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Podcast: Top Researchers Unpack the Future of Women’s Role in Trades

Top Researchers Unpack the Future of Womens Role in Trades

RMIT's Christina Scott-Young and Dr Jessica Borg from the University of Melbourne are guests on Episode 4 of the WITS About Us Podcast.

Welcome to episode 4 of the WITS About Us Podcast, brought to you by MIGAS Apprentices & Trainees.

Join us on an exciting journey as we spotlight remarkable women in the trades industry. Our 6-part series features interviews with industry experts, female apprentices, and trade career coaches, offering invaluable advice on pursuing a successful trade career.

In this episode, we interview Christina Scott-Young, Associate Professor and Researcher at RMIT University and Dr Jessica Borg, a researcher from the University of Melbourne.

Hosted by Stacey Wallace, General Manager of MiTraining, we delve into Christina Scott-Young and Jessica Borg's remarkable work in the trades industry, born from her journey to overcome adversity.

Get ready for fresh perspectives, real-life experiences, and captivating stories about starting a career in the Australian trades industry. Whether you are interested in electrical, mechanical, or engineering trades like fitting and turning, this podcast covers everything.

Access more information, updates, and resources about the WITS About Us Podcast. Remember to subscribe on your favourite podcast platforms, such as Apple, Spotify, Google, and YouTube and join us in celebrating the achievements of women in trades while inspiring others to pursue their dreams in the industry.

Watch the podcast recording on YouTube or read the transcript below.

WITS About Us Podcast: Episode 4

Episode 4 Transcript

  • Read the WITS About Us Podcast transcript

    Host: Welcome to the WITS about Us podcast, episode four, where we look at the factors that influence women's attraction into trades and what companies can do to improve the experiences for women in apprenticeships. In today's episode, we delve into the representation of women in traditional trades. We talk about the changes needed for a more inclusive culture and, highlight the benefits of diversity and offering a message to young women who want to start an apprenticeship. 

    Okay. Let's get into episode four. I am joined on the podcast today by associate professor Christina Scott-Young and Dr. Jessica Borg. I'd love you to hear a little bit more about them. Christina, tell us a little bit about yourself.

    Christina: Well, I'm originally a psychologist, so I'm really interested in the experiences of people in their workplace rather than the technical side of management. And I'm an associate professor at RMIT University in the School of Property Construction and Project Management. And I look a lot in my research at diversity at people who are underrepresented and have been shut out of mainstream advantages. 

    Host: Oh, such an important research area and cause that you are championing there, Christina, and over to you, Jessica.

    Jessica: Thank you. I'm a lecturer in Construction Management at the University of Melbourne, where I teach as well as research. And my research passions are really, again, focused on people looking at the soft skills, capability building our work, creativeness, and really preparing the next generation of workers for the future and the challenges that come with that. 

    So, a lot of research focused on project-based contexts and in the construction industry.

    Host: Wow. So inspiring. You're both from different universities, but you have co-authored the report, Embracing Gender Diversity Post Covid: Improving the Attraction of Female Secondary School Students Into Trade Apprenticeships in Building and Construction.

    I'm going to go to you, Christina. First, what prompted you to conduct this research? 

    Christina: Well, I used to work in schools of management. I've worked around the world in different management schools, and when I came into a school of property construction and project management, I wondered where all the girls were. I'm in a degree program, not an apprenticeship, but, apparently, women are not very common in the construction/built environment area and even in project management. 

    I became interested in how we can get more women in. I did a study and a report for the Victorian state government with my colleague Sarah Holdsworth and Michelle Turner. And we looked at the experiences of tradeswomen.

    In this current study that the Master Builders Association of Victoria funded, we look at apprentices before they get into trades. 

    Host: Very interesting. And so, Christina, before we get into what the landscape looks like, can you just define for us what construction means in terms of the types of apprentices and trades included in that area?

    Christina: Yes. Well, the exciting thing, I'm not sure whether you are aware, but the trades make up 80% of the construction workforce. So that means for me, that was a new thing coming into this studying this industry when I hadn't before, but that's 18. 

    Every ten construction workers are tradespeople, so carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers, tilers, et cetera. Tradies make up the bulk of the construction workforce. Now, in Australia and worldwide, there is a massive skill shortage in skilled trades. 

    There aren't enough people doing apprenticeships or working in the trades for all the construction projects that are on the table now and are coming forward. And so that's a worldwide shortage. So we need to get more apprentices. And if you think half the world is females, we're excluding half the population if we are not attracting females.

