Women continue to face barriers in construction despite improving attitudes, a new report has found.

Published by human resource specialist firm Randstad, the report for which more than 1,000 women and men were surveyed says that conditions for women in construction have improved since the firm’s last report two years earlier.

In particular, the proportion of women who reported experiencing gender discrimination declined from six in ten (60 percent) in the 2019 survey to a still high 41 percent in the latest survey.

Moreover, 58.7 percent of women surveyed believe that attitudes toward their gender have improved since they commenced their careers in construction.

Nevertheless, the survey found that women still face barriers when entering the industry and progressing within it.

In particular:

  • More than one in four women in construction believe that they do not have a fair chance to move up within their organisation and develop their career.
  • Many women surveyed identified barriers which they believe are currently preventing women from entering the industry or are forcing many of those who are there to consider leaving. These include seeing too few female role models in senior positions (34%), a lack of gender diversity (31%), the workplace culture (30%) and a lack of opportunity when it comes to career development (28%).
  • As mentioned above, 41 percent of women still report experiencing gender discrimination. Common forms of discrimination include inappropriate comments or behaviour from male colleagues (70%), being excluded from male conversations or social events (33.1%), being passed over for particular work/projects (26%) and being offered a less important role (26%).

Asked what would help to attract them to the industry today, women nominated equal pay followed by flexible working hours, opportunities for career progression and greater female representation in the workforce.

As well as highlighting challenges, the report profiled women who are breaking down barriers.

Dominique Gill is Founder and Managing Director of Urban Fitouts & Construction, a licensed builder and a NSW Registered Architect.

After nine years of working for one of Australia’s largest construction companies, Gill saw an opportunity to create a new type of building company grounded in diversity and inclusion.

With male candidates vastly outnumbering female ones, this has not been easy.

“I’ve employed loads of men over the years,” Gill says.

“I try to work with my consultant at Randstad to search a little bit harder until we can find a woman to fill a role where possible.

“Because there are women out there that are extremely talented and completely suited to do what we do. You just have to find them.”

Gill believes that the industry is improving for women overall, but saw a step back during the pandemic as the burden of remote-learning fell more heavily on women than on men.

Meanwhile, Isabelle Castillo is a Senior Contract Administrator at Corporate Interior Projects, and is working towards one day directing a construction firm.

She aims to complete her master’s degree in project management before taking on a leadership role in the next few years.

Whilst she believe things are improving, Castilo would like to see more women in leadership roles.

Castillo adds that she does feel supported in her current workplace.

“I have no doubt I will grow and develop in this line of work,” Castilo says.

“I do plan on having children one day, not yet, but one day. And I am confident I can do it while building my career. I can go on maternity leave and come back to the same opportunities.”

To address issues, Randstad Australia’s National Lead, Diversity and Inclusion Kerry McQuillan believes that companies in the industry need to step up.

“Now that there are a few women on-site or one or two in senior management, there is a danger that businesses will think that it’s ‘job done’,” McQuillan said.

“But it isn’t. If the only woman another woman sees when they go past a site is operating the stop and go sign, they aren’t going to bother applying. Similarly, if there are no female role models at the top of the business, ambitious young recruits won’t hang around for long. The industry should be moving further and faster on diversity and inclusion.

“This isn’t about quotas or a wholesale change in the way people work. Rather, it’s about ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to get on in their careers. The best projects and top jobs should be open to all and chosen on merit, rather than reserved for men.”