NAWIC – women in construction
The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) is a network for women in the field of construction.

International Women’s Day on Tuesday is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The theme this year is #BreaktheBias. 

With the currently still unfolding devastation of flooding playing out across our communities in NSW and QLD, women are playing a critical role in protecting their communities from the impacts of climate change at all levels as decision makers, educators and advocates. 

The built environment plays a critical role in shifting the dial on climate change and preventing the kinds of community damage we are seeing with these floods. 

“I would strongly encourage women to consider a career in the built and natural environment,” Consult Australia chief operating officer Nicola Grayson told The Fifth Estate.

“Women are in a great place to step into a career in this industry, and what better industry to step into than this one that is doing so much to invest in climate and to help the economy recover from COVID-19. These skill sets are going to be shaping Australia for decades to come. Now is a wonderful time to step into the industry, and into leadership opportunities.”

Nicola Grayson, chief operating officer of Consult Australia, the industry association that represents businesses in design, advisory, and engineering.

In the built environment sectors architecture and construction are still overwhelmingly male-dominated, despite incentives like Property Champions of Change and the NSW government’s Investing in Women Funding Program. 

Ms Grayson says that mentorship and interventions like these are vital to progress gender equality in the natural and built environment sectors.

“Having someone in leadership sponsoring me made an enormous impact and really helped me in terms of progressing. When I look back, there’s two or three people that made a big impact on me and steered me through choppy waters. I’ve been lucky enough to have those role models, I know a lot of women aren’t.”

“There’s an enormous role that leaders can play in women’s leadership development. Championing women in the business, talking loudly about fantastic performance of women and breaking that ‘tapping on the shoulder’ network of recruitment and promotion.”

Figures from university admissions organisation UCAS show that while 51.5 per cent of undergraduate students enrolled in architectural courses are women, that number quickly drops off by the time they enter the workforce. Only 29.6 per cent of registered architects are women, according to ARB. 

The Australian Institute of Architects recently called on states and territories to adopt formal policies to engage women in the construction industry. National President, Tony Giannone, praised the Victorian government’s Building Equality Policy (BEP) which came into effect at the beginning of this year. 

The BEP implements onsite and apprentice-trainee quotas, as well as a requirement for suppliers to develop Gender Equality Action Plans, which will help prompt change to the deeply ingrained status quo of construction culture in an ongoing way, applying to all publicly-funded construction projects in Victoria of $20 million or more, and contractors will need to monitor full supply chains. Precursors to the BEP include Victoria’s Gender Equality Act 2020, and Women in Construction Strategy 2019-22. 

“As Victoria’s economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic we must not go back to the way things were. The pandemic has taught us that workplaces can adapt and change, and this policy will help us use the recovery to improve conditions for women in construction,” Victorian Treasurer and Minister for Economic Development and Industrial Relations, Tim Pallas MP, said.

“Gender equity remains a major issue in Australia, and in the building and construction industry in particular,” Mr Giannone said. 

“The gender pay gap remains significant with women earning $7.72 for every $10 paid to men, and women being paid on average $25,800 less than men [a year]. This gap narrowed by only 0.5 per cent in the past 12 months, a rate of change that is wholly unacceptable,” he added. 

“Formalising gender equality policies for the built environment is a concrete action state and territory governments can take to drive change and demonstrate the leadership that is so urgently required.”

Meanwhile experts are saying that hybrid working/remote work may set back gender equality because men are more likely to return to the office and women are more likely to opt to work from home, and therefore not considered for promotions. 

Dr Leonora Risse, senior lecturer in economics at RMIT University and national chair of the Women in Economics Network, said: “if women end up being the ones who disproportionately opt to work from home or adopt a hybrid arrangement, compared to men who are more likely to opt to return to the office full-time – then women will inadvertently suffer from a lack of visibility, recognition and opportunity.” 

“This doesn’t mean that we should compel women to return to the office or worksite full-time. Instead, it means that employers need to think wisely and inclusively about how to support and recognise the work of all workers. To reduce these gender patterned biases, it also means we should be aiming to encourage just as many men, as women, to opt for hybrid arrangements so that they can participate more fully in their families’ lives at home too.” 

Ms Grayson says that men just as much as women are responsible for lifting women up and breaking gender bias in the workplace.

“It is important not to walk past poor behaviours, and to call them out. Be mindful of language and behaviour, and make sure that issues are dealt with appropriately. Women need that support and to not always be the ones who speak up. Others need to stand up with us.”

She also says that women need to take leadership opportunities “with everything you’ve got”. 

“My biggest piece of advice would be to take the leap. I had doubts about stepping into leadership, thinking ‘am I ready, is this for me?’ and another woman said to me, ‘why are you holding yourself back if you have this opportunity?”

“So many of us doubt ourselves, and we need to put those negative voices aside and take that opportunity. It doesn’t matter where that opportunity comes from, you need to grab it, run with it and show them what you can do.”

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