New blueprint to build up women in construction

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
6 Min Read

Assisting more women to enter the construction industry is critical to meeting workplace shortages and addressing the housing crisis, Australia’s peak building employer association has advised.

Master Builders Australia has put out a rallying cry to unite the nation in a proactive push to bring practical solutions to the challenges faced by women in the construction industry.

The industry body released a new policy platform last week to coincide with International Women’s Day in a bid to ignite meaningful discussion and change for what is described as a “critical issue”.

The Breaking Ground: Women in Building and Construction manifesto puts forward several proposals in a bid to boost lacklustre female participation and retention numbers holding the industry back.

Shock stats show lady tradie troubles

Currently, women account for just 13 per cent of all construction-related jobs and just over 2 per cent of trade-related roles.

Meanwhile, less than half of all female apprentices go on to complete their training and become a fully licenced tradie.

Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn said Breaking Ground says the construction industry must turn those numbers around to meet housing and infrastructure targets over the coming decades.

“Workplace shortages are putting immense pressure on our ability to meet housing targets, and Master Builders believes women will play a vital role in rectifying that,” she said.

“As one of the biggest sectors in the economy, the building and construction industry employs over 1.3 million Australians but a female participation rate of (under) 15 per cent with only 3 per cent on the tools is simply not good enough.”

“Increased female participation has many benefits; it lifts productivity, boosts the economy, facilitates financial independence, assists in developing an inclusive and diverse culture and meets the much-needed workforce shortages the building and construction industry is facing.”

The proposed policy changes are centred around increasing interest and construction course commencement levels among school leavers while also targeting cultural change within workplaces to provide additional support for women on the tools.

Breaking Ground aims to dismantle the barriers to participation while highlighting the positives of working in the industry,” Ms Warn said.

“We must do more to end the bias between universities and vocation education, and young women should be given the same opportunities as their male counterparts to pursue trade apprenticeships if they choose to do so.”

“Cultural change is needed, and industry structures must adapt – such as more flexible patterns of work – and more funding is required to support evidence-based programs of how to attract and retain women.”

Master Builders puts forward the following policy proposals:

  • Unbiased career guidance
  • Access to career information for parents
  • Better culture and safety practice
  • Better support and flexibility for tradie mums
  • Increased support for network and mentoring groups.
  • More funding allocated to programs, education, and facilities

Lady tradies back the changes

Female-licenced builder Shani Naleshni runs her own construction company. She told Build-it she welcomed the passion for improving the industry but warned it would take time to implement the required cultural changes to improve female retention figures.

“ There is a long way to go there; I know exactly why many female tradies leave the industry – it’s the inappropriate behaviour from some,” she said.

“Many women have been discriminated against a lot while in the workplace; I have had some people say some truly awful things to me.”

Shani says women should feel confident knowing they have someone to turn to when discriminated against, such as a supportive management team or industry watchdog.

“You need to work with people who have your back. Some women might not have that, and that’s awful in a situation where you feel uncomfortable,” she told Build-it.

More women needed to meet build targets

The policy changes come just two weeks after The NSW Building Commission called out the toxic culture within the construction industry, with one-in-two women revealing they have been sexually harassed while on the tools.

The statewide regulator called on the deconstruction of outdated industry norms to attract women towards a career in construction and address essential labour shortages.

NSW Building Commission manager David Chandler says attracting more NSW women to the trades in 2024 was essential to build the workforce required to overcome the state’s housing supply crisis.

“By improving the workplace for all genders it will encourage more women to join the industry and help to address the projected shortfall of 100,000 skilled construction workers.”

Their Building Commission NSW Women in Construction Report outlined several key recommendations to increase female participation across the sector, such as addressing negative industry perceptions, insufficient business and HR knowledge and poor workplace culture.

To read the complete Master Builders Australia policy updates, click here: Breaking Ground: Women in Building and Construction.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.