RMIT: Systemic change needed to increase women in construction

A new report for the Victorian Government has found women in trades and semi-skilled roles in construction experience high rates of discrimination and lack workplace support.

Released this week, the report revealed a lack of acceptance of women in the workplace, limited accountability or deterrents for inappropriate behaviour by males, and a ‘culture of silence’ that made women feel they couldn’t speak out or were punished for doing so.

Women working in a range of roles including as labourers, carpenters, electricians, painters, crane operators, traffic controllers and plumbers participated in the study.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Sarah Holdsworth from RMIT’s School of Property, Construction and Project Management, said there was ongoing resistance to creating a workplace culture that welcomed and supported female workers.

“Without substantial and systemic change, we will continue to see the underrepresentation of women in the construction industry,” she said.

“This failure to provide a safe workplace for women contravenes occupational health and safety legislation and regulations.”

She said a zero-tolerance policy regarding inappropriate behaviour towards women was required at all levels from employers, employees and unions, to vocational providers, government and construction peak bodies.

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Over the past 30 years women have consistently made up only 2% of trade and semi-skilled workers in Australian construction.

The report was commissioned by the Victorian Government as part of its Women in Construction Strategy which aims to increase participation of women in the construction industry.

Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said creating a level playing field for women in the workplace was a priority.

“No matter what industry, but especially in typically male-dominated sectors, we need and must do better in workplace equality across the board,” he said.

“More women are active in the Victorian labour market than ever before, but they make up only 2% of the workers in Australian construction – the country’s most male-dominated industry. The Andrews Labor Government is determined to change that.”

Key findings from women interviewed included:

95% thought they were treated differently by men in the industry because of their gender
78% commented about poor work-life balance, and how long working hours and shift work affected their health, social life and relationships
72% said resilience was essential for working in trades and semi-skilled roles, saying they had a strong ability to deal with adversity, learn from it and adapt
60% felt that when they faced inappropriate and challenging behaviour in their workplace, they were not always supported by their co-workers, supervisors, their employer or other support agencies such as unions
The report, Women in Construction: Exploring the Barriers and Supportive Enablers of Wellbeing in the Workplace, was authored by RMIT’s Sarah Holdsworth, Michelle Turner, Christina Scott-Young and Kara Sandri.

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