Traditionally, the construction industry has been a man’s world, but these days more women are choosing one of Australia’s largest industries for their career.
Despite this, in 2016 only 12 per cent of the total construction workforce were women; 14 per cent of those were in professional positions such as project management and design, but less than two per cent were in trades on Australian work sites.
Not only that, but women who do enter the construction industry leave 39 per cent faster than men.
It’s clear that women are under-represented in the industry due to many complex reasons, but more and more women are making inroads and are working hard to reduce the gender disparity.
Read on to find out more about women trailblazing in construction!
Natalie Galea – University of NSW Built Environment
Natalie was one of the chief investigators on Construction Industry: Demolishing Gender Structures, the report cited earlier.
Together with UNSW politics professor Louise Chappell, Natalie set out to uncover the reasons why women are underrepresented in the Australian construction industry.
She spent two decades working in Australia, the Middle East and North Africa as a construction project manager, before leaving to pursue her PhD.
“It’s a tough industry, there’s no doubt about it,” she said in an interview with UNSW.
“I left because in the end I was in a loveless relationship with my career. There was no progression available to me and I felt that I wasn’t being given the opportunities I deserved, largely because I was a woman.
“My aim is to determine what needs to change so that the sector can move beyond its current status as ‘the most male dominated sector’ in Australia.”
In 2016, Natalie was awarded the National Association of Women in Construction International Women’s Day Scholarship and the NAWIC NSW CBRE University Scholarship for her research into gender diversity and equity in the construction industry.
She is now a research associate/PhD candidate at UNSW and is completing a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at the Faculty of Built Environment.
Laura Thompson – The Temporary Fencing Shop
Working at Australia’s largest manufacturer and supplier of temporary fencing available to buy means that Laura liaises with some of the biggest companies in the country.
“Construction can be a hard industry to get into at first as a woman, but once you have your foot in the door it can really open up opportunities for you that other industries can’t offer,” she said.
Laura has found that working at the Temporary Fencing Shop, which has bases in all states of Australia, is fast-paced and rewarding.
“The industry is exciting and can offer some big career opportunities – there’s some people you come across that aren’t used to women working in construction, but that’s changing,” she said.
“It builds your confidence, allows you to travel and no day is ever the same. You’re always doing something interesting.”
Lisa Dart – President of the National Association of Women in Construction ACT Chapter Council
Alongside her work with NAWIC, Lisa is the System Manager at Project Coordination, one of Australia’s largest privately owned mid-tier construction and management companies.
When she began working in the construction industry, Lisa used NAWIC to connect with other women in the industry before being appointed to her current position representing the Australian Capital Territory.
She believes in the importance of forging an equitable environment where women can reach their full potential, and says a career in construction means you’re a vital part of Australia.
“For me it has been the industry that just keeps on giving – not only for the people that work in the industry but for the country and everyone that lives here,” she said.
“The Australian economy relies on the industry’s growth and profitability. It provides the jobs, and the spaces that we all live, work and play in.”
Kelly Rothwell – Head of School of Women & Leadership Australia
One way to describe Kelly’s career is diverse – she worked for her father’s construction company during her school and university holidays before moving into the logging industry, and then working with a company that delivered safety cognitive-behavioural programs in the mining and heavy industries across the world.
Writing for Women & Leadership Australia, Kelly said she found she was often the only female on work sites and in meetings, and was often treated differently because of her gender.
“I often found myself being ‘protected’ by clients (with the best of intentions I confess); clients and colleagues alike at times seemingly needing to protect me from ‘aggressive’ and ‘rude’ behaviour, or even pre-framing my work in the room with ‘be nice to this young lady’,” she said.
WLA offers leadership development programs and events for women to encourage a female network and support system within the construction industry and Kelly believes this can empower women to grow within their workplace.
“One statement that often comes to mind is something a previous colleague once said to me: ‘you educate people in how to treat you through setting your expectations and boundaries’,” she said.
“Be clear on what you accept and don’t accept, particularly when it comes to your own goals and ideals.”