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Homophobia Hinders Women in Building Trades

Despite women’s interest in well-paying blue-collar careers, tradeswomen currently comprise less than 2 percent of the workforce in building trades nationwide. Being one of the few high-paying careers for people without a college degree, trade workers also benefit from having unions, yet the barriers to entry for women remain high.

A new study, “Gendered Homophobia and the Contradictions of Workplace Discrimination for Women in the Building Trades,” published in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society, provides insight on the way gender and sexual discrimination dissuade women from joining the blue-collar ranks.

Denissen and Saguy explain that when women enter trade work, men often feel threatened. This stems from the building trades being traditionally seen as “men’s work.” The study finds that tradeswomen are sexually objectified and occupationally discriminated against in an attempt to neutralize the threat tradeswomen pose to men’s perceived right of privileged access to these lucrative careers.

While more than half of the women identified as straight, their male colleagues typically perceived them as lesbians and “not real women.” Tradesmen sexualize both straight and lesbian women, delegitimating them in the workplace.

Because tradeswomen challenge stereotypes about femininity, both straight and lesbian tradeswomen are subject to homophobia. However, Denissen notes that lesbian tradeswomen face greater risks in navigating their sexual identity in the workplace.

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