Good for Business

Women in Construction


Across the United States, there are an estimated 9,813,000 construction workers. Of this total, approximately 872,000 – or 8.9 per cent – are women. A growing industry worldwide, construction accounts for nine per cent of the entire workforce in Australia, employing about a million people. And although women make up about twelve per cent of workers in the sector, this still represents a small number compared to other fields.
Fortunately, a number of organizations are behind initiatives to attract and retain more women to work in an area that has traditionally been dominated by men for decades.

When most people think of construction, the first thing that comes to mind is a burly male wearing steel-toed boots and a hard hat. Across Australia, this perception is gradually changing. No longer strictly the domain of men, an increasing number of opportunities are opening up for women in trades and construction-related areas: from workplace health and safety personnel and lawyers to engineers, project managers, estimators, site supervisors, and more. Some organizations, like Master Builders, Australia’s major building and construction industry association with over 33,000 member companies, strongly support initiatives to boost the number of women working in construction trades, including physically demanding specialties, such as bricklaying.

Through its Construction Apprenticeship Mentoring Scheme (CAMS), Master Builders believes that female workers – like their male counterparts – often enter the industry the old-fashioned way, namely through three to four-year apprenticeships in plumbing, tiling, carpentry, bricklaying, and other trades. “Women with a good level of fitness are able to match it with the boys in any of the construction trades,” according to Master Builders. “There are also key trades, such as tiling and painting, where brute strength is not a requirement.” Among the most popular trades for women are apprentice carpenters, painters, and plumbers.

For women, the benefits of apprenticeship are the same as for men, namely being paid as they learn, having the same rights and responsibilities, and working towards a nationally-recognized Certificate III, allowing them to work as a skilled tradesperson.

Worldwide, there are a number of groups advocating the role of females in the construction industry, such as The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), a non-profit organization created in 1995 with the mission of promoting and improving the construction industry for the advancement of women. Along with providing a forum for its members to exchange ideas, NAWIC also serves as a platform for exchanging and expanding business networks, keeping atop industry development and skills knowledge, and contributing to other women in construction.

Others include Industry Women Central (IWC), an initiative of the 2009 Buildmore Women into Building Housing Showcase. The aim of the project was “to elevate awareness and acceptance of women carving out successful careers in the building and construction industries and to inspire more women to consider the building and construction industries as a career of choice.” It was the first time in the nation that a large-scale project of its kind was completed by a mainly female team. Industry Women Central remains a valuable online central information hub, focusing primarily on women in construction and property services and extending into other industries such as manufacturing, mining, energy, forestry, and agriculture.

Not to be outdone, there is Lady Tradies Australia which was established to elevate the awareness of women in trades and non-traditional roles in industries across the nation. Lady Tradies Australia aims to create more work for female tradespersons, assist with information on apprenticeships, employment, and training, provide alternatives to “traditional male tradespersons,” and a great deal more.

Several years ago, the Australian Human Rights Commission examined and investigated several key reforms that would be needed to achieve gender equality in the nation. This resulted in a report outlining critical areas to increase wage parity between women and men and the benefits of promoting women in traditional, male-dominated industries like construction.
Among the many positive aspects were a boost to Australia’s gross domestic product of eleven per cent, increasing Australia’s economic activity by twenty per cent, and benefits in a range of other areas from increased pension sustainability to increased taxes paid to the government and boosted household savings rates.

Across Australia, in virtually every industry, women remain underrepresented, despite a wealth of female talent. This includes junior, mid-level, and senior managerial positions in male-dominated industries such as mining, construction, and utilities. To achieve significant gender equality, the talents and skills of women need to be fostered within these and other sectors.

Fortunately, something is being done. Earlier this year, Women & Leadership Australia administered a national incentive supporting the development of female leaders in the construction sector. This was achieved through grants for leadership development, with senior management and executive level women leaders applying for $12,000 individual grants – to undertake an advanced leadership program – and through an accelerated leadership performance program, with women managers applying for $5,000 individual grants.

Construction firms not retaining women are putting themselves at a disadvantage and risk losing out on an enormous pool of talent. From hands-on construction jobs to senior management roles, women in Australia have considerable skills to offer the industry. Mounting evidence demonstrates that a diverse workforce including women in higher positions is good for business. Women often introduce a broader range of viewpoints, especially in male-dominated sectors such as construction.

Over the years, research has shown that some of the barriers for women range from few role models for them to emulate to discrimination – both open and concealed – and a culture of stereotypes being perpetuated that women are somehow unable or unsuitable to work in the construction industry. There remains, however, no denying that construction in Australia is still dominated by men, especially in higher managerial positions, which remain filled by men approximately 89.2 per cent of the time. Even complementary fields, such as engineering and architecture, are still lacking for women, with a 2014 study revealing only twenty-two per cent of Australia’s registered architects are female.

Through NAWIC and other organizations, women across Australia are coming together to demonstrate they are just as capable as their male counterparts – if not more so – when it comes to the construction industry. In April of this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced his support through the launch of a pilot mentoring program supporting women in the building and construction industry. Encouraging more women to enter and create successful careers in this male-dominated sector, the program, delivered by Master Builders Australia, will run over twelve months in New South Wales and Tasmania, with Master Builders partnering with Jobactive providers to identify candidates for the program.

“Women account for just eleven per cent of the total construction workforce, and they leave the industry at a rate forty per cent higher than men,” stated Prime Minister Turnbull in a release. “In an industry which is fundamental to the transition of our economy, the growth that stems from a more gender-balanced workforce is in the best interests of Australia.”

There have been a variety of initiatives, including those spearheaded by The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Australia’s main trade union, along with government, NAWIC, Master Builders, and other organizations. Through these, women will continue to assume hands-on construction jobs along with leadership roles, encouraging others to dedicate their careers to the nation’s growing construction sector and the many positive benefits it has to offer.

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August 18, 2022, 8:00 PM AEST