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.

  • This is wonderful news and a very welcome development.

    We need to see many more women in leadership roles within the Australian construction sector.

  • Having worked in other industries – working for this lot will be a cultural shift – to infer the MBA represent the tradesmen and women is a big stretch – they mostly work for subcontractors .
    The rate of decline of skilled tradesmen and women in the industry is directly proportional to the extent subcontractors don't get paid by builders.
    Maybe this lady could address the payment problems before she addresses the gender balance – no point bringing new people into this rotten industry .

  • We'll all be better off when government realize that this mob represent around 10% of all building industry business . Maybe they should remove their influence from the boards and task forces they are represented on .
    Their influence over the industry had been debilitating

  • Thanks, Ahn. Sadly I do not find any joy here.

    The issue with the MBA and all the other influential groups profiteering from 'building' is not about how many men or WOMEN are appointed or to what positions. As we now know, women are just as capable as men in terms of creating long-lasting damage to our community. There is a long list of women I can think of who have actually managed to cause more detriment in their roles and acted against the public interest – and very happily!

    What is important in the business of building is a return to some modicum of morality, to some measure of ethical conduct, with some decency and honesty, and dare I say it a commitment to quality buildings! Most important of all, a change in the culture across the industry to rein in the beast is paramount! We need some brave and civilized souls to stop the industrial disease, to put an end to our massive human disaster – and to remove the rotten material at the core of this contaminated industry. I suggest these all likely to occur as a consequence of this announcement! Rather, this appointment signals more of the same, from business mold of same, with continuing serious harm to the industry's victims and no likely end to the current uncontrolled train still rolling along at high speed leaving havoc in its wake. I would so love to be proved wrong!

Dulux Exsulite Construction – 300 x 250 (expire Dec 31 2017)