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“We Can Do It!” – With A Little Help from the EEOC

For years, I’ve been enamored of the image of “Rosie the Riveter” – maybe it’s that we’re both redheads, but more likely it’s because she symbolize the breaking down of gender barriers, and new access for women to traditionally-male, higher-paying jobs.

That process of breaking down gender barriers is still very much in progress. Last week, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Vamco Sheet Metals, Inc., a company that manufactures and installs sheet metal in New York. The lawsuit alleges that all of the women working on Vamco’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice construction project were fired for “pretextual reasons” – in other words, for fabricated or trumped-up charges designed to hide discriminatory sexist motive. And while Vamco has finished its work on this particular project, the EEOC is hoping to protect women who want to work on Vamco’s construction sites in the future with an injunction.

The field of construction is notoriously hard for women to break into – in fact, while the Office for Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (OFCCP) sets a (very modest) goal for women to work 6.9% of federal construction contractor’s hours, in 2010 only 2.6% of construction workers were women. In order to up this percentage, not only does OFCCP need to revisit its goal (it hasn’t changed since 1978!), but rampant discrimination against women in nontraditional fields like construction must be addressed through lawsuits and policy change. Women and girls need to have greater access to career and technically education programs and apprenticeships, along with the encouragement to take advantage of them and female role models to help them along the way.

While I want every little girl who loves her Goldieblox and Roominate to be able to work in the field of her dreams, this is about more than aspirations: it’s also about money. Predominantly male occupations like construction pay significantly more than predominantly female occupations. Taking steps to ensure that more women can enter and succeed in the field of construction is one of many ways to help close the wage gap, which, like Vamco’s discriminatory policies, should have stayed in the last millennium.

The EEOC attorney handling this case, Thomas Lepak, says that “[w]ith this case and others, we’re letting [Vamco] know that they’re held to the same standards as any other company operating in this day and age.” Hats off – or should I say red bandanas off? – to the EEOC.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.