    Now, I'm unsure if you know how many women actually work in construction trades. I'll tell you, it's 2%, and that's pretty much around the world. Traditionally, the door has been shut and firmly bolted on women entering the construction workforce.

    Host: How engaging. And if you think about, you know, do make up 50% of the population and currently are represented, you know, 2% in construction trades. 

    That's a massive disparity. Christina, do you have any thoughts as to why the door has been shut?

    Christina: I think historically, women have been excluded from trades. I remember when I was in high school, there was a push to get more girls to take up commerce. And here we are all these years later, but women only make the tiniest fraction of trades. 

    That's not what I call progress. And it's what we call a wicked problem because there's no easy fix, and people have been trying to fix it, I don't know, maybe since the 1960s. And so that's 50 to 60 years.

    It's a complex problem to solve. And I think traditionallyit's an industry that has been male-dominated. People don't see women as strong enough or physically suited to work in the trades, but that's actually a myth. 

    But it's probably, along with mining, one of the last bastions or fortresses of male domination in the workplace. It has resisted taking women in.

    Host: How engaging. So, that sort of perception that you need a specific type of physical strength to join the industry. 

    In your report, I read too that only a relatively small proportion of school leavers are taking up apprenticeships. Now, that surprised me.

    Christina: Yes, me too. Because apprentices traditionally have come from school leavers. But what we are finding in the industry is that is that there are more women starting apprenticeships who have been out in the workforce for maybe many years, and they're coming back. 

    They are the largest group of females taking up apprenticeships. And I think that's a beautiful thing. Because I don't know whether that happened in the past, but what we've got is this lack of younger women feeling able or knowing even that they can enter the industry at the moment, a lot of them are still not aware.

    Host: Yes. And I read in your report that that sometimes comes back to the messaging they're hearing at school. 

    Jessica, what are your thoughts on the kinds of communication that school students, particularly young females, hear from the school, the community, parents, and friends that perhaps deter them from entering into an apprenticeship?

    Jessica: Thank you. Yeah, I think an also vital point to note is that some of the historical barriers have been tied to societal messaging and the types of messaging that these girls are hearing from a young age. 

    What we found in our study where we did interview young girls is that there's a mix. Some positive messages are being communicated, but there's also quite a lot of negative messaging or just a simple lack of messaging altogether, especially when these girls are approaching their final years of high school. 

    In some instances where some of these girls had families already involved in construction, they supported these girls' consideration of pursuing a trade, a trades apprenticeship. But actually, for some others whose families were in building as well. For example, I remember there was one of our participants, a young female whose dad was in construction. He was worried about how his daughter would be treated if she pursued that avenue because of his experiences and what he saw on site. 

    And so, that person's father suggested she didn't pursue a trades apprenticeship. So we're seeing a lot of mixed messaging from families and friends. Essentially, families and friends were supportive, but they expressed concerns about how these girls would be treated if they did go down that pathway and pursue an apprenticeship and a trade career. 

    We did see that there is a stigma that trades are not for girls or that they're not for high achievers. So, a lot of the messaging from schools, and I should point out, there's quite a lack of messaging from schools and careers counsellors that trades were for girls or that girls could take up a trades apprenticeship. There's also this strong push for VCE. So, from what the girls told us, schools were pushing them to go down the VCE route and pursue higher education, tertiary studies, degree programs, etc. 

    So those girls that, interesting you mentioned the disparity between school leavers entering the trades as opposed to what Christina said. These girls a lot of them completed degrees, went to university, completed degrees in physiotherapy, environmental sciences, and different areas. 

    And then, only after finishing that degree did they realise what they wanted to do. What perhaps society didn't make them feel like they could do was pursue a trade after their degrees. Some of them went back and did what they wanted to do from the start: pursue a trades apprenticeship. But yeah, the interesting thing was, you know, a lot of careers counsellors or schools seem to discourage girls from pursuing that pathway from what the girls told us. 

    And I think it does come back to that stigma and the careers counsellors and the schools trying to protect these girls, perhaps from the workforce. And I think it's tied to those concerns that the family of friends had of how these girls would be treated, knowing that it was such a solid male-dominated industry.

    Host: Yes. And I suppose, given that they only represent 2%, there is a little bit of trailblazing that absolutely has to happen. And, you know, they do need to stand up and be willing to be a minority as part of that group. 

    What I found interesting about your report is there has been research on barriers that deter people or young women from entering trades. However, not so much is done on what attracts them. Tell me a little bit more about that.

