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News & opinion

9 MAR 2018

Supporting Christina: increasing diversity in construction

In the same week as International Women’s Day, we look at how construction can attract a more diverse workforce. The Sydney Morning Herald released an inspirational article featuring Christina Suarez, a 15-year-old high school student who is helping to build Sydney’s Metro.

Christina revealed that she couldn’t imagine working in an office or at a desk every day. Instead, she wanted to be ‘hands on and productive’.

Nevertheless, since 2006, women’s share in construction employment has decreased by 5% (ABS 2016 & 2006). That means that those who identify as female only make up 12% of the workforce, making it the most male-dominated sector in Australia.

The value of diversity

Early enthusiasm by women about construction professions decreases with increased exposure to the workplace. Women leave the construction professions almost 39% faster than their male colleagues (APESMA 2010). 

As much as diversity is a moral imperative, it also makes sound business sense to encourage talent from diverse backgrounds. 

But the issues have become even broader than the business case given growing public scrutiny of the issue. Diversity now impacts brand, corporate purpose, and performance according to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report. Movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up have brought the issue squarely to the front of people’s consciousness.

Employees are also expressing stronger views on the issue, with Millennials seeing inclusion as a mandatory part of corporate culture.

Diversity initiatives

How does this transfer to the construction industry specifically, and attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce?

There are many initiatives in place trying to redress the balance, including the Investing in Women Funding Program from Women NSW, providing funding to support the economic empowerment and leadership of women. The Department of Education is also looking at the school level, partnering with Young Change Agents to offer a social entrepreneurship program focused on girls in STEM education.

Christina is studying for her Civil Construction Certificate II through TAFE, and has a traineeship with construction firm John Holland as part of her high school studies. TAFE is the government’s public provider of vocational education and training. However, despite the large growth in building and construction apprenticeship commencements with TAFE, Christina is the only girl in her traineeship class of 12.

There are many initiatives trying to redress the gender balance, yet it appears that the construction industry’s masculine culture might be a barrier to these making an impact.

Changing the narrative

There are many different ways to improve the diversity of the construction industry, in Australia and globally. To help keep young women like Christina in the industry, a multi-faceted approach is required.

Just a few of these include:

  • making company recruitment and promotion processes more transparent
  • having recruitment drives specific to women not from the traditional pipeline
  • celebrating the diversity of careers available to those in the industry
  • making female role models more visible. Why not nominate a colleague for the new Women in the Built Environment category for the RICS Oceania Awards?
  • promote flexible working – ideas such as job sharing, options to not work weekends, and visibly endorsing parental leave.

Essentially, we need to change the narrative of how we recognise, recruit and celebrate the diversity of careers in the construction industry.

Do you have a story to share about diversity in the profession? We’d love to hear from you: