A new report published by Randstad has found female workers still face significant barriers entering and progressing within Australia’s construction industry.
Despite a mounting skills gap, the construction sector is the most male-dominated industry in Australia, with only one in eight workers female.
The report, Women in Construction 2021: Levelling the Playfield, surveyed women and men employed in construction and builds on an earlier report released in 2019.
It found that one in four women, or 26 per cent, believed they did not have a fair chance to move up within their organisation and to develop their careers.
Randstad Australia national lead, diversity and inclusion Kerry McQuillan said despite the challenges for women in the construction industry, progress was being brought about by trailblazing women inside the industry who are on a mission to break the ‘concrete ceiling’.
Leading firms in male-dominated industries such as BHP in mining have seen increases in productivity and outperformance from teams with greater gender diversity, demonstrating a clear return on investment for companies that hire more women.
McQuillan believes that despite the evidence supporting the benefits of hiring more females, companies in the construction industry need to step up their efforts towards progress rather than sitting back.
The research details substantial improvements over the two years since the last report, with most women surveyed (58.7 per cent) believing that attitudes towards their gender have changed for the better since they started their careers in construction, though gender disparities still exist.
Female construction workers identified numerous barriers preventing women from entering the industry, or pushing them to exit, including seeing too few female role models in senior positions (34 per cent of respondents), a lack of gender diversity (31 per cent), the workplace culture (30 per cent), and a lack of career development opportunities (28 per cent).
The number of women reporting gender discrimination in the workplace at least once has dropped in the two-year period, though remains high – falling from six in 10 (60 per cent) in 2019 to one in four (41 per cent) in 2021.
The most common form of discrimination in the workplace was inappropriate comments or behaviour from male colleagues (70 per cent), following by being excluded from male conversations or social events (33.1 per cent), being passed over for particular work/projects (26 per cent), and being offered a less important role (26 per cent).
Positive progression, although too slowly, is being made, according to the report, with 62.8 per cent of construction workers of both genders believing that the way women in the industry are treated has improved since they started their careers.
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.
“The industry should be moving further and faster on diversity and inclusion.
“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.”