- Hammers and nails know no gender. Steel girders don't claim an ethnic heritage. But Massachusetts broadly missed its workforce participation goals for women and minorities on construction contracts, state auditors found.
- A full 95% of contracts administered by the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), which oversees more than $2 billion in construction spending annually, failed to meet Massachusetts' 6.9% target for hours worked by women. Meanwhile, 64% of contracts missed the 15.3% participation goal for minorities.
- The majority of contracts — 61% — didn't have any hours clocked by women. And nearly a third — 28% — reported no hours logged by minorities, according to the report, which audited contracts from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020.
Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump's report is the latest example of a nationwide trend that shows the construction industry's "diversity and inclusion" campaign has done little to change hiring practices or the field's macho and racist image.
The tone of the Massachusetts report echoes a recent letter from the Federal Aviation Administration, calling out the Kansas City International Airport for inadequately tracking women and minority participation on its new terminal project, as mandated by its federal grant funding.
And in Minnesota, an investigation by the Star Tribune newspaper found dozens of state contracts over two years in which not a single woman or person of color was employed on the construction team.
The Massachusetts audit report, which spotlighted the state's failure to meet its own targets for women, was published days before the March 7 kickoff for national Women in Construction Week to highlight female workers in the profession.
However, Lisa Dixon, chief of staff at DCAMM, disputed the state auditor's figures.
For example, Dixon said the auditor's numbers didn't acknowledge contracts with few workers and limited hours; situations where a project was just beginning or ending; or jobs that had a small crew of in-house specialty staff.
Constructive Dive went back to the auditor's office, which stood by its figures to the decimal point.
"DCAMM has not been diligent in its monitoring and enforcement of these requirements," said Bump, the state auditor, in a prepared statement.
The audit found that DCAMM didn't have adequate processes in place to ensure contractors met workforce participation goals for women and minorities, as required by state law. It also concluded DCAMM didn't enforce workforce tracking by contractors.
In the report, DCAMM responded to those findings.
"DCAMM's Affirmative Marketing Program is both a focus and source of pride for our agency," the agency said in the report. "DCAMM expands opportunities for minority, women and veteran-owned businesses, helps minorities and women realize successful careers in the construction industry, and helps to create a pipeline of skilled workers for a diverse workforce."
The agency said monitoring of its workforce participation goals has historically taken place via a "tailored approach" for each contract. It said it was responding to the report by supplementing its tailored approach "with a structure for additional supervisor review."
Dixon said that in the two years since the period covered in the auditor's report, DCAMM has worked to address many of the issues raised. For example, it has added an additional review to projected workforce participation tables, and a quarterly report requirement for all active contracts.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, White people represent 87.9% of all workers in construction, with just 11% of positions filled by women, and only 6.3% filled by Black people. The nation’s overall workforce, by comparison, is 77.5% White, 47% female and 12.3% Black.
In 2021, industry stalwarts kicked off the inaugural Construction Inclusion Week to try to expand the appeal of the industry, which is starving for workers, to attract a broader and more diverse labor pool.
But as these examples, and a recent Congressional hearing show, projecting a welcoming posture toward underrepresented groups has yielded slow and weak progress. That's especially true when tracking and enforcement mechanisms aren't in place.
Lisa Garney, owner of G2 Construction in Kansas City, which was shut out of the Kansas City airport project, put it bluntly: "If no one is holding these guys accountable, they're not going to actually participate."