    Christina: Well, we co-designed this research project with the Master Builders with Cory Williams and Tim Clark, and they suggested there was a lack of knowing what did attract, what the messages were, and who were the influencers. 

    This is why we embarked on the questions we asked the people. I should say that in our sample, we were only able to find five females who were school leavers who were in their apprenticeship. We'd interviewed 20 apprentices. The rest of the 15 women were mature age. 

    That's a terrible word for over 21; it's a technical term used in apprenticeships. So, we found a couple of differences and similarities, but I'll talk about the school leavers first because that was the goal of our research to see what would attract more school leavers into apprenticeships in trades. So, their personal interest was the number one influence for both the school leavers and the later career apprenticeship apprentices. 

    A genuine passion, I would say it's a bit like a vocation. I always wanted to be a teacher as a little girl, and now I am a teacher and researcher. And sometimes there's something in you that leads you, you are drawn, and that's called a calling or a vocation. I'd say many of these women have a calling from childhood, and they're interested in trades, doing things with their hands, hitting hammers, building things with Lego blocks, or playing with electric circuits. 

    So, there's a genuine innate interest, I think, that's there from an early age. That's in all of the women that all the apprentices we interviewed.

    Host: Wow. Every single one, all vocational and all calling.

    Christina: Yeah, I think so. They love it. Some of them also enjoyed working outside, but it's a passion. 

    Some of them maybe didn't realise it until they went to high school and if they were lucky enough to go to a school, and not all of them did. I mean, they went to a school, but not all of them had trade subjects offered to them, but some of them did artand she became a house painter. Some of them did jewellery making. Several of them did carpentry, woodwork, and metalwork and were praised by their teachers. 

    The experience of doing those trade subjects plus the support, usually if they're male teachers, gave them the idea that they could do this, but often, they didn't go straight into it. These were more mature age women, but if they had the opportunity to do trades, it was a positive influence. 

    The Victorian government is about to introduce a Year 11 and 12 pre-apprenticeship training program. I think that will make a lot of difference because hopefully those subjects will be cascaded, metalwork and woodwork. Those sorts of manual trade subjects will also be taught in schools to girls.

    I think that's a huge thing that they get a taster. So that was the third most significant influence. 

    The second most significant influence for the young schoolgirls was families and relatives. For the older women, it was more friends, and they all worked in construction. So, it's like the construction industry replicates itself. And if those girls have families who work in construction, they're usually male. But if they encourage them, take them on site, like some of the dads did or tell them you'd be great in this industry, that helps them. 

    But I mean, that limits the pool of people. If it's people who have family and friends in construction, it means there's a wide range of women just missing out on any exposure to the trades. So, they were my three personal interests and passion. Family and friends and the influence of trades subjects through schools for mature-aged apprentices it was slightly different. 

    They had all of those three things, but for some of them had a family opposition, they were told, and schools, the counsellors, and the family members said, trades aren't for women, trades are for boys, which is a really old fashioned view, but this is not very long ago. This is a current view that a lot of people and school counsellors still hold. 

    As Jess said, they try to encourage girls who tend to be really quite good performers at school. We girls are a bit conscientious and work hard, so we do well. And so, they say, well, you should go to university because university is the key to success in life when I know many, many tradies who are a lot more successful than me, and a lot richer than me from working in the trade. So, it's a false message they're getting. But for the older women, the mature aged women who went into apprenticeships, a lot of what impacted them was accidental. 

    They would be looking at how to do it yourself project in their house, maybe fix up the kitchen. And they got pushed things, social media realised they were interested in building, and they might push them a TikTok clip or a Facebook something or a YouTube advertise or building, someone saw a YouTube clip on bricklaying and decided to throw in a job and become a bricklayer. 

    And she's very happy she did. So that was a kind of an accidental playing around on your phone. These things pop up now. The schoolgirls didn't say that happened to them. The other thing that the older women noticed, they picked up the news items that said there's a shortage of women in construction. They picked up the news items that says the governments are looking to attract more women. 

    There's free pre-apprenticeship programs. We are trying to get more women into apprenticeships. And they thought, wow, I'm wanted, I could be there. So, for those older women, it was incidental social media and deliberate mass media, the news and the advertisements that were influencing them. Not so much the schoolgirls, but of course, it's natural. 

    When you're at school, you're pretty much your world, your family and friends, and your school. You're not so much necessarily if you're on social media; maybe you're not looking for anything related to do it yourself do up your house.

