A recent report published by Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) in November 2021 paints a sobering image of the state of gender inequality in the construction industry.

The report found that the construction industry is in first place as Australia’s most male-dominated industry. Although the construction industry accounts for 9 per cent of the Australian workforce in 2018-19, women made up only 12 per cent of that figure. What’s more, recent analysis of ABS data identified that women in construction are predominantly confined to corporate and administrative roles. In Victoria, only 2.5% of trade workers are female and that percentage is significantly lower in other states.

Barriers to equalising the gender ratio in Construction 

Research on women in the industry have found that the culture of the construction industry negatively affects female workers. Negative behaviours that are widely accepted across the industry include:

  • Masculine norms and practices – such as swearing , aggressive and combative exchanges, and resistance to flexible working arrangements
  • Tolerance for sexism, including sexual harassment, sexist comments and graffiti, presumptions that women will only do administrative work, and other practices that make women feel as if they’re intruding in a male-dominated space
  • A culture of exclusion for workers that “differ from the norm” in terms of gender, race, or sexuality
  • A greater onus on women to prove their capabilities consistently
  • Long hours and little accommodation to social or caring circumstances

The ABCC report proposes that there is one major reason that deters women from entering construction and that is the high occurrence of sexual harassment at work. More than half of women working in construction have reported experiencing sexual harassment at their workplace.

The construction industry loses out on $171.8m per year in lost productivity costs due to workplace sexual harassment, according to the ABCC

Moving toward gender equality in construction  

The construction industry in Australia has been notoriously slow in adapting modern methodologies and mindset – including technology, mental health, and gender equality initiatives. Understanding the situation as it stands and deterrents that pose as barriers to women in construction are the first steps to increasing awareness of the issue, but where to from here? How does the industry address gender-inequality in a manner that attracts women to the industry?

Respect@Work inquiry proposed several key changes implemented by Fair Work Commission from November 11 2021;

  • Fair Work Commission can make stop sexual harassment orders

As of 11 November 2021, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) can now make orders to stop the sexual harassment of a worker. Specifically, section 789FC(1) has now been amended to allow a worker who reasonably believes that he or she has been sexually harassed at work to apply to the FWC for a stop sexual harassment order.

If the FWC is satisfied that a worker has been sexually harassed by one or more workers and is satisfied there is a risk that the worker will continue to be sexually harassed, orders to stop sexual harassment can be made pursuant to section 789FF(1)(b)(ii). As opposed to a stop bullying order, the FWC only needs to find that sexual harassment occurred in a single instance for an order to be made, rather than a finding of repeated unreasonable conduct.

  • Sexual harassment is a valid reason for dismissal

Despite the limitation of orders that can be made by the FWC, it does not prevent an employer taking appropriate disciplinary action. While sexual harassment has always been a valid reason for dismissal, the amendments to section 387of the FW Act empower employers to consider termination in the event of single incidents of sexual harassment.

Further, underlining the seriousness of sexual harassment in the workplace, regulation 1.07 of the Fair Work Regulations 2009 (Cth) has been updated to indicate that sexual harassment in the workplace can constitute serious misconduct, amounting to summary dismissal without notice.

  • Provision for Miscarriage Leave

The Respect@Work Act also amended section 104 of the FW Act to provide employees with two days of paid compassionate leave in circumstances where the employee or their spouse has suffered a miscarriage. Casual employees are provided with two days of unpaid compassionate leave in the same set of circumstances.

At Commnia, we believe that by keeping an open forum on the topic and educating our internal and external teams on the matter will allow us to step in the right direction for the future. Furthermore, the key driver in any transition is to create a culture of inclusion and diversity. By creating targeted initiatives to attract more women to positions in the industry, we can begin to bridge the gender gap in construction and other male-dominated industries.

“There’s often a difference in mindset between men and women in construction” says Gina Yazbek, CEO, and founder of Commnia. “I find as a female in construction and technology, I always think – how do I make the world beautiful and easy for my clients and colleagues, and this attitude is very strong among women in the workforce.”

The notorious “macho” culture of the construction industry not only deters women from entering the industry, but also creates a poor mental health environment for men. A male in construction is 53% more likely to die by committing suicide than those working in other industries, according to a recent study from Deakin University. Being aware of these costs to organisations and the individual is highly essential in order to inspire a shift in culture to one with stronger communication practices where mental health is upheld.

Businesses that move towards a gender-equal distribution amongst their teams often find that the mix heavily benefits the existing dynamic. As generally more confident communicators, women in the workplace often add to a bonded team dynamic. Stronger communication practices also improve mental health closely and wellbeing of the team.

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