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Institutional Change is Needed: Gender Equality & Construction

Author: Jess Ondarchie

Published date: 2021/09

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As a female who supplies to the construction industry, I know that the gender inequality I have witnessed must just merely scratch the surface. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a young woman fresh out of an apprenticeship and about to enter the construction world.

I started recruiting for this industry in my late twenties and when I think back to the person I was in my late teens and early twenties, I know that now, I am so much more assertive and confident. Before I found it hard to speak up when faced with gender discrimination. Now I have so much more life experience to know who to turn to and how to speak up, I know my worth, I know my rights in the workforce and I know that I nor any female should not have to face discrimination anywhere.

Now my passion lies in ensuring a safe and inclusive workplace for all women and minorities. 

Currently Fetch’s workforce is made up of 25% women. Is this too low? I believe so. However, this is a stat Fetch are working to change. You see, Fetch sees the value in women in business and leadership but unfortunately this doesn’t ring true for the wider construction industry.

I recruit for cabinet making and a lot of my clients would happily accept a female employer. I’ve seen that factory-based roles are better equipped for women, as they offer safer places for them to work (ie toilets) -most construction sites do not offer gendered toilets which I, as a female would not feel comfortable with. I have engaged with hundreds of cabinet makers and only two have been female. Why is this?

I believe it stems from our educational system. When I was in school the construction industry was never promoted to me as a career. I did not want to go to university so what were my options? Hairdressing, Beauty, or Childcare were the only career paths on offer for those who did not want to pursue tertiary education. For my male peers, joining the construction industry was promoted heavily. If male students were playing up in school or not coping with the school workload, they were encouraged to pick a trade and start their apprenticeships whilst still attending school.

So why are girls not even being offered the option to explore trades?

We know that tradespeople can be some of the highest paid workers in our country, often more than teachers and nurses (which are industries predominantly made up of woman). I know women who regret not doing a trade apprenticeship at school and instead have fallen into careers that were deemed more appropriate for females.

But, it comes from culture. Traditionally gender roles saw that women should take up caregiving careers such as nurses, teachers, and housewives while men do the ‘hard’ work. That culture is starting to shift; however, the stats need to start shifting too. According to Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) the gender pay gap within the construction industry is the second highest in the nation, at 26.1%. On average, women in construction earn $36,361 less than males per year. So why?

According to Infrastructure Magazine’s article its due to discrimination in hiring, starting salaries and pay rises, undervaluing women’s competencies, the motherhood penalty impacting career progression and the lack of workplace flexibility.

For a culture shift and for women to be accepted completely within the construction industry, we need to see institutions reflect women’s value. I would hope that the more and more these topics are a focal point the less we need to discuss them in the future. Schools need to start promoting trades as viable career paths for women. My dream is that we never have to think about this topic again.

But if that day never comes, or until it exists, we do need to continue this extremely important conversation and continue to encourage institutions to treat women equal.

If this topic is important for you or your workplace you can view Victoria’s Women in Construction Strategy here

Jess Ondarchie is is an Associate Consultant within the Cabinet Making space. You can connect with her on Linkedin here