Gender inequality in the construction industry: an open letter for change & inclusivity

12th November 2020

Gender inequality and discrimination is a global problem, regardless of work area and geographic location. Since 2017, we have carried out exploratory studies to identify issues of gender inequality that exist in the labor environment of the construction industry.

On one hand, our main motivation in studying the theme lies in the fact that the construction industry stands out for having a great relevance in the global economic structure, being responsible for a considerable part of the generation of jobs in the world at different levels of training. On the other hand, it has a predominantly male work environment and is very susceptible to discrimination.

According to data from the Brazilian Chamber of Construction Industry, the Construction Industry was responsible for about 124 thousand, of the 841 thousand formal jobs created in Brazil in 2019. This data shows the great relevance of the sector in the country's economy and in the generation of jobs. By becoming a reference in gender inclusion practices, the sector can come to contribute largely to combat the existing imbalance, both in a direct way and by its indirect influence in other industrial sectors.

With regard to studies on women on construction sites, it is possible to observe the same questions in research carried out in different places around the world (i.e. prejudice in the hiring process, apparent higher cost involved due to the adaptation of the living areas, sexual division of labor, real lack of professional promotions (glass ceiling), and lack of specific guidance for male workers).

Among our main findings, we can mention the confirmation of the chasm that involves the hiring and maintenance of women in the construction industry and the reproduction of chauvinist models by both men and women. In contrast, contemporary society has sought to evolve in this context and has produced some space for distribution of powers previously limited to men. The empowerment experimented by women, when working in a predominantly male environment, has contributed to this change.

First of all, it is necessary to break the pattern that women are the cause of the harassment present in construction sites. Employees at all levels must be trained and instructed in order to recognise that respect and equity between genders must always be present in the work environment and in life. Such training may provide for meetings, instructions or booklets addressing gender equity and emphasising mutual respect.

In addition, actions should be taken to welcome employees, which may include:

  • the identification of jobs with female labor, the mapping of the employees' profile and expectations,
  • the implementation of adequate working environment infrastructure to meet the needs of all,
  • the reception and integration of women to avoid polarisation among workers, and
  • the creation of a communication channel to report any insecurity or discomfort felt throughout the work.

We emphasise that it is essential that supervisors and decision makers are aware of the theme and willing to promote changes.

Also, it is important to encourage the participation of women in unions and in politics to encourage the implementation of inclusive projects. The creation of public rules and policies is fundamental to encourage the implementation of the practices mentioned above.

Finally, it is important to highlight that nowadays our studies have been advancing to a broader view of existing gender diversity. Initially focused specifically on analysing the condition of women, these studies have become increasingly inclusive and now assess the current situation in the face of existing gender diversity, as we currently have 31 different types of genders recognised by the New York Human Rights Commission.

In this sense, we are developing research on the current organisational situation of construction sites in Brazil, considering aspects such as diversity management, harassment and security, discrimination, relationship with peers and leaders, and good practices. There is a lack of studies aimed at preparing the construction industry for an adequate management of existing gender diversity, in order to identify good practices for the insertion of all groups. Treating gender diversity more broadly is understood as fundamental to update the current rules, ensuring inclusive actions to create a favorable environment for construction sites for all people, inhibiting homophobia and transphobia. It is necessary to transform the construction industry in an inclusive environment, of diversity and equity. This sector can transform the societal perception of gender issues by employing a large labor force, without basing their hiring on factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability or any other aspect.

It is highlighted here the importance of the engineer, contractors and site managers as agents of social transformation, who can and should contribute to the inclusion of groups excluded from society, guaranteeing a respectful, safe and welcoming work environment for all its employees, regardless of gender.

Author

Elaine P. Varela Alberte, Universidade Federal da Bahia