construction WHS

Women driven from construction industry by misogynistic culture

Women in Construction Women make up only 3 per cent of Australia’s construction workforce, with the misogynistic culture driving people away from the industry, according to a March 2018 report by Construction Skills Queensland.

And most women who are in the industry are working outside of the core construction trades of electrical, carpentry and plumbing where they comprise only 2.8, 1.1 and 0.7 per cent of the workforce respectively, according to the report titled ‘Women in Construction an opportunity lost?’.

Comparatively, France’s construction workforce is 16.8 per cent women, the UK’s is 15.6 per cent, and Germany’s 14.7 per cent, still low but far better than Australia’s record.

The Australian construction industry “carries a highly masculine set of values, norms and language, which is too often expressed as thinly veiled misogyny, homophily, or outright sexual harassment,” it says.

The report cites apprenticeship complete rates in challenging long-held views that females are under-represented because they simply prefer not to work in the industry.

“In Queensland, female construction apprenticeship completion rates have been up to 15 per cent lower than men in the past five years, [reflecting] the broader difficulties faced by women working in construction and not the initial recruitment,” the report states.

Women strongly represented in construction business ownership and management

Around 25 per cent of the 25,000 women in Queensland’s construction workforce are business owners or managers, compared to 10 per cent of women working across all other industries.

And 60 per cent employ other people, compared to 38 per cent of their male counterparts. Women in construction are also more likely to employ others than those who own and manage non-construction businesses.

Glimmers of hope

While women have steadily made up a greater share of the non-construction workforce over the last 30 years – up to 51 per cent in 2017 – their representation in construction trades has remained low.

Nationally, women improved their representation in construction trades in only eight of the last 30 years, and barely at all since 2008.

“This is an entrenched pattern for which there are no clear signs of a turnaround,” the report states.

However there are glimmers of hope, with female representation among carpentry, plumbing and particularly electrical apprenticeships on the rise. And it’s hoped this will translate into an increase in fully qualified female workers.

Female construction apprentices also tend to be older than their male counterparts, with 56 per cent aged 25 and over, compared to 28 per cent of male construction apprentices.

Physical work not a barrier

According to Construction Skills Queensland CEO, Brett Schimming, it is not the physical nature of the work but the culture which drives women away.

“Too often, the problem of female participation is framed as an education and awareness problem, as if the main challenge is to persuade women of the virtues of construction work,” Mr Schimming said.

“This report reveals the reality that the construction environment is deeply unattractive to women, not because of the physical nature of the work, but because of the culture within the industry.”

Driving Change

The business benefits of greater female representation are well-documented, according to the report.

“Employing more women brings diversity of skills and thought — a key ingredient of organisational

creativity and innovation… More women also makes for better economic outcomes overall,” the report states.

“It has been estimated that increasing women’s representation in the overall workforce could boost Australia’s GDP by 11 per cent. In an industry as poorly attended by women as construction, the economic gains are likely to be significantly higher.”

More women in the workforce may also increase safety due to their maternal instinct and increased drive to protect co-workers and foster a safe workplace.

However also consider that diversity changes must be carefully managed.

“While the research clearly shows that diverse workforces make for better businesses, it is also linked with conflict among co-workers and the erosion of organisational cohesion,” the report states.

“The central goal must be to address the culture within construction that tends to exclude women. This requires careful and sustained attention from the inside out.”

“It is only construction employers and workers who can create an environment within their industry to accept women and move away from the culture that excludes them or makes them feel uncomfortable.”

Global snapshot: female representation in construction occupations

France: 16.8%

United Kingdom: 15.6%

Germany: 14.7%

Switzerland: 10.1%

European Union: (28 countries) 10.0%

Sweden: 9.6%

Netherlands: 8.3%

Belgium: 8.1%

Spain: 7.1%

Italy: 5.3%

Canada: 4.8%

Australia: 4.7%

Turkey: 4.4%

United States 3.0%

Japan: 1.7%