Former Australian Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman once said “I'm so lucky. I have such a great support system. All I have to do is run.” If the same could be said for women in the construction industry, I believe it would be generation defining.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the overall number of women in construction increased by 34% in five years and Australian female construction apprentices more than doubled from 2010 to 2020. This is incredibly exciting and inspiring news but sadly, women still make up only 12% of the workforce.
It’s clear that some gendered issues persist across all industries and are not unique to construction, whether you are male or female. However, reflecting on the barriers women face in construction, many challenges directly impact our capacity to be the best at our jobs.
Whether it be the stress to deliver on time and to budget, poor leadership, the ‘lads mentality’ on work sites, not having the confidence to call out a sexist comment or the power imbalance between an employer and employee relationship, women are particularly vulnerable. The pressure of keeping your job, working long hours and the added travel time which is part of the job, coupled with carer responsibilities – this can feel almost impossible when carving a work-life balance.
Throughout my almost 20 years of working on major infrastructure projects, I have looked at what has worked for me and how I encourage all women (and men) to consider a career in construction and push past all barriers – real and perceived. This year, I started the next chapter in my career and joined Struber as Senior Consultant in the communications and community engagement space.
Using my own personal experience and focusing on the things you can change to reduce barriers, and pursue a career you love, here are my top tips.
Find your tribe
One of the best things I have found working as a consultant is the opportunity to tap into a cheer squad and brains trust – colleagues, mentors, and role models. The men and women of all levels who have your back, believe in you, and push you to be the best version of yourself.
Communication is key
In any industry, managing expectations and finding what works for you is a crucial part of negotiating the juggle – what hours can you do, what your non-negotiables are (school pick-up, one day from home or shifts on site to combat fatigue). Post-pandemic, hopefully these conversations will be easier to have.
Master difficult conversations
Whether dealing with difficult stakeholders, your boss or your team, being able to defuse conflict is critical. Focus on managing your own emotional response to get clarity on the outcomes you want.
Turn your “weakness” into your greatest strength
During my career, I have been given feedback that I am too friendly, too bubbly and cannot be taken seriously as a leader. I have found that my passion and genuine ability to connect with people has been one of my greatest assets. Own what makes you unique and make it your superpower.
We are all going to face challenges in our careers and there are always things that can get in the way of where we want to go.
Treat your work like a relationship – continue to assess what’s working and what isn’t and work with your colleagues to address the gaps. Be confident bringing your true self to work and making values-based decisions. Don’t forget that you are not alone, we should all work together to make positive change for women in the construction industry, which benefits everyone.