    Host: So interesting. And a real positive of social media in terms of helping the women over 21 to gradually build their confidence and then to be able to hear that positive messaging around the government's influence in trying to increase representation of women in trades. 

    Christina, I can absolutely support you in terms of what you've said about those older women. As a consequence of this podcast, I've had many older women reach out to me and say that they'd wished that they'd heard this podcast when they were at school because they would've gone down a trade-based career. And I suppose the messaging is it's not too late, and I think we need to start to redefine what success is because there are these misconceptions or perceived ideas about success, but it's really just about what you're interested in and what you're good at. 

    You know, the areas where you're going to be motivated to learn. So, it's very interesting. And Jess, I wanted to go to you now because the report and the research that you did also look at the experiences of female construction apprentices. Very interesting that less than half of the young women experienced a positive workplace. 

    And then conversely, negative experiences outnumbered positive ones. Tell me a little bit more about what you found, Jess.

    Jessica: Thank you. Yes, we did look at the experiences of these girls in trades and in their apprenticeships. And I must say there were a mix of experiences; there were positive experiences, and there were negative experiences. The positive experiences and what most of these girls loved about the trade, I think, directly speaks to the passion that they had for actually pursuing this, to begin with. 

    They loved working with their hands, they loved working outdoorsand I think the highlight for the girls was the mateship that they felt, working in a team, working to build something, achieve something as part of that team on site. That was something that a lot of the girls spoke to. 

    40% of our participants had positive experiences. Again, the highlights here were the mateship and acceptance on site for those that had supportive bosses; they felt well looked after taken care of and that their bosses had their best interests at heart. I do want to point out also the great work that some of the training organisations are doing, because those that did find themselves working for supportive bosses, a lot of the times those companies that they were working for, those bosses were recommended by the training organisations. 

    We saw that because there weren't a lot of women, a lot of girls in those apprenticeship programs and attending the TAFE where the teachers, the vocational educators did see females in there. They did try to, I think, shelter them as well and help them find a workplace that was supportive of them. 

    So that was really positive to see. And I think that was strongly tied to that positive experience. Working for an organisation and a boss that is supportive of you as a woman on site. And that mateship and acceptance that they felt. On the flip side of that, though, I think we do need to acknowledge that 55% of our participants did have negative experiences. Again, I think as a starting point, you're in a workplace where your gender is only represented to an extent, 2% of women in trades.

    And so, you are always the odd one out. And the girls did say sometimes you won't see another girl on-site at all. Where you do, it's very rare. And again, with subcontractors and schedules, they will be working on a completely different area. It's very rare to see another girl on site. They're in this situation where they're on-site surrounded by men in a pretty heavily male-dominated environment. 

    A lot of the negative experiences that we had were tied to, there were a few themes that came out. The first one was disrespect. As opposed to some who had very supportive bosses and were working for companies that did respect them, there were others that did experience some sort of disrespect when they did get to the site. Not always and often not by the company they were employed with but from others on site. 

    I think the most disturbing thing that Christina and I heard in these interviews was tied to sexual harassment. And I think what made it even more real is that I think, to put it in perspective, is we were speaking with young girls. They are quite vulnerable on-site, and that the type of harassment we heard of ranged, but it could be even derogatory comments that the girls told us about that were based on their gender. 

    So, I think that's an issue that we do need to address if we do want to encourage more girls to take on apprenticeships. It's something that the industry does definitely need to change. I think we all know it's there, but nevertheless, it was still quite confronting to hear that. Then, there were other things like gender bias and opportunities. 

    We had one of the apprentices say she'd been working for this company for a while. She had quite a lot of experience, then the company took on a male apprentice, and suddenly, he was getting all the best opportunities. This unequal treatment, which again speaks to the disrespect they're only making up 2% of the workforce, empower them. And we need to empower them and make sure that they do get the opportunities and treat them as equal definitely. 

    There was a bit of gender bias as well. A feeling, I guess from, that stemmed to the other theme, which was feeling the need to constantly prove themselves, which is something that a lot of the girls spoke to because they do know that they're the underrepresented minority because they do get sometimes those disrespectful comments or they see the way that they're even looked at on-site, they do feel the need to constantly prove themselves to show that they can do it, that it's not just a place for men. 

    And so that led to the other field, the other theme, which we named mental harassment, but I spoke a lot to the anxiety and the stress that some of these girls felt as a result of the experiences that they had. Now, looking at that, I've just shared some of the negative experiences. Overall, I must say, these girls loved what they were doing, right? They loved the work they loved working on site. 

