Constructing Gender Diversity

Last week, I walked passed a city construction site (shown in the accompanying image). I approached two construction workers wearing high-vis as they managed the site entrance for vehicles and pedestrians on the footpath. From a distance, I could see I was going to have to walk very close to where the workers were standing. I was apprehensive, not just because of the traffic moving on and off the site, but because of my own bias. 

I recall from highschool the rumour that the construction workers building the new hall on school grounds were paid extra per hour for agreeing not to talk to or cat-call the girls. Currently, the construction industry remains the most male dominated sector in the country with women representing less than 12% of all workers (ABS, 2016). The cliché wolf-whistling construction worker continues to be a reality for many women. 

Construction site harassment is classed as ‘street harassment’, which is defined by Stop Street Harassment as "unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation." In an online study by Stop Street Harassment, 95% of respondents said they had been the victims of leering, honking or whistling and a large proportion had been groped or grabbed in public. In 2015, the Australian Institute found that of 1,426 women, 87% were verbally or physically attacked by strangers while walking down the street. 

A study published in 2010 reported that "the experience of street harassment is directly related to a greater preoccupation with physical appearance and body shame, and is indirectly related to heightened fears of rape…and a sense of a lack of safety” (Chaudoir, S.R. & Quinn, D.M ‘Sex Roles’).

Disturbingly, a global study by Hollaback! and Cornell University found that most women first experience street harassment as girls under the age of 17.

In 2014, a woman in the US decided to take action and confront men who harassed her on the street by giving them her Cards Against Harassment. The cards included statements like ‘It’s not a compliment. It’s harassment’ and ‘Don’t be that guy. Nobody likes that guy’. In researching tips on what women should do in these situations, I found some advice from a construction worker. Abraham Arteaga recommended;

  1. Complain to the site supervisor/foreman
  2. Contact the company
  3. Tell the perpetrator to stop and that you don’t like it

So, as I approached the two construction workers, I mentally prepared my response to any unwanted attention. After making eye contact with one of the workers, she smiled and said ‘Good Morning’. In that instant, my apprehensive moment became a highlight of my day. 

When I saw the site later, I noticed there were a number of women working alongside their male colleagues. It made we wonder about how the prevalence of street harassment might be diminished with gender diversity, as in the case of this John Holland construction site. 

Diversity Inclusion would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on gender diversity in sectors like construction, please leave us a comment.