Breaking down barriers for young women in construction

Driving awareness of the challenges faced by Australia’s youth, The National Association of Women in Construction is advocating for safer learning environments for young women looking to start a career in construction.

By Christina Yiakkoupis, Chair, The National Association of Women in Construction.

Breaking down barriers for young women in construction
Christina Yiakkoupis, Chair, The National Association of Women in Construction.

The construction industry has long been a majority male populated field, with women making up only a small percentage of the workforce – currently at 13.5 per cent according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2022. The industry is slowly evolving, and more women are pursuing careers in construction. At The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), we are advocating to industry and government for #25by25. This means working together towards the goal of 25 per cent female participation by 2025 – a goal that gets us closer to 30 per cent participation, which is where we know real cultural change happens.

At NAWIC we take a strategic view across the career lifecycles of women, focusing on their high school education and exposure to construction career opportunities, through to the access to growth opportunities such as senior management, business scale and sale, and participation at board level. This is our industry’s pipeline of human resources. To increase female participation in construction, together we must stem the leaks across each stage of our pipeline. Together we need to develop ways that we can proactively attract, retain and grow women so that they may enjoy the safety, economic security and career fulfilment the industry has to offer.

To encourage this trend and ensure that women can thrive in the industry, it is crucial that safe learning environments are created for young women in construction at TAFE and university.

This month at NAWIC we are drawing awareness to the challenges faced by our members at TAFE and university – those who are at the very beginning of their careers. We understand that female students are choosing not to continue their studies in the construction industry because of negative and/or unsafe experiences in the classroom and/or in the workplace. Queensland Minister for Employment and Small Business and Minister for Training and Skills Development Dianne Farmer identified in the Breaking Down Barriers report (2022) under 50 per cent of women who commence trade apprenticeships go on to complete their qualifications in Queensland. It is evident to us at NAWIC that we are losing more than half of the pipeline for women in construction before they even have a chance to begin.

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Breaking down barriers for young women in construction

Creating safe learning environments for young women is about ensuring women feel safe and supported in these environments. Intimidation and objectification are not acceptable.

The construction industry can be intimidating for young women especially. Our members commonly say they were made feel out of place or unwelcome in the early days of their career and have experienced bullying and intimidation in their learning environments. “Unfortunately, we still have instances where trainees and apprentices, in particular women, are made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the workplace and this is simply not acceptable,” Minister Farmer said. “We must remove these barriers so trainees and apprentices can confidently complete their training.”

In the right kind of learning environment women can focus on their studies and thrive. Learning providers need to ensure that they have anti-bullying policies in place, and that they are adhered to by their staff and students alike. Having more female teachers will help young male students observe women’s technical competence and translate to improved cultural outcomes in the workplace.

Creating safe learning environments promotes diversity and inclusion in the industry. The construction industry has historically been lacking in diversity, which has led to a narrow perspective and limited creativity in the field. By encouraging women to enter the industry and providing them with a safe place to learn, construction can become more creative and innovative.

Important learning takes place in our educational environments and prepares students for the workplace. Occupational health and safety forms the start of the curriculum in most construction industry education programs. By providing women with the knowledge and skills they need to work safely in the industry, we can ensure they are protected from harm and able to succeed in their careers.

A safe learning context helps to break down stereotypes and stigmas associated with women in the industry. Unfortunately, there are still some who believe that women are not capable of working in construction or that they do not belong in the field. By providing women with a safe learning environment and supporting their careers in construction, we can help to change these perceptions and promote equality in the industry.

The Breaking Down Barriers report delivered 12 recommendations for improvements to gender equity; Minister Farmer said seven of the recommendations relate to improvements for female apprentices.

At NAWIC we advocate for industry and government to:
• Implement the 12 Queensland recommendations from the Breaking Down Barriers report, 2022.
• Establish a National Gender Equality Strategy.
• Encourage more female teachers in TAFE and university learning environments.
• Call upon education providers to ensure safe learning environments and have policies to stamp out bullying.

We are working closely with the Australian Construction Industry Forum and our many industry and government partners to ensure that the voice of our members is heard nationally. Importantly, we are seeking confirmation that measures are being put in place to create the systemic culture that ensures the safety and economic security for women in construction, particularly those at the start of their careers. By investing in safe learning environments for young women in construction, we can help to build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful industry for everyone.

If any of this is triggering for you, please connect with the NAWIC Member Assistance Program on 1300 878 379. It’s a free 24 hours a day, seven days a week service staffed by mental health practitioners available to support NAWIC members.

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