Women-in-construction
Image – Canva
  • 26% of women in the construction industry believe they don't have a fair chance
  • One in eight workers are female in the industry
  • 33% of the men believe the treatment of women has vastly improved, compared to 20% of the women

One in four women within Australia’s construction industry believe they don’t have a fair chance to move up within their organisations and to develop their career, according to a new report by recruitment and HR specialist Randstad.

The Women in Construction 2021: levelling the playfield report states COVID-19 travel restrictions have exacerbated talent gaps by making it harder for workers to come into and move around the country.

Currently, just one in eight workers are female, making the construction industry the most male-dominated industry in the country.

Attracting more females would not only broaden the talent pool and help bridge the gaps, but bring about commercial advantages too, said the report.

Studies indicate increasing the number of women on building sites improves efficiency, the working environment, and attention to health and safety.

Further commercial benefits come from improved customer engagement and understanding.

Randstad Australia’s national lead for diversity and inclusion Kerry McQuillan said, “When tendering for contracts or working with clients, the main point of contact is just as likely to be a woman as a man.

“Attracting more women and helping them to advance their careers would improve construction companies’ ability to engage with female clients and deliver their project expectations.”

Kerry-McQuillan
Randstad Australia’s national lead for diversity and inclusion Kerry McQuillan. Image – Supplied

Two-year difference

Despite the barriers, the report has recorded significant improvements since its last one in 2019, with most of the women surveyed believing the attitudes towards their gender have changed for the better since they started their careers in construction.

In 2019, 60% of women in construction had experienced gender discrimination in the workplace, while this year it has fallen to 41%.

The report states the most common form of discrimination is inappropriate comments or behaviour from male colleagues.

According to the female participants in this year’s survey, workplace culture is one of the top three reasons why women might leave or be reluctant to enter the industry.

Both the 2019 and 2021 reports found equal pay, flexible hours, and opportunities for career progression would encourage women to join or stay in the industry.

Career progression

In 2019, a third of women didn’t believe there were enough career opportunities for them, but in this year’s survey it has fallen to 28%.

Around a quarter of women cited being passed over for promotion or for particular projects when asked what form of discrimination they faced.

Lack of sponsorship, inherent bias, and lack of robust processes were found to be reasons why Australian women across the economy found it harder to get promoted.

Construction continues to have the lowest percentage of women in management of any major industry in Australia, at 13%.

Reasons the construction industry is falling short

33% of the men in this year’s survey believe the treatment of women in construction has vastly improved, compared to 20% of the women.

Ms McQuillan said, “Now that there are a few women on-site or one or two in senior management, there is a danger that businesses will think that it’s ‘job done’. But it isn’t. If the only woman another woman sees when they go past a site is operating the stop and go sign, they aren’t going to bother applying.

“Similarly if there are no female role models at the top of the business, ambitious young recruits won’t hang around for long.”

Randstad Australia’s national lead for diversity and inclusion Kerry McQuillan

The industry needs to be moving further and faster on diversity and inclusion, said Ms McQuillan.

“This isn’t about quotas or a wholesale change in the way people work. Rather it’s about ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to get on in their careers.

“The best projects and top jobs should be open to all and chosen on merit, rather than reserved for men.”

Suggested steps

The report listed steps the industry can make to accelerate breaking down barriers that hold women back.

  1. Make diversity a strategic imperative by making it the centre of a company’s agenda alongside material costs and project management issues, rather than treated as a tick-box.
  2. Creating an environment where women feel comfortable, respected, and able to develop their careers through celebrating women and having female role models.
  3. Acknowledging female candidates in other industries can be brought into construction to develop business strategies and lead.
  4. If in a leadership position, speak up about the need for training and support on diversity.
  5. Communicate to project managers, site managers, and their teams that inclusion and diversity should be a priority and how it can benefit them.

The ‘Women in Construction 2021: levelling the playfield’ surveyed women and men employed in the construction industry and provides an update on an earlier report conducted in 2019.

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