As the world celebrated International Women’s Day last week, much attention was paid to the progress women have made in a number of areas associated with building and construction in Australia, especially in fields such as architecture, engineering and project management.
Efforts in expanding gender diversity within the sector’s workforce continue apace, and Sheryle Moon and her colleagues at the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) are working hard to ensure more doors are opened for women.
Moon, who became NAWIC’s chief executive officer last October, said that with women making up only around 11.7 per cent of the construction workforce, with fewer than two per cent of these women being in trades, the potential for greater female participation across the industry is significant.
Asked about barriers women still face, Moon says there are a couple of issues. First and foremost are perceptions on the part of many who influence career choices of young girls – especially parents.
“If I look at who influences young women about their career choices, it’s still their parents,” Moon says. “And right now I think it’s fair to say that not many mums and dads would be suggesting that their daughter go into the construction sector, particularly the trades. So they might be tolerant of the engineers or architects at that professional level, but we don’t see the same level of positive influence of parents or from teachers or career advisors about women going into the trades.”
That’s a shame, Moon says, as construction professions and especially trades offer a lot for women, including flexibility, control, strong potential for work/life balance and opportunities to own their own business. Furthermore, Moon says NAWIC receives a significant volume of inquiries from members of the community who, for various reasons, actually prefer female tradespeople.
Moon says further barriers revolve around broader misconceptions about construction being a ‘man’s industry,’ a fallacy she says is breaking down as the application of technologies such as CAD, SIM and even augmented reality are changing perceptions about how women may become involved in the sector, not just in the professional realm but also in the trade environment and in areas such as mining.
Going forward, Moon says it is imperative not just to promote construction as a rewarding career for women at all levels but also to highlight role models. Already, NAWIC’s Build a Better Future website features stories of 86 successful women across various parts of the industry. Soon the association will launch a specific site aimed at trades, which Moon says will not only help consumers locate female tradespeople but also broaden awareness about the potential for women in this sector of the industry.
“In order to pursue careers, women want to be able to see that there are people like them already in the space,” Moon says. “I think there are lots of female engineers and architects and project managers – what we need to see and promote is women in the trades. There are very successful female tradies running as female tradie companies. We are hoping to bring those to light and allow the community to see some of those successful women.”
Moon says NAWIC also runs a mentoring program and a formal retreat program. She says the lack of a critical mass of women in the industry means many welcome opportunities to meet other female peers.
Finally, while NAWIC is yet to form any specific partnerships or joint projects, Moon says the organisation is in active discussions with its own corporate members as well as industry bodies such as Master Builders and others about the sort of things that can be done to promote women in the sector.
“There’s a huge amount of willingness to collaborate and find those joint opportunities,” Moon says. “We are definitely having those conversations and we welcome any others that might come our way.”