    They were very passionate. I think it's the environment, and we say construction is a bit of a dinosaur industry because I think some of the historical perceptions of things like women on site have just permeated through all of these years. I do think we're seeing some positive change, and a lot of girls did speak to that. And kudos to the vocational education providers that are seeing these girls in the trades and are taking them under their wing and trying to place them in organisations where they are supported. 

    I know the Victorian government has a lot of initiatives, and they are trying to encourage more women into trades, and there's a lot of positive work being done, even in some schools and by organisations like master builders, who funded this report. So that's all very positive. I do think we'll see a change, but I think as we're encouraging more women to, you know, I think firstly, yes, we need to encourage more women to take up trades. 

    But secondly, to do that, we do need to make sure we're supporting the women that are there and that we are making this the best possible, most inclusive place that we can. I think they go hand in hand. Attraction's one thing, but then supporting, retaining, taking care of those women that are there is, I think is, a very important initiative that the industry and we can all champion together. 

    Host: Yes. And I want to pick up on that last point that you've made there. And going back to Christina's point, if the industry is replicating itself, it's critical that women are treated respectfully, and there's no gender bias that occurs on the job. I can hear that we've come a long way, which is great, but we've got a long way to go. And I loved the sentence in your report that says there is a critical need to focus on improving the workplace experiences of young female apprentices. 

    And that's critical so that people who don't have a connection to the construction industry are happy to take a leap for themselves for their daughters. So, let's talk about that. What can we do?

    Christina: Yeah. Well, I think the answer is to look at companies that are treating their tradespeople and women in construction. 

    And I have to say they are. I did some research on another project, which was a road project, and I was amazed at how positively those women were treated. And there needs to be a consciousness about all people, but women as well need to be treated with respect. And if there are incidents where women are not treated respectfully, then there's an immediate stop and an immediate discussion about what happened, an immediate co-mediation on the spot, and trying to resolve that problem. 

    It's that zero tolerance, not in a mean way, but it's actually picking up and having consequences and saying, hang on. That's not okay; what you just said or standing there and staring at her as she's bending down is not okay. 

    And it's discussing it. And often, this particular group would have a discussion in their toolbox meetings, and it's part of occupational health and safety if you think about it. Everyone deserves to be in a psychologically safe workplace. And so, I saw amazing respect, and it was that focus on respectful behaviours and not tolerating non-respectful behaviours. 

    What I think is, there's a large number of companies who are doing that, but there are a number of companies that are a bit like thugs, and they are allowing bad behaviour to go past them. The supervisors are permitting that the managers and the CEOs are permitting that because the behaviour you walk past and ignore is the behaviour you accept.

    It has to be a shift, I think, from the top down, it's the responsibility of the board, the senior management, the managers, the supervisors, so everyone is well-trained, first of all, and there's policies and procedures in place, and they walk their talk. 

    So, if something goes wrong, they fix it. It doesn't have to be punitive. It can be a discussion and an education, but that creates a really good climate for women and for anybody, for indigenous people, any minorities on site. 

    And this site that I studied last year was amazing. It restored my faith in human nature and in the construction industry because they treated each other so well, and everyone was thriving plus performing at maximum peak.

    Host: I love that. I love that you've taken a positive case study. You've looked at what they're doing well, and you are saying, let's replicate that. 

    I'm pleased to say that here at MIGAS, we are an apprenticeship employer. We have a zero policy across all of our policies for our bad behaviour. But what I heard you saying Christina, it's about the education process through the toolbox talks, other professional development, and perhaps also helping the people who are being treated badly with the tools and skills to stand up to that behaviour in the moment as well. 

    Would you agree?

    Christina: I would agree with that, but I think it goes further than that. I really think it's the males and the supervisors who need education because I have heard of apprentices who have stood up to abuse, and they have been instantly dismissed. The abuser stays; sometimes it's criminal abuse, it's sexual abuse of a criminal nature. 

    I think it's not making the victims stronger and putting the responsibility on them; it's putting the responsibility on the industry. There are laws that say you can't sexually harass, abuse, or exclude people in the workplace. And maybe it's a time for, I think that the thing that will change things for the big companies at least is that unless you have a certain proportion of women in your workforce, you can't tender for these big government lucrative contracts. 

    Now, that means that companies are focusing on this, and as a result, the treatment of women is getting better because it's what you measure, what you focus on gets done. So, I think it's a whole re-education, perhaps because they haven't had women in there, or perhaps we've got a lot of misogynist people in some companies, birds of the flock together. 

