The Construction industry is one of Australia’s largest, employing 9.6% (over 1.3 million people) of the Australian working population, however there are still more than 7 times more men than women working in construction.
There is still a culture of exclusion in some workplaces, with worksites having inadequate facilities for women and even some legacy recruitment practices in place which may be unintentionally biased, favouring men in key positions.
Female representation isn’t being adequately prioritised during the hiring process in some companies, further contributing to the gender gap.
Women are often hired into to the less secure, lower-paid positions that have limited opportunities for advancement, reducing their chances of progression and growth.
There is a perceived lack of roles for women in the industry, and a perception that women may not be able to handle roles in construction based on the physical demands of the job or the lack of flexibility offered. These stereotypical views are held generally by both men and women.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when looking at reasons why there is still a huge discrepancy between men and women in construction, but there is a lot we can do to help turn it around, and many organisations that are making great strides in the right direction already.
By focusing on reducing the gap, organisations will automatically gain access to a larger, more diverse pool of applicants with diversity of thought, ways of working and have more options when it comes to hiring the right person for the role.
It’s also been shown that by having a critical mass of women at all levels in the organisation is linked to higher organisational performance. Organisations with inclusive cultures do better on several indicators such as higher customer satisfaction, greater productivity and higher profitability.
Creating meaningful change is not simple, and certainly not quick.
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as putting a call out for women and hiring them into key roles.
Before you can hire more women, there needs to be a pool of qualified potential women ready and willing to apply and be in the running.
For this to be a reality, young girls need to feel empowered to consider that a career in construction is a viable and attractive option for them so that they can select the right subjects and opportunities throughout their education. To accompany this, positions in courses and apprenticeships need to be made available to enable women to succeed.
Taking on the task of changing a whole industry is way too big, but making incremental changes is more palatable, and leads us along the long road to meaningful change.
One small way to start is to look at the language used in job advertisements. Certain language can contribute to maintaining stereotypes. Research suggests that there are some established gender asymmetries in language which reflect and support gender stereotypes. For example, explicit gender references such as ‘he’ and ‘his’ in job advertisements may discourage females from applying for typically male positions. The usage of words that are seen as more ambitious and independent (stereotypically masculine) as opposed to language which is more warm and helpful (stereotypically feminine) can also influence who applies for a job or even considers it when scrolling through a job board.
Studies have shown that women are more likely to view job advertisements and listed requirements as non-negotiable, leading them to not apply if they don’t meet 100% of the requirements. This isn’t exclusive to women, but it’s far more common. And broadly speaking, a man is likely to apply for a position when he meets 60% + of the requirements for the job advertised.2 The learning from this for recruiters is to use gender fair language and focus on the aspects of the job that are truly required therefore increasing the likelihood of a broader pool of qualified applicants applying for the role. The use of gender fair language could be as simple as replacing he or she with ‘individual’ ‘person’ ‘expert’ ‘student’ or ‘leader’.
Display diverse images and voices in job advertisements as well and place the ad in a broader range of job boards and places where it could be seen. If possible, you could provide the name and contact information of a female within the business to act as a resource for answering questions throughout the recruitment process.
Consider engaging with schools, TAFEs or universities to raise awareness of opportunities your business might have. Or consider offering a scholarship or some kind of training to support women into the roles you’re trying to fill.
When it comes time to interview, increase the diversity on the panel of interviewers so assessment of applicants can come from different perspectives and candidates can see themselves reflected in non-traditional roles.
First, ensure a culture of acceptance is a reality in the organisation (a big task in itself), and then make sure it’s apparent once someone comes through the door, or walks onto site. Make sure that appropriate facilities and uniforms are available, and a zero-tolerance approach towards gender related microaggressions and undermining be enacted.
Encourage your team to connect with other women in the industry so that they can see success and identify role models.
There are several organisations and networks that can assist with this:
The NAWIC has the vision of an equitable construction industry where women can fully participate.
They focus on:
Women Building Australia, a joint initiative of Master Builders Australia and the Australian Government offer many programs and initiatives to attract and support women in the building and construction industry. They organise career expos, mentorship programs, business coaching and curate a female led business directory.
Let’s build a more inclusive future for the construction industry, one brick at a time!
If you’re keen to be considered for a role in the construction industry, upload your CV and register with us here
 Hodel, L et al. Gender-Fair Language in Job Advertisements: A Cross-Linguistic and Cross-Cultural Analysis. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 2017.