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EEOC Takes a Closer Look at Discrimination in Construction

On May 17, 2022, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held a public hearing on discrimination issues in construction. After noting the importance of the construction industry as a path to “prosperity and security,” the EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows noted, “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.”

Chair Burrows pointed to some of the worst displays of discrimination in the construction industry as seen by the EEOC. The examples she provided included displays of nooses, threats and physical harassment, and physical or sexual assaults. She said that these employees do not know where to go to find help. Expert witnesses spoke at the hearing. The construction industry is historically white and male-dominated. Some individuals spoke about the difficulty for individuals who are not part of that historical demographic. The chief economist from the Associated General Contractors of America said that companies and construction associations are taking steps to “provide a more welcoming and inclusive work environment.” He requested more funding to help with technical education away from “higher education bias.”

A female ironworker with 21 years of working in the field testified at the hearing about the excellent wages and benefits that construction trades can offer women. She also spoke about other women struggling to stay in the industry because of inequities in hiring and on-the-job training, and hostile workplaces. Other individuals from diverse backgrounds spoke of their struggles and called upon the federal government to hold abusive employers accountable. With funds going to the construction industry through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Chair Burrows spoke of the federal government and its public and private partners’ opportunity to foster opportunity for everyone.