WASHINGTON - Key officials from the Department of Labor (DOL), North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU), and leading organizations promoting diversity and inclusion in the building trades met at the NABTU on January 26th to discuss strategy and make history. Robust discussion that followed panel presentations and Q&A at the Construction Diversity Summit led to some groundbreaking conclusions.
The world is changing and the construction industry is taking steps to meet the challenges posed by projected skilled workforce shortages and diversity and inclusion. Women are severely underrepresented in construction jobs and apprenticeships. Despite composing half of the workforce, women make up only 2.6 percent of workers in construction.
The first panel on women in construction that presented at the summit included Chicago Women in Construction and Policy Group on Tradeswomen's Issues (PGTI) and addressed a range of hurdles to diversity and inclusion. "We must keep in mind that the same anti-discrimination practices and policies that are in place for the mainstream culture may not work for underrepresented groups as we are dealing with micro-inequalities, gender stereotypes, and hidden biases," said Lauren Sugerman, national policy director, Chicago Women in Trades. "It's critical to examine assumptions about dominant culture vs. underrepresented groups and promote gender and culturally sensitive employment practices."
While anti-sexual harassment training is necessary, it's equally important to raise awareness to combat bullying, hazing and other types of harassment and sometimes what's considered "small offenses." In order to succeed in changing the construction jobsite dynamic, there must be a critical mass of initiatives that are rigorously monitored and driven through. In other words, we must walk the talk and make diversity and inclusion part of the culture.
"While pre-apprenticeship programs give women a competitive advantage, that alone is not enough," said Elizabeth Skidmore, co-convenor of PGTI and organizer of New England Regional Council of Carpenters. "Retention is key to improving diversity in the construction industry. The focus shouldn't be just on getting underrepresented groups hired but also on retention." All agreed that equal opportunities to have full careers must be created for underrepresented groups, rather than focusing just on job placement. Having multi-stakeholder involvement is vital in improving retention. On the other hand, increasing the demand will naturally drive the call for diversity. Hence it is important to bring contractors to the table and include them in the conversation.
There was a clear consensus about the need to emphasize on diversity ROI and to develop toolkits including marketing toolkits for recruitment and retention. "We are committed to working with our partners to develop materials and toolkits and get them in the hands of diversity leaders and decision makers," said Tom Kriger, director of research and education at NABTU.
The Iron Workers (IW) represents 130,000 ironworkers in North America who work in construction on bridges; structural steel; ornamental, architectural, and miscellaneous metals; rebar; and in shops.
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