A necessary change: attracting more women to construction
Since 2019, job vacancies across the board in the construction sector have risen by 80%. But take a look at a typical jobsite and you might notice something – or rather someone – missing. While women make up 50% of the population, in the construction sector only 13% of available jobs are filled by women. And when you break it down further, women account for a miniscule 2% of trades-based jobs.
With worker shortages rampant and an urgent need to fill construction vacancies currently plaguing our sector, it would be a poor manager who turned a blind eye to the incredible benefits of hiring more women in construction jobs and providing training for women in construction.
How did we get here?
The construction sector is the most male-dominated industry in Australia and has been for decades. Hiring rates for female construction workers have remained at very low levels for at least the past twenty years, and from 2006 to 2016, take-up of jobs for women in construction even went backwards. Clearly, something major is at the heart of the construction sector’s problem with women – and that something is attitude.
Traditionally, trade jobs have been seen as the domain of men, and while this is the main and obvious barrier to women’s participation in the sector, there are some aspects of this gender stereotype that have perpetuated keeping women out in less obvious ways.
For a start, getting a foot in the door in the sector, particularly in trades, is dependent on word-of-mouth recommendations. Who you know – and who you trust to recommend a good worker – can be more important in the hiring process than the tangible skills that a worker might bring to the jobsite. This pervasive “jobs for the boys” culture actively keeps women out of the hiring pool to the detriment of the industry.
Another major drawback for many women interested in construction jobs has been the long hours and inflexibility of work in the sector. With caring responsibilities disproportionately falling on women, a requirement to be onsite without break for long periods of time can preclude women from even considering training for a construction sector job, let alone actively applying for one.
Recent studies have also shown that in male-dominated industries, levels of casual sexism – and women’s perceptions of levels of sexism that they might experience in the sector – are a massive contributing factor as to why skilled female construction workers either don’t pursue a career in the sector, or leave after a short time. Quite apart from inappropriate sexualised remarks, women are put off at the thought of their talents and knowledge being dismissed, at being judged on their behaviour – either as too masculine or too feminine – and of colleagues believing women are hired simply to meet required quotas.
While the barriers to women’s participation in the construction sector are significant, it would be a huge loss to the industry – both economically and in terms of lost skill and innovation – if women continue to be kept out. Change is both possible and necessary – but it must come from the top.
What’s the solution?
One of the most important ways that our sector can reverse the trend of male-dominated hiring is to invest in training women to fill the urgent worker shortage. Before we address hiring practices and workplace cultures, we need to ensure that women have the opportunity to take the first step toward choosing a career in construction.
As one of the tiny percentage of women in a CEO role in the construction sector, Helen Lechte, from Cove Training has a unique insight into how women can feel assured that they belong, and can make a career, in construction. Cove’s training courses provide women with solid foundations in all types of construction skills, because we don’t want to see women underutilised in a sector, when so much talent is going begging for want of proper training in the right environment.
Cove Training’s comprehensive programs are inclusive, supportive, and are perfect for anyone looking to expand their skills in the construction sector. When it comes to women taking up space and driving the construction boom, the time is now. Check out our Courses now and give us a call on 03 8773 9000 if you have any questions.