

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