Construction and Women - What’s the problem

“If we want to increase the number of women in Australia's construction sector we need to be willing to challenge working conditions for men.”

That's the unexpected conclusion reached by Louise Chappell and Natalie Galea after investigating why Australia's building sites, and the many professional services that support them, have remained virtually no-go zones for women despite significant workplace gains for women elsewhere. 

The report Construction Industry: Demolishing Gender Structures found Australia's largest industry, to also be Australia's most male dominated industry. Only 12 per cent of the total construction workforce of some 1 million are women; professional positions are 14 per cent female, but in the trades very few women brave Australian work sites (less than 2 per cent). A female myself, I’ve always shuddered at the thoughts of using a port-a-loo every day, however, these researchers uncovered much more.

“We discovered entrenched expectations of extremely long working hours, 60 to 70 hours was considered normal, plus regular Saturday and, increasingly, Sunday work. We found significant pressure on construction workers to get jobs done ahead of schedule, even if that sometimes meant consecutive 14-hour days. And, most significantly, we discovered a culture of "shaming" anyone who didn't "live to work" or couldn't, or wouldn't, hack it. A commercial manager might turn up at 8am when needed, after dropping off the children to childcare, but would suffer jibes anyway about "sleeping in". Little consideration is given to the additional hours worked before work or late at night, or on weekends. Anyone resisting Saturdays to watch the kids play sport or because it was their rostered day off was mocked for being a “part-timer”." source

On top of this was the more classically “sexist” behaviour, with guys wearing clothing with crude slogans such as “I love boobies”. Which reminds me of the recent Geocon party where topless waitresses handed out beers to celebrate the completion of Canberra’s tallest residential tower, Wayfarer, or the countless number of "stripper boats" setting sail on Sydney harbour this month to celebrate Chrismas..

After digging deeper than this, it appears that the industry itself is stuck in the 1950’s with outdated, inflexible and ultimately unproductive working conditions. Whilst women are less likely to tolerate this than men, a damaging patteren emerged from the men working in the industry - stressed out, anxious and tired - Suicide rates in construction are double the national average in Australia and the industry is at the top of the charts for substance use.

Lets start changing the narrative on what it means to be a tradie!