WHY IS HARASSMENT OF FEMALE PROFESSIONALS WIDESPREAD IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY?
Harassment in the workplace is a sensitive topic that evokes different emotional reactions. It is a topic that even though known to be prevalent in work spaces, doesn’t get a platform to be aired without fear of victimization. Harassment takes different forms and is prevalent in all industries.
Workplace harassment can be considered as the belittling or threatening behaviour directed to an individual or group of individuals, resulting in an intolerable and hostile work environment. Harassment creates a huge divide in the work place because instead of having a harmonious work environment where there is cooperation and cohesiveness, it breeds an environment of toxicity and animosity.
Many companies over the years have rolled out sexual harassment and sensitivity programmes to ensure harmony in the co-ed work place. However, sexual harassment is not the only type of harassment. This is to say that harassment cases should be addressed in totality and inclusively instead of just narrowing it down to sexual harassment. Harassment can take many forms. It can be verbal, physical or even visual.
Why is harassment so prevalent in the construction sector?
The go to answer is the imbalance of the amount of women vs men employed in this sector. It is a well-known fact that the construction industry is a male-dominated industry. The construction industry has been infamous for being a “boys club” with no girls allowed. That already places women at a great disadvantage as the proportion of male and female professionals is imbalanced.
This imbalance brings to the fore challenges that women face at the hands of their male counterparts who are used to being in the driving seat and now have to shift and make space for women who are just as eager to enter the construction sector and make a difference. This breeds hostility from some male counterparts who are not used to having female bosses/supervisors.
It should be said that harassment of any form is unacceptable. Any environment that breeds hostility is an unhealthy environment. The construction industry is the most susceptible to harassment due to this imbalance as there are few women in the sector. The few that are in the sector are trying to pave their way in this male-dominated industry and find themselves facing a myriad of challenges that make them feel undervalued and not given enough of a platform without derogatory remarks from their male colleagues.
We should all be on the same level, as professional women don’t get to start off their career from the lady’s tee box. The universities and professional organisations all have the same requirements for acceptance regardless of gender. This thinking should also translate to the work environment where there is an equal platform for professionals to express themselves without the emphasis on gender and rather more emphasis placed on the work itself and the results of the work thereof.
One form of harassment that female construction professionals face is the constant belittlement of everything they do. Considering we all start off on the same foot; why do many female construction professionals feel constantly belittled?
One thing that I have personally encountered repeatedly is indifference from subcontractors and suppliers who are meant to work under my direction. Even to this day, when I meet a new subcontractor or supplier they assume I know absolutely nothing and have the need to re-educate me on my job. I have even had to work with male professionals who refuse to speak to me directly and will speak about me in the third person to my male counterparts in my presence.
This kind of belittlement is condescending to female construction professionals as it seeks to undermine the efforts they put into their work and the contribution they make thereof.
Harassment of females in the construction industry takes away the potential for the industry to bloom to even greater proportions through a cohesive and welcoming work environment. It takes away the energy that female professionals bring into the fold to make an even greater impact in the industry. Imagine working in an industry where female professionals feel welcome and accepted. The impact in the industry as a whole would be astronomical!
A cooperative team is the team that wins; this is no secret. The effects of harassment prevent what could become a strong teamwork spirit that could yield even bigger and better results. All female construction professionals yearn for a work environment that is welcoming and conducive.
The industry needs to be more welcoming to female professionals who have much to offer and can change the landscape of the industry. Instead of the constant belittling, how about offering a welcoming environment that nurtures growth? A positive work environment is needed for effective progress.
To the male counterparts who are reluctant to welcome female counterparts into the industry, ask yourself this: would it not make the industry even better if both genders worked together equally to achieve a common goal? Instead of belittling the efforts of female construction professionals, be the one that contributes towards making the environment a positive environment to work in.