The trade and construction industry has historically been one dominated by men, while women are more dominant in roles like nursing and teaching. This was found to be true in the Australian Government WGEA Gender Equality Scorecard from November 2018. Over the past few years measures such as government grants have been put in place to help bridge the gender gap in many industries such as construction. However, the number of women apprentices/trainees in core trades of carpentry, automotive and electrical have remained at less than 2% for more than 25 years.
Leveling the gender gap mightn’t originally have the full support of everyone you know to begin with, but better diversity (in terms of both gender and culture) is crucial for the longevity of the industry in the long run. We’ll expand more on this some more further on, but first…
The current obstacles that are faced
As a tradie of 15 years myself and with family and friends in construction, I’ve seen first hand what a lot of worksites look like, and who exactly they consist of. From the time I first put on my steel capped boots in the early 2000’s until now, the culture and the workforce composition of this predominantly male sector have remained fairly the same.
“The barriers to entering the sector range from social, economic, educational and exclusionary industry practices,” says Dr Phillippa Carnemolla, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney.
What are arguably the biggest obstacles can be lumped into social misconceptions and stereotypes. There is often a false assumption that women can’t keep up with labour-intensive work which is required in trade-based careers, but with modern day legalities for workplace health and safety measures (such as weight lifting limits and the use of appropriate tools instead of manual labour) women are on par and even outperforming their male counterparts in some industries.
If women do make it into the industry, Dr Phillippa Carnemolla says “the reasons women leave the sector are equally diverse and range from a lack of flexibility and progression, poor parental leave practices and a tolerance of sexism.”
According to Tradeswomen Australia, another barrier to increasing the number of women employed in trades is also the lack of structural support systems for women working in male-dominated trade industries.
Anecdotally, the industry specific roadblocks to hiring or engaging female workers can be put down to things as simple as the requirement for each site to have an additionally bathroom facility, with many I’ve spoken to in small business just not able to wear the costs involved.
Why it’s important, for everyone
Despite the various challenges, the women who are getting into the industry are taking it by storm. Social media personalities such as Aimee Stanton from House Rules, Bards Builds, and Chelsea (aka. She Builds Bro) are highly successful and respected within the industry.
Penny Petridis is the founder of Female Tradie, an all-women workforce service.
“I want women to have confidence in their ability to do jobs in building and construction well and to excel. Women need access to better information, so they know the huge range of job roles to choose from. Not all jobs in the industry involve manual labour,” says Penny.
Businesses and companies that are more gender diverse are also proven to have some of the following benefits:
- Better quality of work
- Higher profit margins
- Lower stress levels
- Lower staff turnover
- Extension of shared skills and knowledge
- More value to customers
What everyone can do to improve the gender gap in the building and construction industry
A positive change is in order, and fortunately it’s something that everyone can make a difference in.
Below are a few small steps that we can take as both individuals and businesses. The best part is, some of them won’t even cost you a cent.
Tips to improve the gender gap in the workforce:
- Follow, like, share or comment on other women-based trade businesses on social media
- Encourage younger women to look past the gender stereotypes and consider entering an industry that can provide them with a solid and fulfilling career.
- Hire apprentices based on merit, attitude and motivation to work, no matter what gender
- Avoid word-of-mouth referrals when looking for subcontractors to team up with on projects you have coming up. Instead, see who is available to work in your area on platforms such as The Skill Xchange.
On The Skill Xchange platform itself, there is also the ability to temporarily extend your core workforce should a larger job opportunity or an extra project present itself on short notice, potentially never again letting a customer facing opportunity go because of work load exceeding company size. Connecting with available workers is instant and easy and can be done through tender or short term bookings, where businesses have pre set their employees’ rates and availability.
Innovation has long ignored small to medium construction business, which has created a hearty and resourceful group of business people able to meet challenges of their own volition and through grit and hard work, but it doesn’t need to be this hard. By coming together and turning a gig based economy into a sharing economy, we can shift the narrative and unrealistic expectations around building industry business.
A platform built for equal opportunities
For gender equality within the industry to be achieved, everyone needs to be an active participant in the change process. As one of the key values of The Skill Xchange, we’re trying to do our bit as well.
The Skill Xchange was built to give tradies of all backgrounds a fair go (as cheesy as that may sound). We’re all about equal opportunity, and promoting contractors based on merit.
You can visit our platform here.