Construction is the most male-dominated industry in Australia, yet industry stakeholders are increasingly committed to growing the diversity of their workforces. As companies work towards making meaningful progress toward gender equality, some states and territories are moving to accelerate progress with the introduction of targets and quotas.
While divisive, the National Association of Women In Construction's (NAWIC) National Chair, Christina Yiakkoupis, sees some merit in this approach. “Without goals people have nothing to work towards and nothing to measure themselves against,” she says. “Quotas and targets might not solve all gender diversity issues, but they are a good conversation starter and a good place to start.”
This guide highlights the current regulatory requirements for gender diversity; shares tips for attracting and retaining women in your workforce; and reveals how diversity can futureproof the construction industry.
Gender diversity requirements for construction projects currently vary by state and territory:
In Victoria, publicly funded construction projects valued over $20m must meet quotas set out in the Building Equality Policy. From 2024, action will be taken against non-compliance.
Instead of quotas, in NSW the Women in Construction strategy outlines a target for women to occupy 15 per cent of trade and non-traditional roles by 2030.
There are no quotas or targets in Queensland, but project-based initiatives exist. The state’s NAWIC chapter has also set a target to increasing female participation in front-line trade roles to 11 per cent.
The ACT government is working to establish the Women in Construction Procurement Policy. The policy, including proposed gender quotas for government-backed projects estimated at $5m or more, is expected to be released by the end of 2023.
WA, Tasmania and the Northern Territory do not have quotas or targets, but limited gender diversity initiatives are underway.
According to Elise Manns, Executive General Manager for People & Safety at Coates, there are compelling reasons for improving gender diversity in construction.
“The more diverse the workforce, the better it performs, and by improving gender diversity we can address diversity in other areas too. Having gender diversity can also positively impact culture in terms of engagement, setting better behavioural norms, and improving openness to deal with mental health and wellbeing – which is important in predominantly male industries,” she says.
Follow these practical steps to attract and retain a more gender diverse workforce:
Enforce zero tolerance for bullying and discrimination of any kind; set clear behavioural expectations
Avoid gendered language and bias – particularly in recruitment processes
Offer parental leave programs to all employees
Improve accessibility with standardised work hours, flexible working and job-sharing
Regularly review career pathways and provide mentoring and development programs to attract women, address skills gaps and support career development. Coates’ Leadership, Excellence and Performance (LEAP) program connects and accelerates future female leaders, with almost one-third of participants being promoted since the program commenced two years ago
“We can’t be what we can’t see” – visible female role models are important for advancing diversity too.
To meet future workforce challenges, the construction industry must work together to improve diversity and build a sustainable future. Christina describes education as an important part of achieving this.
“We must get in front of future generations of workers to showcase the different employment opportunities that exist,” she says. “Education is also needed outside of schools and universities, to attract diverse and experienced workers with transferrable skills from other industries.”
Here are some other ways the construction industry can work together to improve diversity.
The work experiences of Rebecca Kenneally, a Perth-based building site administrator, highlight the need for better gender diversity across the industry. “I’m lucky to work for a building company that trains and advocates for women, but I still encounter sexism and discrimination on worksites, and there are many men who still prefer to work alongside men,” she says. “This leaves women having to go the extra mile just to prove themselves.”
Christina adds: “The construction industry has to be a better place for everyone to work, because people will no longer tolerate gender-biased and discriminatory behaviour. Given the current labour challenges, we can’t afford not to appeal to current and future generations of workers, but achieving this requires a significant cultural shift.”
Construction work can be high risk, have demanding hours, and childcare isn’t always accessible or affordable – all factors that can deter women from pursuing careers in construction. “It’s great to see construction companies looking to introduce flexible working, standardised hours and parental leave schemes to address some of these issues,” says Christina.
To sustainably grow the female workforce, a lens of diversity and inclusivity must be applied. “We must examine all of our systems and processes; our values; our language and behaviours; people and remuneration strategies; and how we support career advancement,” says Elise. “We must also be clear on what is acceptable and create a culture that allows people to hold others to account and call out gender bias and discrimination when they see it.”
“This year female participation at Coates has increased from 19.8% to 21.6% per cent, which is well ahead of the industry average,” Elise continues. “While there are some issues that still need to be addressed, these results are encouraging, and Coates remains committed to change, being inclusive, to pushing boundaries and to thinking differently.”
To learn more about Coates’ commitments to diversity and inclusion, download the Coates Sustainability Playbook.
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