When I first moved to Australia from Wales in 2014, my first job was in the resources industry. At an oil and gas project site in the Top End, I spent nearly three years immersed in a male-dominated construction environment filled with fly-in, fly-out workers – few of whom were female.
The construction industry is the third largest employer in the country. It’s also the most male-dominated sector: about 99% of Australia’s construction tradespeople are male, and the ratio of male to female construction managers and professionals is also lopsided (roughly 9 to 1). Interestingly, these figures aren’t much different in the UK, which has the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe.
So what does the research say about the factors inhibiting the recruitment, retention and career advancement of women in this industry? Four factors stand out:
Sexist attitudes, actions and language still permeate the construction industry; it’s harder for a woman to gain the respect of her peers.
- Long hours and inflexibility
Shared or part-time work arrangements are almost non-existent on construction jobsites; hours can be long and deadlines tight and a ‘work is everything’ mindset isn’t conducive to attracting females with family commitments (especially those with little ones at home).
- Post-parental leave support
Returning to the construction workforce after a parental leave absence can be tricky for women, even when official parental leave policies are in place. Because many companies view parental leave as a drain on productivity, there’s not much real support.
- Gender equality
High-level female construction managers are still rare in Australia, even though those who receive the right leadership support and mentoring can do quite well. Also, females leave the industry almost 40% faster than their male counterparts.
So what’s the answer – your thoughts?
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Jessica Hickman is a professional member of these associations: