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Despite a skills shortage that has only been deepened by the travel restrictions of COVID-19, Australian construction remains unique in its struggle to attract women to fill essential positions.

As an industry that in recent years has been committed to bringing a more diverse workforce, it should be moving further and faster. This isn’t about quotas or a wholesale change in the way people work. Rather, it’s about ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to get on in their careers. The best projects and top jobs should be open to all and chosen on merit, rather than reserved for men.

While some progress has been made in this area since Randstad Australia’s first Women in Construction survey in 2019, construction remains Australia’s most male-dominated industry. Our new 2021 survey illustrates this, showing that only one in eight workers is female and around one in four of these feel they don’t have a fair chance to further their careers by moving up within their organisations.

Addressing this would be of enormous benefit to not only women and the companies crying out for their essential skills, but to the industry as a whole; increasing the number of women on building sites has been shown to improve efficiency and the working environment, as well as attention to health and safety.

what’s discouraging women from entering construction?

Gender discrimination remains of great concern for women within the construction industry. While we have seen improvements in this area since 2019 – nearly six in ten women taking part in our 2021 survey believe the industry’s treatment of women has improved since they started working within it – 41 per cent still claim to have experienced gender discrimination. That is a 19 per cent drop since 2019, but it remains a discouraging statistic for women looking to join the industry and therefore must be addressed.

Concern around equal pay is now the number one barrier for women entering construction, followed by flexible hours and the aforementioned career progression. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that women in our 2021 survey rank too few female role models in senior positions as the number one reason women may leave or be reluctant to enter the construction industry, which continues to have the lowest percentage of women in management (13 per cent) of any major industry in Australia.

Despite the continuation of this glaring gender imbalance, the fact that 2021’s survey figures have shown some improvement over 2019’s creates the potential danger of companies believing that they’ve done all they need to for diversity and inclusion. It’s certainly telling that 33 per cent of men in our 2021 survey believe that the treatment of women in construction has vastly improved, compared to only 20 per cent of women.

Now that there are a few women on-site or one or two in senior management, there is a danger that businesses will think that it’s ‘job done’. But it isn’t. If the only woman people see when they go past a site is operating the stop and go sign, this doesn’t encourage a view of a diverse and inclusive industry Similarly, if there are no female role models at the top of the business, ambitious young female recruits won’t hang around for long.

what more can be done to encourage women to join the industry? 

The prospects for women in construction are improving, but the big priority ahead is speeding up progress. To do this, there are a number of steps companies should take.

For employers, the first step is recognising that creating a more diverse workforce is business-critical as it will help companies become more profitable and productive in the present while ensuring they’re better equipped for the future. Attracting and retaining more women boosts the bottom line by helping to bridge talent gaps, improve productivity, and strengthen client engagement.

Second, employers should be aware that there is a lot more to diversity than simply hiring more women. It’s about creating an inclusive environment for everyone so that people feel comfortable, respected, that they have a purpose and able to develop their careers.

And third, rather than slowly waiting for the gender balance to improve from graduates etc, companies should pick up the pace by looking for quality female candidates in other industries with many transferable skills that could be brought into construction. Indeed, these fresh perspectives would be invaluable when construction is striving to keep pace with changing consumer, business, and environmental demands.

If you’re a woman looking at a career in construction, consider that there are still improvements to be made and pockets of outdated thinking, but fewer than you might imagine. And there will be fewer still as time passes. The simple fact is that the construction businesses that are thriving – and are therefore where you would want to develop your career – are also the firms that value women and will offer you the construction opportunities you need to succeed.

about the author
Kerry McQuillan
Kerry McQuillan

Kerry McQuillan

state director qld & national lead d&i