The reason we are not seeing more women in the construction trade
Construction is still a male-dominated industry. Women are outnumbered, with construction having the lowest number of females out of all the trade industries.
New reports examine how high school females could consider a trade as a potential career path. UTS school of built environment senior research fellow Dr Phillippa Carnemolla has looked at pathways for young women who have chosen trades. There have been modest improvements in the number of females within the construction industry but nothing significant.
At basically each career stage within trades men outnumber women. In 2018 the report Why would I want to do that with my career? was commissioned by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and offered to Phillippa as part of a $20,000 scholarship.
Over the one-year study, Phillippa investigated perceptions of the construction industry by examining existing research, interviewing female high school students and analysing UTS enrolment data for the Bachelor of Construction Project Management.
“In interviewing the students, it was clear that they had little knowledge of the construction industry and its potential career options,” says Phillippa.
“The fact that it is a growth industry and one of Australia’s three largest industries was also unknown.”
None of the interviewed students could remember speaking to a successful woman with a career in construction while at high school and felt they could not visualise themselves in a construction role. The research also revealed a lack of understanding about the diverse scope of jobs and careers that make up the construction industry.
“One of the most revealing aspects of the research was that many girls didn’t believe they would be respected or heard in the construction industry. Nor could they visualise what achievement might look like for them, or how they could make a difference,” says Phillippa.
“In fact, construction was not seen as a viable or aspirational career path like law, business, medicine or engineering, despite engineering being a part of the construction industry.”
While the interviews demonstrated that few girls had a comprehensive understanding of what it means to work in construction, the research showed that females from all-girls schools were significantly more likely to choose to study construction at university.
55% of girls offered placements in the UTS Construction Project Management degree as school-leavers came from all-girls high schools, while only 9% of schools NSW are all-female.
Professor Heather MacDonald, head of the UTS School of Built Environment, says that Phillippa’s research gives valuable insight into the challenges universities face in attracting a more diverse range of students to construction project management programs.
“Many young women don’t understand the range of skills and knowledge entailed in the field, nor the significant opportunities to be part of major projects that transform the built environment,” says Heather.
“One of the key messages we hear from our industry partners is the importance of expanding the recruitment base for construction project managers – not only to ensure that the industry reflects the diversity of Australian society, but also to ensure project managers bring a wide range of skills and experiences to construction in the 21st century.”
As a result of her research findings, Phillippa has made recommendations that will enable NAWIC, employer groups, leading companies and broader construction networks to better engage with high school girls and to communicate the potential for a construction career.