Lack of mentors, career paths blocks women in construction

A lack of gender diversity is forcing women out of the construction and engineering sectors, a new survey by an Australian recruitment company has found.

Randstad’s women in construction report revealed that more than one in five women felt they were passed over for promotion or senior leadership roles because of their gender, while 60 per cent had experienced gender discrimination at least once.

The survey of more than 700 respondents, of which about half were women, also found that 38 per cent of women felt a lack of gender diversity contributed to females leaving the construction industry, while 39 per cent said a lack of female role models was a barrier to promotion.

Yet research reveals that gender diversity leads to better business outcomes, such as the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap report, which says societies can’t afford to miss out on the “skills, ideas and perspectives of half of humanity”.

CCIWA’s Employee Relations Adviser Chris Nunn says taking steps to attract and retain female talent is important for making them feel welcome in the industry and keeping them there.

CCIWA Employee Relations Adviser Chris Nunn on how businesses can attract and keep women in their workforces

“One of the key things is that of the women surveyed in this report, four in 10 of them said that a key barrier they felt towards them having a successful career in the industry was the fact that there was no female leadership,” he said.

“In fact, only 12 per cent of management positions in that industry are female. And they indicated that if there were more positive role models there, they would be more comfortable in having a successful career.”

“So an important step that a business can take towards attracting female talent in their industry would be to make it very clear that everyone and anyone is welcome and accepted in the business.”

Nunn says it can become costly for businesses if they are losing their talent and need to keep rehiring and retraining replacements.

“They can actually lose as much as 30 per cent of their salaries if they’re needing to move the employees on or the employees leave the business to recruit a new person for that role,” he says.

“So first and foremost, there’s a financial gain to be had there by keeping people in their roles in the workplace and seeking to retain the talent.

“You’re also increasing the harmonisation in the team, job security and you’re often leading to a more productive working environment as well.”

When it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, including jokes and emails that inadvertently offend, it’s up to everyone to respond as it can be difficult to know how they will be received.

“Ideally, a business would have a culture in place where the team and the people in the business feel comfortable speaking up and letting people know when something was possibly a bit out of line,” Nunn said.

“It’s really important to understand how to express professional behaviour and having a code of conduct in place can be a really helpful thing to help set a benchmark for how employees should be acting in the team.

“In the absence of that, we should be able to rely on our managers and key decision makers to step up and enforce the policies that are in place.”

Failing to deal with discrimination can result in penalties through general protections legislation within the Fair Work Act. In severe cases, it may lead to workplace bullying, where there can be further penalties under Occupational Health and Safety legislation.

“Managers and employees at any level of business should always be encouraged to act on any allegations of discrimination, or workplace bullying quickly and seriously,” Nunn says.

The WA chapter of the National Women in Construction (NAWIC) awards recently recognised the state’s best female talent. Find out more here.

► For advice on inclusive workplaces, contact CCIWA’s Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or advice@cciwa.com.

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