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Discrimination in the construction industry

A new report has revealed that women working in trades and semi-skilled roles in construction experience high rates of discrimination.

The Victorian government commissioned the report from RMIT as part of its Women in Construction Strategy, which aims to increase participation of women in the construction industry.

The study found that women perceive a lack of acceptance in the workplace, and that there is limited accountability or deterrents for inappropriate behaviour by males.

Over the past 30 years women have made up approximately 2 per cent of trade and semi-skilled workers in Australian construction. The report is based on data from surveys conducted with 168 women and interviews with 43 women who work in roles such as labourers, carpenters, electricians, painters, crane operators, traffic controllers and plumbers.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Sarah Holdsworth from RMIT’s School of Property, Construction and Project Management, believes that without substantial and systemic change the construction industry will continue to see an underrepresentation of women.

“There was ongoing resistance to creating a workplace culture that welcomed and supported female workers,” she says.

“This failure to provide a safe workplace for women contravenes occupational health and safety legislation and regulations.”

Key findings included:

  • 95 per cent thought they were treated differently by men in the industry because of their gender
  • 78 per cent commented about poor work-life balance, and how long working hours and shift work affected their health, social life and relationships
  • 72 per cent said resilience was essential for working in trades and semi-skilled roles, saying they had a strong ability to deal with adversity, learn from it and adapt
  • 60 per cent felt that when they faced inappropriate and challenging behaviour in their workplace, they were not always supported by their co-workers, supervisors, their employer or other support agencies such as unions.

Minister for Industrial Relations, Tim Pallas, believes creating a level playing field for women in the workplace is a priority.

“No matter what industry, but especially in typically male-dominated sectors, we need and must do better in workplace equality across the board,” he says.

The Victorian government is working towards attracting more women to construction by closing the gender pay gap and raising awareness that construction is a viable career option.

The full report is available to download at the RMIT website, and more information about Victoria’s Women in Construction Strategy is available here.

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