International Women’s Day is an important reminder to celebrate the female powerhouses who inspire us, lead us, and drive us into the future. This year, we spoke to four industry leaders about their experience as women in construction and asked what advice they would give to other women entering the industry.
Women make up just 12% of Australia’s construction workforce. Only 3% of the country’s tradespeople are female. A look at the management tiers and the figures are similar: Only 12% of construction management roles are held by women, and that figure is diminishing. Women working in construction has fallen from 13.8% in 1998 to 12% in 2018, according to a Women in Construction report by HR consulting firm Randstad.
Still, the women who do choose construction as their profession are passionately enthusiastic. The work is challenging, full of variety, and offers an opportunity to study finance, business management, engineering, and design into exciting large-scale projects.
This is a burgeoning space of potential and growth for Australian women. To recognise the different role each gender plays in our professional environments is not always to call out inequity—sometimes, it should also be about observing the unique contribution women make. And in construction, that contribution is huge.
We spoke with four female leaders about their experience in the construction industry. We asked for their best advice and for a peek behind the curtain of what it’s like to carve out a career in a male-dominated industry. Here’s what they told us.
I started off my career as a lawyer, working in a construction practice group in a Sydney law firm..
I made a switch and took an in-house role which led me to where I am now – part of a successful start-up company. I love construction because I can wander the CBD and witness the bricks and mortar evidence of our company’s hard work. That’s pretty amazing.
My first piece of advice is around confidence.
Be confident, be assertive, and be respectful. I have found that confidence tends to come naturally to many men, while it seems to be more of a learned behaviour for women. Never underestimate your intelligence and your place in that room—or on site, for that matter. You don’t need to know everything to be successful, but projecting confidence is the first step.
I’d like to see more women taking up opportunities.
We tend to wait until we’re ready, asking, ‘Can I do it? Am I qualified?’ Forget that, and just do it. You’ll get so many opportunities in the course of your career, and you need to grab those opportunities and run with them.
Embrace what we as women add to the conversation: It’s unique.
Don’t ever think that being a woman in this industry is a weakness. Women have a great perspective on things, and that in itself is invaluable. In my experience, women can often bring more compassion, humility, and greater communication skills to the table. Use it to your advantage.
I studied engineering at university and worked for three months before realising I didn’t want to be an engineer.
Around this time, the owner of a startup called me and sold the dream of getting involved in a small business where I could do everything from accounts to project management. There were just five people in the business back then, and now we have 70. It’s been a crazy, amazing ride.
As soon as you head on site, the gender divide is really obvious.
I was usually assumed to be the architect—sure, there’s a female presence, but rarely in a management role. I have always acutely felt the assumption that you don’t know that much because you’re a young female. You get talked over all the time, and there’s plenty of older men who want to remind you how long they’ve been in the industry.
Women are your biggest advocates.
The people who make the hiring decisions do tend to be men, and they connect well with the ‘younger versions’ of themselves. To break that cycle, we need women in upper management roles so that they help make the hiring decisions. I know I would be pushing for female candidates. We have each other’s backs.
Find your people.
There’s always going to be gender bias in construction, so for me, staying in the industry was about finding the company willing to support me no matter what. You want a team who are advocating for you even when you’re not in the room.
I fell into construction completely by accident.
I was a sport and exercise science undergraduate with every intention of progressing into physiotherapy—when my university changed their post-graduate courses my career path also changed.. I found myself working for a recruitment and labour hire company for a while completing safety checks, It was a short term role and at that time I realised I really enjoyed the industry and was willing to work hard from the start.
Construction is fast-paced, and no two days are the same.
I enjoy the variety that comes with each day, no two sites are the same. The great thing about Hutchies is that there is the ability for you to move within the company into different roles with support from the organisation.
My company chooses people based on merit—not on their gender.
If you work hard, you’ll be rewarded, irrespective of gender. In my career I do not feel that I have experienced a gender bias. My opinion is that this comes from the top, where our leaders are really inclusive and very much focused on your skills and what you can bring to the table.
My advice is to ask questions.
Often, the assumption is that everyone knows what they are doing. They don’t! By asking questions, you will learn from those around you. Seek out people within your organisations and chosen fields who can champion your success, those that are knowledgeable and keep asking questions, but always do your own research as well.
Mum and Dad always knew I was going to be a developer.
From the age of 10, I was ‘renovating’ our downstairs at home. I even erected a letterbox for ‘49a’. I guess you could say it was in my blood. I started out working in recruitment and HR, then moved across to design and into construction when I started Fiducia with my partner Ben sixteen years ago.
Not always a pleasant experience
I’ve felt intimidated. You can’t say that there’s no gender imbalance in construction because there is. Sure I have thick skin and was able to deal with it in my stride, however there are many women who are dealing with this daily and the mental workload can be exhausting. As a mum to three girls, we need to draw the line on any kind of intimidation behaviour. It’s not okay.
There’s more good than bad.
Throughout my career I’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by some of the most inspiring and supportive men in the industry. Things are definitely changing for the better, diversity and inclusion is common place in many companies now and you only need to go to an industry event to see how many women are rising through the ranks.
Make as many connections as you can, and really put yourself out there.
Be open to learning. Accept every invite you can, and attend as many events as you can. Knowledge is power, and the construction industry is all about honing your skills. The more you know, the more your skills are transferable to different areas, and the more capacity you’ll have to grow.