Even now the name "Rosie the Riveter" calls to mind the surprising number of women that filled every kind of construction position from 1942 to 1945. Blue-collar-clad women proved to themselves and a grateful nation that they really could perform work traditionally reserved for men. They helped make ships, aircraft, munitions, vehicles, and worked in every facet of manufacturing and support, without which WWII could not have been won.
When the war ended, many women reluctantly gave up these jobs to returning G.I.s. In Richmond, Calif., for example women made up about 27 percent of the 100,000 shipyard workers. Women filled some 80 percent of other industries' workforce, according to "Rosie the Riveter" website (www.rosietheriveter.org).
Decades after that war, the tide is starting to turn. At www.tradeswoman.org, there is a direct link to Tradeswomen, Inc. that states:
"We are carpenters, electricians, glaziers, ironworkers, laborers, operating engineers, plumbers, pipefitters, masons, surveyors, sheet metal workers, truck drivers, and others, acting together to create fair and safe conditions for women working in nontraditional blue-collar jobs."
As emphasized, women are making inroads into the general construction areas not seen since the WWII era of "Rosie":
- Brickmasons and Blockmasons
- Cabinetmakers and Bench Carpenters
- Cement Masons and Concrete Finishers
- Civil Engineers
- Construction Laborers
- Cost Estimators
- Drywall and Ceiling Tile Installers
- General and Operations Managers
- Hazardous Materials Removal Workers
- Mechanical Drafters
- Mechanical Engineers
- Occupational Health and Safety Specialists
- Operating Engineers and Other Construction Equipment Operators
- Paving, Surfacing and Tamping Equipment Operators
- Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters
- Sheetmetal Workers
- Structural Iron and Steel Workers
- Structural Metal Fabricators and Fitters
- Truck Drivers, Heavy and Tractor-Trailer
- Telecommunications Line Installers and Repairers
- Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers
- Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers
However, even though women are making inroads into this traditionally male industry, the U.S. Deptartment of Labor (www.osha.gov) reported in an 1999 abstract:
"As increasing numbers of women enter the construction trades, concerns about their health and safety are growing. In addition to the primary safety and health hazards faced by all construction workers, there are safety and health issues specific to female construction workers. The small percentage of females within the construction trades and the serious health and safety problems unique to female construction workers have a circular effect. Safety and health problems in construction create barriers to women entering and remaining in this field. In turn, the small numbers of women workers on construction worksites foster an environment in which these safety and health problems arise or continue."
The report went on to state:
"The construction industry has been overwhelmingly male dominated for years, and on many job sites women construction workers are not welcome. Sex discrimination and anti-women attitudes are still prevalent on worksites, despite the fact that sex discrimination is illegal. Several studies have shown that female construction workers suffer from gender and sexual harassment, a factor associated with low job satisfaction as well as psychological and physiological health symptoms and workplace injuries. NIOSH found that, in a one-year period, 41 percent of female construction workers suffered from gender harassment. In the CWIT study, 88 percent of the respondents reported sexual harassment.
"Isolation — working as the only female on a job site or being ostracized by co-workers — evokes both fear of assault and stress. Many tradeswomen report that they are reluctant to report workplace safety and health problems lest they be tagged as complainers or whiners, straining further their workplace relationships and jeopardizing their employment situation."
Since the report was national, and not specific to California, it's hard to judge if this is the case here, especially since the report is several years old and strict sexual harassment laws in the workplace have been in force for some time. The reality of a lawsuit over gender discrimination and sexual harassment may render the report next to obsolete in the near future. And with the shortage of construction workers across the board, this may be just the right time for Rosie the Riveter's comeback.