    But I think if companies do not create a more welcoming, safe environment for all its employees, those companies probably won't get business because people like me, if I'm building a house or renovating my house, I want to have a company working for me who treats people well, I will not go to people. And when I recommend students about workplaces, I find out which of the good ones that treat women well. 

    Eventually, there will be an expectation from society and younger people that all people, not just females, are treated well in the workplace. This is something that we need to work on, but we need to keep, we need to keep encouraging people to focus on creating a welcoming workplace for everybody, no matter what their gender, their skin colour, their sexual orientation, where we are all welcomed, and we all bring ourselves to work, and we are treated welland we treat each other well. 

    So, as a psychologist, that is my solution. I think it's difficult to achieve, but I think it is achievable.

    Host: Such a great solution. And you're really talking about improving the whole workplace culture, creating a psychologically safe environment from the board down. So supported and championed from the board down. I noticed in your report that there was another element in terms of helping women, which was to provide mentors and sponsors for them. 

    And we kind of touched on it earlier in your highlighting, Jess, the importance of those RTOs as connectors in finding great companies and sort of making a pathway for them, almost. How important does this play a role in helping women to be successful in trades? 

    Jessica: Yeah, definitely. That's very critical. 

    As part of our study, Christine and I held a focus group with the girls as well, following the interviews. And part of that was to brainstorm together with the girls what can be done to improve their experiences and attract more girls into trades apprenticeships. And certainly, one of the key things that came out of that was the importance of mentors and sponsors for women who do champion women in trades. One of the quotes that I have in front of me that one of the female apprentices said was that managers and companies need to have even things like check-in chats to see how they're feeling and to ensure that they know their support. 

    So again, it was those girls that were in companies where they were either paired with a mentor or had someone that did have regular check-ins. It didn't have to be a fancy mentoring program or even a buddy system, but just someone that they could actually talk to that would check in with them, see how they're going, someone they trusted and that they know would have their back essentially if something did happen on site. 

    That was something that the girls really did value, and they saw that as fundamentals. Having mentors, having sponsors, having supportive bosses in the workplace, they saw that as fundamental to improving the experience, but also supporting the women in trades. There were other things. Christina touched on the zero tolerance for bad behaviour, which were mentioned and which was important, fostering inclusivity and respect in the workplace for everyone again, the girls mentioned, and that's key. 

    But then the other part of that focusing on training to improve the workplace culture. And as Christina said, not just educating the girls about what they can expect, and I suppose more importantly, where to seek support if some of those negative experiences do happen. 

    But also training the managers in how to deal with those situations. Sometimes, the girls would go to their boss, and they weren't sure how it was handled by management, or it wasn't handled. But also training males on site in what's respectful behaviour. I guess how to support females on site as well. But then there were also very basic things that I didn't expect to hear, like providing hygiene facilities for women. 

    Some of the horror stories about the toilets on site that we heard it feels like such a simple problem to fix. Having toilets that don't flush, having toilets that don't have toilet paper, having toilets with locks that can be opened from the outside. These girls sitting on the bathroom train hurry because they know someone could just open it from the outside. 

    It's not acceptable. It is occupational health and safety, and it's something that we know has been happening, but it just seems like it's such an easy fix, and I think we need to get those little things right. There are a lot of big things we also need to get right, but starting with those little things, I think that's something that every site supervisor can ensure at least; it just feels like such a simple fix, and it does make a big difference. I think there are a lot of things; yes, it is a wicked problem, as Christina said. 

    There's no easy fix, quick solution. We've battled with it for years, but I think there are little things that can be done that go a long way to improving experiences and to assure women that they are welcome on-site.

    Christina: Can I just add in here I think we need male allies. It seems to me that very often, the underdogs have to stand up for themselves. 

    And here we are, Jess and I, women, and I know a lot of people in this area researching disadvantaged people are women; I really think we need males to come on board. Now, there's some wonderful males out there, but we need more. We need them to add their voices because, as women, we can be dismissed if society chooses to think a female voice is not as valuable, but if the men and particularly powerful high-profile men come up and say, come on guys, let's fix this. 

    I don't want my daughter, I don't want my grandchild, I don't want my sister or my niece going into this kind of environment. I think we do need the men to add their voices and support us in this bit of a quest to try and improve things for women and in and improve the construction industry. Because to be honest, there's been a lot of research to show that if you have women in your workforce, it improves the triple bottom line, which is profit. 

