Building and construction are one of the largest industries in Australia, and women account for only 12.9% of its current workforce, with only 2.5% actively working in a trade. It is no secret that women are traditionally underrepresented in the construction industry, but in 2023, these percentages seem unacceptable. As a female Licensed Builder and Building Inspector in South Australia, I am passionate about questioning these norms and I am motivated to change the landscape and narrative of the construction industry.
My experience as a woman in the construction industry has been inspiring and empowering, and I am grateful to have received an array of awards and recognition as a result. However, I have had to work harder than my male peers to prove my capabilities to gain the recognition and respect that any industry professional deserves.
Countless times I have been asked about my qualifications and background while on-site, almost as a way of validating my ability to do my job. My findings were often questioned by males threatened by my confidence and leadership. Networking and training events often being a ‘sea of suits.’ However, I always treated these experiences as opportunities to showcase my skills and carve the pathway for other women in the industry.
If I can leave a successful career in the public service to follow my passion and skillset, why can’t others, and why can’t the next generation of emerging women consider building and construction as a rewarding and successful career?
Imagine walking onto a job site, leadership meeting or construction industry committee meeting and seeing just as many women as you see men! That vision has become my purpose, which has evolved to be more than just the growth of our businesses. I am determined to help more women enter this exciting, well-paying, and essential industry. An industry that is purpose-driven and empowering, whereby you can literally make your mark in building and shaping the landscape of our growing city.
The statistics will not improve overnight. But what we can do is start the change by shifting the mindset of our current workforce and by focusing on the next emerging generation by showing them the possibilities. We need to look at our education system to better enable career choices based on passion and skillset and not gender. Followed by more equitable recruitment practices championed by industry leaders and role models.
In an industry with a significant workforce shortage, the building and construction industry must be portrayed as a ‘profession’, highlighting the varying career pathways to make it attractive for women wanting to achieve a long-term career in this industry. The paths to enter the industry need to be made visible, be it via a trade or through a university qualification.
However, before we make construction an attractive choice for women, the industry must not frown upon flexible working arrangements and part-time opportunities, as retention is as big an issue as an attraction to the industry.
Thankfully, some of these initiatives are already in the works, and I am grateful to be involved. Industry bodies such as the Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Association of SA shine the light on exceptional women in the industry through industry awards. Government-supported programs are reaching young girls and women making career choices, such as the Master Builders Association of SA ‘Born to Build’ program and the ‘Making Her Mark’ program showcasing non-traditional industries. We are slowly seeing more women, role models appearing in leadership and business ownership roles within the industry and gradually more women sitting on industry committees and boards.
This is all a good start, but much work still needs to be done—generational work. We will not be the generation responsible for changing those percentages, yet you cannot be what you cannot see! By sharing stories like my own and continuing to break those glass ceilings, I am confident the next generation, with our help, will make the change that is so desperately needed.