A Victorian Government report has exposed a 'culture of silence' in which women don't feel supported to speak out about the lack of acceptance and inappropriate treatment they endure working in construction.
Released in the first week of February 2021, the report revealed a lack of acceptance of women in the workplace, as well as limited accountability or deterrents for inappropriate behaviour by males, all part of a 'culture of silence' that makes women feel they can not speak out, or would be punished for doing so.
Women working as labourers, carpenters, electricians, painters, crane operators, traffic controllers and plumbers participated in the study.
There is ongoing resistance to creating a workplace culture that welcomes and supports female workers, says lead researcher Associate Professor Sarah Holdsworth of RMIT's School of Construction and Project Management.
"Without substantial and systemic change, we will continue to see the underrepresentation of women in the construction industry," she says.
"This failure to provide a safe workplace for women contravenes occupational health and safety legislation and regulations."
Zero-tolerance policies regarding inappropriate behaviour towards women is required at all levels, she says – from employers to employees, vocational providers, government and construction peak bodies.
Women have consistently made up only two percent of trade and semi-skilled workers in Australian construction over the past 3o years.
The report was commissioned by the Victorian Government as part of its Women in Construction Strategy, which aims to increase participation in the industry.
Key findings include:
- 95 percent of women in construction report being treated differently by men in the industry because of their gender
- 60 percent felt that when they faced inappropriate and challenging behaviour in the workplace, they were not always supported by their co-workers, supervisors, employers or other support agencies, like unions
- 78 comment about poor work-life balance and how long working hours and shift work affected their health, social life and relationships, and
- 72 percent say resilience is essential for working in trades and semi-skilled roles, saying they have a strong ability to deal with adversity, learn from it and adapt.
Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas says creating a level playing field is a priority. "Especially in typically male-dominated sectors, we need and must do better in workplace equality across the board.
"More women are active in the victorian labour market than ever before," he says, "but they make up only two percent of the workers in Australian construction – the country's most male-dominated industry. The Andrews Labor Government is determined to change that."
In a press release issued on Saturday 6 February, CFMEU pledged its support for initiatives such as the Victorian Government's 'Women in Construction' report and reiterated its commitment to supporting women in the industry via its most recent Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA).
Measures outlined in the EBA include the requirement for employers to ensure female employees are treated with respect and without discrimination or harassment, ongoing training and education on gendered violence, increases on parental and partner leave and flexible work arrangements.