The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) is working with industry and government to shift the dial towards gender equality, and this month General Manager Lauren Fahey tells us how.
By Lauren Fahey, General Manager, NAWIC.
What does NAWIC stand for?
NAWIC is a peak body advocating for safety, gender equality and economic security for women in construction. Gender inequality affects all Australians. It influences what we choose to study, the jobs we do, how we share unpaid work at home and our economic security. It impacts business profitability, productivity and our ability to innovate. Time and time again, research shows that the more diverse a company, the better its performance.
As the third largest industry in Australia in terms of employees and contribution to gross domestic product, construction has staggeringly few female participants. According to a 2022 report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 11 per cent of the construction industry is female in management, support and administration roles; and an additional 2 per cent of the industry is women in trades and on the tools.
Gender inequality starts at the beginning
The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Gender Gap Report found Australian women rank first in the world for educational achievement and participation but 70th in the world for workplace achievement and participation. This is particularly relevant for women in construction, where culturally this inequity begins in primary school:
- Children in primary school already define jobs as belonging to ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ with education materials reinforcing the unconscious bias.
- In high school, girls are more likely than boys to opt out of intensive maths. This prevents them from pursuing further study in science, technology, engineering, architecture and mathematics.
- Girls are less likely to pursue careers in STEM, construction, finance and trades.
- Under 50 per cent of women complete apprenticeships according to a statement released by Queensland’s Minister for Training and Skills Development Di Farmer in 2022.
Women earn less than men
The findings of Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2022 report, The State of Inequality in Australia from its Gender Equity Insights Series, show that in the construction industry the pay gap is a massive 30.6 per cent. The gender pay gap is influenced by several factors:
- Lack of women in senior leadership and decision-making positions.
- Discrimination and unconscious bias in recruitment and remuneration.
- Lack of flexible work and affordable childcare and care leave.
- Over-representation of migrant and refugee women in low paid and insecure work.
- Barriers to employment for single mothers, women with a disability, LGBITQA+ people and women from culturally diverse backgrounds.
- Sexism, sexual harassment, bullying and workplace violence against women.
A total of 73 per cent of NAWIC Members surveyed in 2022 reported they have experienced gender adversity in the workplace.
Women have a significant unpaid workload
Women do more than twice the amount of unpaid work in the home than men – physically and emotionally. This workload grew exponentially during the global pandemic. To juggle this unpaid work with paid work, women are far more likely than men to be in low-paid, insecure or casual work. The lack of part time and flexible options make the construction industry inhospitable.
Being paid less – or not at all – means that women have less money in their superannuation. This puts older women at greater risk of poor health, poverty and homelessness than men.
Creating systemic change
To achieve gender equality in construction we need to close the gender pay gap. We can do this by increasing the representation of women in construction leadership roles and ensuring safe and respectful workplaces. We can do this by legislating quotas for female participation and implementing policies for workplace equity reporting. We can do this by placing gender on the tender on both government and private contracts.
An important part of promoting gender equality at work is allowing flexible work practices, portable long service and carers leave. This includes supporting men as carers and parents and making flexible work available for them too. We can do this by providing affordable childcare with hours of operation aligned to construction workplaces. We can do this by creating job share arrangements and staggered shifts that make construction industry roles part time and more flexible for women and carers.
We can start at the beginning by implementing national curriculum that encourages young girls in STEM and construction that dispels gender bias in our new generation. We can provide resources to children with women in construction roles – ‘you can be what you can see’. We can provide safe, accessible and appealing education pathways for women in trades and construction professions.
Our goal at NAWIC is to urge industry and government to collaborate with us to strive for 25 per cent female participation by 2025. This is a steppingstone to 30 per cent female participation, where we know permanent cultural change occurs.
Supporting women in construction is a significant way we can improve female economic security, overcome the skills and labour crisis, and deliver greater profitability and innovation to the construction industry. At NAWIC we think that’s worth advocating for.
Join us and be a #changemaker. We rise together.