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What is the status of women in construction?


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Women in the construction industry are crane operators, carpenters, scaffolders, painters, traffic controllers, and construction cleaners. They operate heavy plant on civil jobs and are increasingly involved in Australia’s resource sector–both as tradespersons and labourers. 

Yet, in spite of the construction, infrastructure, and engineering industries dominating Australia's economy, there is a lack of female representation in executive, leadership, and technical roles. 

In Australia's construction industry, the number of women working has fallen from 17% in 2006 to just 12% in 2016, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.

Women’s participation is about 2% in trades and around 14% in professional and management roles. 

Women’s participation is about 2% in trades and around 14% in professional and management roles. They are also leaving construction professions almost 39% faster than their male colleagues. 

The picture is the same in many parts of the world. In the UK, professional female representation is about 14% and trades are about 3% and in the. In the EU, it is 12%; however, in Norway its 35%, Denmark 25% and Sweden 18%.

 Recent research showed that almost one in three construction occupations are experiencing shortages compared to one in five last year. By improving women’s workforce participation rate, Australia could potentially boost GDP by 11% and increase Australia’s economic growth by $25 billion over the next 10 years.

Recent research showed that almost one in three construction occupations are experiencing shortages compared to 20% last year. 


Construction jobs offer attractive pay, national and international mobility and the sheer satisfaction of being part of building something for the future. So what is discouraging women from entering this workforce? 

University of New South Wales academics Louise Galea and Chappell, co-authors of the report ‘Demolishing Gender Structures’, say there is nothing inherently challenging for women in the nature of construction work, particularly with technological advances taking up so much of the heavy lifting. The authors believe the representation of women in construction is low and falling because women are less willing than men to tolerate such outdated, inflexible, and ultimately unproductive working conditions. It is especially the case when they start families and need a staged return to work.

Other research also shows that women less likely to put themselves up for promotion, have fewer role models follow, and are at the mercy formal and informal work practices which prevent them progressing. 

Women’s recruitment, retention, and career progression have been shown to be constrained by open and hidden discrimination, poor networking opportunities, cultures of long hours, and presenteeism. These cultures do not align with primary family and caring responsibilities, unconscious bias and stereotypes about core construction jobs not being suitable for women, a highly masculinised work culture, and many informal work practices which undermine well-intentioned formal policies to address the problem.

Women’s recruitment, retention, and career progression have been shown to be constrained by open and hidden discrimination...  

Construction is Australia’s second largest contributor to GDP, which makes closing the gap on female participation an issue of national importance.

So what is being done? 

The Women in Male Dominated Industries Toolkit produced by The Australian Human Rights Commission indicates that there are a number of key elements which make up an effective gender diversity strategy. These include enlisting senior leaders to implement the gender diversity strategy and challenge assumptions and stereotypes about male-dominated roles and workplaces. 

Further, there is the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).  It is an Australian not-for-profit organisation formed in 1995 and its mission is to champion and empower women in the construction and related industries to reach their full potential. NAWIC’s talent identification and management programs, such as awards and mentoring, play an important role in shifting the dial on the long-established gender imbalance within the industry requires a range of strategies.  

NAWIC holds a number of events throughout the year to assist women in the industry through personal and business networking, industry awareness, enhancement of skills and knowledge base, and encouragement to pursue and establish careers in construction.

Women in Western Australia’s construction industry have been celebrated recently at the 2017 NAWIC Awards. 

Women in Western Australia’s construction industry have been celebrated recently at the 2017 NAWIC Awards. It was a perfect opportunity to celebrate and highlight outstanding achievements women are making and showcase the variety of career options available in the industry.

Similarly, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union National Women's Committee holds meetings and an annual Conference to develop strategies to promote and support women in those industries.  

Finally, websites like The Lady Tradies say female trades professionals now are available almost everywhere, to do regular trades and help you with repairs and maintenance around the home or office. 

As this data shows, construction is missing out on a vast untapped source of potential talent by isolating potential female employees. But thankfully, awareness of this significant problem within the Australian and global construction industry is growing and institutional support is driving progress. 

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