    So, it's good business. And for example, if you're a larger contractor, you can't tender for government projects unless you've got 3% of your workforce is now in trades are women. You might think it's only 1% more than two, but it's hard to produce. It takes a while to produce tradeswomen, but they actually perform better when women are in sight. 

    The men I've interviewed have said that women bring a better attitude to the site. It's nicer to be there. It's not as conflict-ridden. It's safer. They go around and clean things up. It's just overall a really nice place. It helps people, the people side of it. The other thing that's of benefit if you are excluding women from trades, which are very high-paying jobs, you are disadvantaging women from being able to be paid well. 

    By bringing more women in, you're giving opportunities for good pay and good, interesting careers and progression forward and good economic security. The last thing is the planet. The last women tend to be more, as research shows, women are more interested in the environment and improving things for the environment; they're more likely to balance the planet with profit rather than saying, let's just maximise profit. 

    They'll say, hang on, let's do a bit of a trade-off here. But, companies that have a greater proportion of women are more sustainable. And with business and construction trying to become more environmentally friendly, I think it just makes good sense to have greater diversity more women in there, particularly if they bring benefits for people, planet and, importantly for businesses, profit.

    Host: Makes sense and also makes good economic sense, as you pointed out. 

    And Christina, I was really moved by what you said. Let's have a call out to the male leaders in trade-based working environments who do have a daughter, a grandchild, a friend who they want to make their company a better place for those young women and older women coming through. 

    I mean, there's nothing more convincing than that, I think, to really look around and stand up and make an impact, and don't put up with bad behaviour, call it out, put in place the professional development and the training from the top leadership team all the way down to make sure that we can start making those changes. And just to address those simple things like the toilets and the facilities for women, and making sure that we've got that ticked off as well. So, we've done a big shout-out to the men out there in trades saying, stand up. 

    What else can we do? 

    Christina: All I thought was, we need a more joined up. I mean, I've said we need male voices, and I think that is happening. I think the government has stepped itself upand they are because unless the government offers incentives and leads from the top, nothing will happen. And I actually think things are changing because the New South Wales government, the Victorian government, I think governments are trying to push for greater diversity and greater economic prosperity for everybody, rather than having a two-tiered society, those who can earn a lot of money and those who never will. 

    So that's what I think. I think we need the industry on board. We've got the government on board; we need vocational education on board to make sure maybe that's where they train that can be part of the education process, where in the classroom, the male educators, and they tend to be mostly male, and the male students are taught about this respect and behaviours. 

    And so that can be a starting the seeding ground. I also think this seems to me to be maybe a big missing piece. The schools are not educating; they're not letting girls know that trades are an option. 

    They seem to be, and this is around the world; schools in the last 20 years have been pushing university education as the standard. Now, that's come from governments. It's not the school's fault, but trades have gone down the list, even for boys.  I think the Victorian government's initiative to get these pre-apprenticeship training into every school, so that'll be private schools as well as state schools, but that will make a difference. 

    But the other thing, the school is the place where parents are educators as well as students. It's time for parents to understand that the trades offer really good opportunities for women. They can go and start their own business. It's a very positive career, but that side can only be done if we know there are enough good workplaces. 

    Because to me, it seems unethical to go in and say, oh, come and work with us, and yeah, then you'll be mistreated. But I think there are enough; I'd say there's probably about half of workplaces that are really great for women. We channel women into those. We channel them away from the bad ones. I mean, if your reputation is bad, don't expect women to come; I mean, it's a reputation's important for any business. 

    I think we need to educate the parents as well as the students. And by educating the students, you're educating the friends, so they will be supportive as well. I think there's a big education piece missing. We also need to educate the school counsellors who, having been a school counsellor and guidance officer myself, where you are under-resourced. So that is the place of the industry to be pushing to going in and educating, not while they're educating the students, the school counsellors can be there helping. 

    We can't ask the schools to do everything again; this industry needs to be supportive. If industry is going to be benefiting as well as the girls, then it needs to be a joined-up altogether effort.

    Host: Yes. And something that perhaps we can do concurrently so the organisations can be shifting in their culture. The schools can be improving their education. And I love that you've mentioned a couple of times that a trade-based career is lucrative and, therefore, a great option for women, particularly women who happen to consider themselves as academic all-women. 

    So, such a great point. I want to move now to what we can expect from the future. What vision do you both have? I'm going to ask you one by one. Why are we doing this? What do we want to see for young women moving forward in the next 10 to 20 years? 

