On Equal Terms Project

"Stella" figure on ladder in art gallery with three women

AFL-CIO exhibit opening with IBEW Director of Civic and Community Engagement, Tarn Goelling, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and artist-activist Susan Eisenberg

The On Equal Terms Project draws on research, art and personal testimony to analyze, convey and address equity issues for women in historically male occupations, examining how embedded discrimination can undermine inclusion efforts.

Focusing on the construction industry, where women are still less than 4% of the workforce despite demonstrated capabilities and four decades of affirmative action, projects frame the experiences of women in these careers to policymakers and the general public, and encourage collaborative problem-solving that brings together working tradeswomen, industry leaders and government officials at the local and national levels. The economic significance, visibility and quality of construction careers — especially in the union sector — give them importance; and helps to illuminate workplace issues across all historically male occupations. Current research focuses on skilled trades jobs where employment is "permanent," in contrast to the contingent nature of construction work.


Founded in 2007 and directed by Susan Eisenberg, the On Equal Terms Project developed and toured a 900-square-foot mixed media art installation, "On Equal Terms," combining audio, poetry, found objects, photographs, historic artifacts and 3-D mixed media — including Stella, a life-sized figure on a ladder in a diamond hardhat — to bring viewers into the experiences of women who work on construction sites

The installation's 2008 launch at Brandeis coincided with the 30th anniversary of federal affirmative action policies that, in 1978, opened construction jobs and apprenticeship programs to women. Exhibition venues include the WSRC’s Kniznick Gallery, the Clemente Soto Velez Center in New York City, the Smithsonian-affiliated Michigan State University Museum in Lansing, Michigan, and the lobby gallery of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., a few blocks from the White House.

As 2016-17 Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist at the University of Michigan's Center for the Education of Women, Eisenberg translated the physical installation into a more accessible digital format that allows for more content. "On Equal Terms: Gender & Solidarity," an independently hosted website with a landing page and 12 interactive rooms launched in 2018. The digital project celebrates achievements; examines discrimination, both deliberate and embedded; and invites viewers to use the past to develop bold ideas that ensure career pathways that treat everyone "on equal terms."

Working with grassroots tradeswomen and union leaders, the On Equal Terms Project is developing new content to be added to the online exhibition.

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