Know Your Rights: Navigating Workplace Equality for Women in the Trades

For many years, the construction and trade industry has been mostly male-dominated. It’s a trend that continues to this day. The stats published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research show that women make up only 4% of the workers in the construction industry.

There is clearly still work to do, and it’s essential that you know your rights so you can exercise them so you can have an equal seat at the table and avoid discrimination. This guide will explain how you should be treated fairly when working in the trades and how to get the respect you deserve.

Why The Lack Of Women

If you want to work in any of the trades, from construction to plumbing, you deserve a shot. Although many people appreciate that sentiment, why are so few women in the trades still? There are many plausible reasons.

Many believe that the trades aren’t more diverse because there’s a negative perception that women can’t handle the work. However, with the proper changes, more women can be drawn to the trades. Today, there still exists the issue that a lot of the equipment around the job site is made for men and not women. There are often no sit-down toilets, and safety harnesses are made a bit larger so women can’t sit in them properly. Again, as more women are empowered to join the trades, these issues can be fixed, but in addition to joining, you also need to stand up for yourself.

What Are Your Rights?

When in doubt about your rights or things simply don’t feel right when you clock in, then look to one resource. Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII makes it illegal for a company to discriminate against you based on your gender, race, or religion. Employers also cannot retaliate when you try to exercise those rights or complain about the discrimination.

So, you might find that your foreman or construction manager is not taking the proper steps to ensure that you’re safe. They might also prevent you from working to the best of your ability. If that’s the case, then take action. Elevate your case to the human resources department.

One way your company may discriminate against you is by providing you with different pay than your male counterparts. While the construction industry has done a fairly good job addressing the pay gap by helping women earn 95.5% of what men make, if you know you’re making less or deserve higher pay, talk to your boss or manager.

Before you do, build your case. Write down all your responsibilities that you bring to the table. Pitch how you can continue to be an asset down the line. You can also research online and find what other companies pay their employees for the same work and use that in your argument.

If you do find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it’s also essential to take care of yourself. When you don’t feel like you fit in at work, it’s also possible to feel anxious. When you’re stressed, it’s easier to become injured and have accidents on the job; this is because stress in a work environment can lead to poor decision-making skills or increase an employee’s likelihood of being distracted, and thus lead to poorer performance on the job. Taking care of your mental health and doing what you can to eliminate stress is important if you are going through this process.

Recognizing And Overcoming Sexual Harassment

Even in a day and age when equality is becoming more of a norm, whenever men and women work together, there’s still a chance of sexual harassment. This harmful behavior can take two forms. Sexual harassment can be when a person of power on the construction crew asks you to engage in sexual behavior in exchange for a perk at work. It can also be if you’re called names or are subjected to unwanted physical behaviors while on the job site.

If you’re subjected to any form of harassment, then you need to take action. As soon as the unwanted advance occurs, write it down. Notate in detail the time and day, what was said, and what happened. It’s essential to do this so that the other person involved can’t try to change the facts. Then, report it immediately to the person in charge, and if the person in charge is the culprit, go above them. If your company doesn’t take action immediately, you might consider legal action.

When you feel like you need support, reach out to a few of the numerous groups that help to elevate women in construction. There’s the Professional Women in Construction (PWC), which helps to connect women and support diversity in the trades. There are also groups that are for specific trades, such as the TD Industries Women in the Trades Program for sheet metal technicians and the Women in Construction Operations (WIOPS) for women who work on the operations side of the construction industry. Knowing your rights is a way to protect yourself and pave the way for other women who want to work in the trades.

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