Australia: Corrs High Vis: Episode 23 – Gender equality in the construction industry

In our latest Corrs High Vis podcast, we look at gender equality in the construction industry.

While 50 per cent of Australia’s general workforce is made up of women, in construction it’s closer to 10 per cent. Margot Tait, Corrs Business Development Manager for the national construction and property teams is joined by Alison Price the Queensland President of the National Association of Women in Construction, Melanie Cunado Senior Associate in Corrs Brisbane Construction team and Robert Sobyra the Director of Evidence and Data at Construction Skills Queensland. Robert’s organisation has recently published Construction Skills Queensland’s Women in Construction Report.

The podcast series, brought to you by the Corrs Construction team, offers analysis and insights to help you make smarter decisions.

Margot Tate: Commentator

Melanie Cunado: Corrs Chambers Westgarth – Construction Senior Associate, Brisbane

Alison Price: National Association of Women in Construction - President of NAWIC, Queensland

Robert Sobyra: Construction Skills Queensland - Director of Evidence and Data

Margot: Hello and welcome to High Vis the Corrs Chambers Westgarth construction podcast. My names Margo Tate and I am a Business Development Manager for the National Construction and Property teams. As the world celebrates International Women’s Day we are taking a closer look at gender equality in the construction industry, where are we, where do we need to get to and how do we get there. Today I am joined by Melanie Cunado, Senior Associate in the Brisbane Construction team and we are delighted to welcome Alison Price, Queensland President of NAWIC the National Association of Women in Construction and Robert Sobyra, Director of Evidence and Data at Construction Skills Queensland. Now Alison I might start with you from NAWIC’s perspective tell us about the outlook in Australia right now in the construction industry when it comes to gender equality.

Alison: Sure from NAWIC’s perspective we are in this space where we have got a whole lot of support we’ve got our Queensland government from a [00:01:01] put gender on the tender, we’ve got employers who are focussed really strongly on diversity, offering sponsorship money which allows us to put that money towards programs to actually change things. Anecdotally speaking I think we’re poised to make probably the single biggest major difference we’ve made in our industry in a very long time.

Margot: Fantastic well this comes at a time when a new report has just come out focussing on gender equality in the industry here in Queensland. Robert CSQ has produced this report can you give us a quick snatch of the findings from the report just to give it some context please.

Robert: Yes sure so as many of you listeners might know women make up about 50% of the general workforce and for the construction industry as a whole which includes a whole range of occupations even some lawyers. It’s about 10% or 11% but the women who are on the tools in the trades less than 3% so it’s incredibly low and really the worse part of this picture is that the numbers haven’t changed in 30 plus years so we’ve got very very low levels and there doesn’t seem to be in the data any signs of a turnaround coming soon.

Margot: So what do you think is driving the downward trend then in the construction industry with female participants?

Robert: Well we reviewed, we didn’t do any primary research as part of this report but we did review the existing literature pretty extensively and really the theme that comes very strongly is that the construction industry itself, the culture of it, the ways of working in construction are not attractive to women so women find it too often they find it a hostile work environment quite frankly and so until you start seeing a cultural shift in the industry so the way largely men behave in the industry we are probably unlikely to see a massive turnaround in the level of female representation.

Alison: On that front I do think that many of the big business have already recognised this and have these great diversity programs in place. Many of our employers in the industry though are small businesses and they haven’t had access to the resources, they haven’t yet seen the benefit, maybe they’ve taken on a female apprentice if there’s a daughter or a cousin or a family member but actually changing their workplaces to suit those women is a really challenging thing for those businesses when they’re just a one or two man band.

Margot: Well Alison it’s interesting that you mention apprenticeships because female participation in certain trade apprenticeships have been rising steadily over the last 15 years. Where are we seeing the growth in these areas?

Robert: So carpentry and electrical have been slow and steady growers either you know a couple of [00:03:57] now in the apprenticeship numbers so we are hoping that that will translate ultimately into a trade pipeline in females.

Alison: And Robert do you think this is driven by what work’s been going on in Queensland?

Robert: Look it seems to be a longer term trend that what could be explained just by say a cyclical uptick in construction activity it does seem to be what we [00:04:24] like to call a secular or structural shift so something more fundamental seems to be happening but what also seems to be happening is more women are doing these apprenticeships but then are we keeping them in the industry post apprenticeship that seems to be where the challenge is and I would just also like to reinforce what Alison was saying about yes big business seems to be getting behind this but 99% of Queensland construction businesses employ less than 20 people, 60% of them employ none you know so these are small businesses and that’s a huge cultural challenge now that big employers have got these huge subcontractor that works and that gives them reach so at CSG we are really we are looking to these leaders of the industry these captains of the industry is the big players to set a tone that can then filter down to the rest of the industry and there are leaders out there like Alison herself and plenty of men in the industry as well who would like to see the change.

Margot: So Robert you mentioned what some of the industry bodies can do to help change the perception of female participants in the construction industry, what else can industry bodies be doing to try and shift this mindset?

Alison: I think it’s really important for us all to work together. There’s so few of us that have there’s lots of little initiatives happening but unless we all work together so we’re all on the page, all on the same page all heading in the same direction those little initiatives will only ever be able to change a small amount.

Margot: And Melanie from Corrs’ perspective what do you think you know as a female working within the construction team at Corrs what’s your perception on this?

Melanie: At Corrs we have a number of programs and initiatives that are focussed on gender equality so not just focussing on females but also on male and female participation and driving that equality in our workplace. We see a lot of executive coaching for senior female members of our staff to assist them maximise their career potential. One of the events that we run annually is a speed mentoring event and we have both senior male and female clients and partners come in and mentor our junior staff. I think that mentoring and networking is such a great way to further support people in industry. I know myself the network I have through NAWIC and through my workplace has helped me to propel my career. It gives you that “can do” when you get up in the morning and you go “I can do this and I can make a difference” and that’s I think really powerful. I’m indebted to NAWIC because I have spent the last five years working with you guys and it’s a pillar in my life not just something that I do as part of my job its my family, it’s my drive and I feel really grateful to have and I am really grateful to Corrs because they support that involvement.

Robert: I think it’s really noteworthy that you mentioned Corrs’ program recruits both men and women – sorry women and men into the gender equality into the equity program I think that’s a big challenge for us going forward when we are talking about getting your staff into the trades into the front line roles. Recruiting men into the project is just as important I think too often we kind of lump it all on women and say it’s just about convincing women but construction is a great job you know it’s actually a big part of it is about changing the attitudes and behaviours of the men in the industry so it would feel like they are welcome.

Alison: I agree with that I think you need men championing women and you need – women need to see that there are women out there doing the roles but you also need to see that those women are supported in those roles they are not just doing the hard yards. I think that that’s the challenge that we have.

Margot: Okay fantastic well we have clearly got a way to go but there are definitely some encouraging signs as we have heard today. Thank you to our guests and thank you all for listening.

Robert: Pleasure.

Alison: Thank you.

Melanie: Thank you.

Margot: This podcast is for reference purposes only it does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice about your specific circumstances.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Chambers Asia Pacific Awards 2016 Winner – Australia
Client Service Award
Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (WGEA)

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