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Charlotte Burrows, the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), published a report that highlights harassment and discrimination within the construction industry and presents approaches and actionable solutions to combat persistent problems.

The report, “Building for the Future: Advancing Equal Employment Opportunity in the Construction Industry,” includes an overview of construction industry composition and discussion of employment discrimination through the lens of the EEOC’s publicly resolved cases.

“The purpose of this report is to explain the need for new, different, and collaborative approaches to these persistent problems,” Burrows writes in the report. “The report draws on the commission’s considerable experience in combating employment discrimination in construction and other industries to highlight specific challenges and recommend concrete steps to address them.”

The report highlights how women and people of color are underrepresented in the industry, especially in higher-paying, higher-skilled trades. Women represent just 11% of the construction industry workforce, largely in office and clerical positions, and only 4% of the skilled trade workforce, according to the report. Black workers represented 13% of the total labor force in 2022, but less than 7% of the construction workforce. Asian workers account for 6.7% of the total workforce, but just 2.1% of the construction workforce.

Burrows’ report indicates discrimination based on sex, race, and national origin “persists and contributes to the underrepresentation of women and workers of color in construction.” Discrimination in recruitment, apprenticeships, and hiring “blocks access to good-paying construction careers,” and unequal treatment hinders advancement and pushes many women and workers of color out of the industry, according to the EEOC report.

“Harassment in construction is a workplace safety issue as well as a civil rights issue,” Burrows writes. “Because construction work can be hazardous and is often performed as a team, harassment in construction can endanger workers’ physical safety in addition to their well-being and potentially their careers. Indeed, evidence suggests that there is an increased risk of workplace injury to tradespeople who experience harassment on the job.”

In addition to the presence of discrimination, the EEOC report highlights how, oftentimes, construction workers do not know to whom or how to report violations. In some instances where issues have been reported, the EEOC has seen the presence of retaliation. Though the issue is not unique to the construction industry, retaliation is an additional barrier for workers seeking to change workplace culture, according to Burrows.

To help combat harassment and discrimination present in the industry as well as provide resources to individuals within the sector, the report outlines several next steps for the EEOC. The steps include developing industry-specific technical assistance for employers, unions, and workers to ensure fair hiring practices, safe and inclusive workplaces, and equal treatment; meeting with employers, industry groups, and workers to understand their needs and provide resources and information; and partnering with unions, employers, and community-based organizations to provide effective anti-harassment training to apprentices and workers.

“The EEOC recognizes that, given the effects of past and present discrimination, substantial effort is needed to ensure that opportunities in the construction industry are truly equal for all qualified workers,” Burrows writes. “Nonetheless, the current moment provides a pathway for meaningful progress toward that goal, and the EEOC looks forward to building on existing partnerships to achieve it.”