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Rigid work practices lie behind a persistent failure on the part of the construction sector in Australia to promote gender diversity and equality in its workforce, a new report says.

Launched by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, the Construction Industry: Demolishing gender structures prepared by the University of New South Wales argues that women within the industry are being held back in terms of their progression by rigid work practices.

These include long hours, an expectation of constant availability, a lack of flexible parental leave (in practice), a tolerance of sexism and accepted informal recruitment processes which favour men.

Chief investigator, professor Louise Chappell of UNSW Arts and Social Science, said the industry suffers from an out-of-date workplace culture which impacted not only women but also men who wished to become more involved with family life.

“…a core issue, we believe, is a workplace culture stuck in the 1950s,” Chappell wrote in an article published on The Conversation.

“Australia's construction industry remains dominated by a male single breadwinner model that assumes men have little responsibility beyond bringing home the bacon and expectations that female workers will either leave to have children, and not return or will also have ‘home help’.

“Scratch the bravado and humour on the surface, however, and we soon discovered that many men in construction are also struggling. It's 2016 and many men have partners with their own careers, and both want and are expected to participate in family life. For men, not just for women, the 1950s model does not fit.”

The report points to ABS estimates which suggest that women make up only 12 per cent of the construction sector workforce – down from 17 per cent a decade ago in 2006.

In trades, women make up an appallingly low two per cent of the workforce.

According to Chappell, one problem revolves around expectations of work hours, which sees workers often expected to take on workloads of 60 to 70 hours per week plus regular Saturday and sometimes Sunday work. There is often pressure to get work done ahead of schedule leading to consecutive working days of 14 hours or more.

Meanwhile, there is a stigma attached to those who resist long hours on the basis of family responsibilities.

A commercial manager who arrived at 8 a.m. after leaving children at school might receive jibes about ‘sleeping in,’ Chappell said.

Those who resist Saturday work on the basis of kids’ sport or it being an RDO are considered to be ‘part-timers.’

Moreover, sexism within the workplace persists, the report notes.

The report's authors recommend that firms cease to reward excessive hours and develop a zero-tolerance approach toward sexist behaviour.

Recruitment and promotion practices should also be more transparent, whilst agile and diverse career pathways should be celebrated, it added.

 
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