ALARM!! ALERT!!! . . . or, (yawn, shrug) Oh, well . . .

—by Susan Eisenberg

No one expects people trapped in a crashed car to extricate themselves. Others rush to help. Or call for trained rescuers. The 2.3% of women in construction trades could use a hand, too!

There’s bold honesty in the 2010 IBEW Women’s Conference Caucus Report that applies across the building trades and similar occupations:
“Women experience real discrimination every day, including enduring hostile work environments, unequal work assignments, and/or lack of career advancement so it should come as no surprise that discrimination is one of the primary reasons why women abandon their career and the IBEW.”

Aren’t construction workers as smart and resourceful as architects and engineers? And as capable of change?

Discrimination directly threatens an individual’s finances and safety and sometimes their life. But the ripple of harm from each incident extends much farther. Affecting their family, friends, community, co-workers, union.

When an equipment failure or human error puts lives at stake –– an aircraft, a power plant, an oil spill –– common sense says DON’T IGNORE IT. Figure out what went wrong. And then fix or replace –– not just that one, but any like it. Prevention is always the best strategy.

So why do the same stories of discrimination and violence repeat in the construction industry over 34 years? Why no national alarm or prevention system?

On Labor Day, let’s remind ourselves: human rights and labor movement success are inseparable.



  1. Susan, I am glad that you are still fighting the good fight for women who love the work of construction. Please stay your course for the young women who want to experience the love of the work that we have had. Some gave their all…unfortunately, some their lives. We are all better Women for the experience. N. Emons, Wisconsin


  2. I really feel that the reasons we haven’t made more strides in construction are cultural. Our society spends a lot of time dictating to men what they should be doing with their lives, and how they should be spending their time. It also spends a lot of time dictating to women about how they should spend their days. People who violate these instructions often face serious, negative consequences. Those who follow them are rewarded with social acceptance and clout.

    As an example, I read a story recently about a man in Ontario who was walking down the street wearing makeup. What he was doing did not hurt anyone or violate anybody’s rights, but a mob of people converged on this guy and began beating him. He was violating the rules governing what he as a man should be doing.

    Luckily, other people intervened on his behalf and he avoided serious injury, but the message was clear: break the rules, and you will pay. We as women in construction are not supposed to be doing this. We are violating the instructions we are given about who we ate supposed to be.

    I hate to have to say this, but until there is a major cultural shift in our society, I don’t expect to see much change. As women in the trades, we are storming the very Bastille of male supremacy (intentionally/knowingly or not). I think the backlash will continue to be severe for the rest of my lifetime, and likely longer.


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