One of Australia's great male bastions, the building industry, has for the first time in its 127-year history chosen a woman to champion its cause as it sets about trying to attract more female workers.
Master Builders Australia marked International Women’s Day by announcing that Denita Wawn as its new chief executive and voice for the 32,000 – mostly male – workers in the $200 million building and construction industry.
Ms Wawn, who has spent the past 14 months as the industry group’s operations manager, previously headed Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand and has held senior roles at the Australian Hotels Association and National Farmers’ Federation.
Her top priority is to work with employers, schools and universities to encourage more women into the building and construction industry, where just 10 per cent of the workforce is female.
“I would love to think in 10 years if we can get it up to at least 25 per cent that would be fantastic,” she said on Wednesday.
“We hope with my appointment that people can see there’s a cultural shift in the industry and women are welcomed and embraced in the industry.”
Ms Wawn says employers need to be more proactive in trying to attract women to the industry by doing things like specifying in job ads that female applicants are welcome.
An even bigger challenge is helping girls understand the range of job opportunities, from architectural design roles through to being a brickie.
Ms Wawn said having more women workers in relatively highly-paid building and construction jobs could help narrow the general 16 per cent pay gap between men and women workers in Australia.
“I think if we doubled the number of women in the industry we would see higher pay rates simply because you are in an industry that has higher pay,” she said.
“We need to encourage women into higher paying industries and higher paying roles to close that salary discrepancy.”
Having spent much of her career in male-dominated industries, Ms Wawn’s message to young women is to be yourself and not try to be “one of the boys”.
“I think that it’s important when working in male dominated areas that you work hard, you call a spade a spade but equally you be true to yourself,” she said.