In the United States, Equal Opportunity employment has become accepted practice, and is in fact federal law. Many companies express that they are an ‘Equal Opportunity Employer’ right on the application. In basic terms equal opportunity means that applicants for hire are considered regardless of race, color, religion, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation. This came hand in hand with the civil rights movement and since has opened up many types of work to folks who were once considered socially unsuitable. While many jobs still appear to be skewed towards one gender or even one race, the composition is generally much more diverse than it was sixty years ago. Construction fields are a particularly good example of this shift.
Especially in the case of gender, construction used to be a fairly closed profession. Before equal opportunity developed, many construction jobs were once held exclusively by men, many of them caucasian. Today, many people still consider construction to be a man’s job. While statistics do reflect that a great percentage of construction workers are male, many capable workers are indeed women. This new representation of women in the work force, as well as other less traditionally considered laborers was not easily won. Many years of perseverance and integrity had to be applied to create this change. Cheryl Waiters informs the reading public of this struggle in her memoir Blood, Sweat and High Heels. Working particularly as an electrician, Waiters is and African American construction worker who writes of great adversity on the path to become successful in her field. For Waiters, as for many woman entering construction work, much of the difficulties are rooted in inaccurate stereotypes. To say that women are as smart, efficient and physically capable as men seems obvious, though many women who work construction still feel they have to prove their worth to their male counterparts. In heavily male careers, women must also come up against a ‘boys-only-club’ mentality in which it is more difficult to make the personal relationships necessary to further growth and promotion.
Protected by Equal Opportunity legislation, some women in the construction workforce are criticized as being a quota that must be filled to meet diversity standards. While it is true that many companies and educational organizations are bound to represent certain statistics as far as gender and race are concerned, the standards set forth for those women are no less demanding or rigorous than those of the men they work alongside. Construction staffing agencies do a great deal to continue the promotion of equal opportunity employment, connecting qualified people of all genders and races with the employers who need their services. As more work is sourced out to independent contractors and construction staffing agencies, more capable parties of all sorts of backgrounds find themselves employed. It is, in fact, frequently the least likely party who is willing to work the hardest and put forth the most revolutionary ideas. As far as women in construction are concerned, while the situation has improved, some still experience the same shocking difficulties that Waiters did. Most women, however, in recent years find both the work and their fellow workers to be welcoming to their positive presence.
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