    Christina: Well, I'm putting my optimistic hat on. My vision is the world will be a much more equal place where everyone is respected, but particularly half the population. Well, we're actually probably 51% of the population in most countries where everyone has integrity and respect, and everyone has equal opportunities. There are no fields that are closed to people because of their gender, the colour of their skin, what suburb they went, grew up in, what school they went to. 

    We need to shift society to be more humanising and more accepting because the talents that people have don't live in a particular postcode or live in a particular gender. And multiple talents need to be recognised and fostered. And this means that women tend to be economically disadvantaged to the males in half the population. 

    My hope is that the future for young girls and women will improve economically and financially so that women won't be an underclass in those terms and that there will be greater harmony. Now, if we add greater diversity and improve the participation of women in construction, the construction companies will actually benefit from better performance because we know from evidence-based research that's what happens. 

    It's a win-win for us all. So that's my hope for the vision of the future. I'm hoping it's not going to take another 50 or 60 years to achieve this. But all we can do is our own little bit in our own little patch and do it together.

    Host: Yes, absolutely. And I loved what you talked about earlier, too, Christina; as consumers, we can actually do research into the companies that we hire and to see how they're treating their workforce as well. 

    Such a powerful statement you said about what the future would look like. I mean, really, what we want to do is make ourselves redundant. So, there's no need for a podcast like this. There's no need for research in the area because we have this wonderful work environment where everyone's treated equally. Jess, I'm going to hand over to you now about what you hope to see for the vision.

    Jessica: I think what we need to remember as well is the construction industry as a whole. 

    Currently, we know that women are underrepresented, and the construction industry is amazing in terms of the opportunity it provides, especially here in Australia with the current state of construction and infrastructure. I think one thing I'm passionate about, and Christina's as well, we've both researched and conducted separate studies on improving the construction industry culture. So not just looking at the issue of gender imbalance, but some of the other workforce challenges there. 

    I think my biggest hope for the future is that we have a more inclusive industry culture for all people, not just women. Things like mental health are very serious issues in the context of construction. We see that suicide rates of construction workers are higher than in any other industry. But to that actually having more women in that, and it was reminding me of a conversation I had with one of the interviewees in our study. 

    She said that she was speaking to mateship and how wonderful it is. And she said also on-site, I find that some of the male treaties will come and confide in me with some problems they're having at home. And it's an environment having a male-dominated environment like that where sometimes males might feel like they need to keep up this macho man facade and aren't able to actually talk about those problems. 

    Having women on site does help with that. And so, the mateship goes both ways. Suddenly, you have a workforce that, with women, is a bit more empathic, there is a bit more empathy. You can confide in others. There's I think it's not just the skills, the labour skills that women bring to a construction site; it's also that empathy. It's also a different style of leadership. It's also just that other person that has your back that's not necessarily male and brings in a different perspective. 

    So, I think I'd really love to see a more inclusive workplace culture and construction. I'd love to see little girls asking their dads if they'd be good in construction and their dad having no reservation and saying, yes, it is inclusive. You're going to be respected. It's going to be great for you. Because I think now, we do get a bit of hesitancy. But I'd also like to see the male workforce recognise that women are bringing so much more as well than just the skills. 

    Because I think having a more inclusive workplace is key to more productive. Yes, hitting that triple bottom line. But just a sense of belonging where everyone feels that they belong. 

    Host: Oh, I love that. A sense of belonging. And I loved a little unintended consequence that you touched on there in terms of building this inclusivity and including more women; you're breaking down other barriers, having to be much so in the environment, things that are going to break down and build back up again completely different cultures. 

    It's so incredibly inspiring. And now we're going to come to our last question of the podcast, and I'll start with you, Jess. What message would you like to convey to young women considering a career in traditional trades?

    Jessica: I think, firstly, don't be discouraged by the stigma that's been in the industry for so long. 

    Trades are absolutely for women. It's not just a male pathway. Yes, there are a lot of shortcomings in the industry. Yes, it's going to be scary. You are going to be the minority; you are going to be underrepresented. But there's also a lot of positive change. There are also a lot of supportive people in the industry. Victorian governments doing great things, training organisations doing great things. 

    I think if it is your passion and it is what you want to do, pursue it. Make sure you know what you're getting into. Do your research work for companies that do value women. Find yourself those bosses that will be supportive. Ask her mentors and surround yourself with people who do believe in you as well. 

    Host: Thank you. And what about you, Christina? 

    It closes off with a message for young women.

    Christina: I definitely agree with Jess. I'd say go for it because the young women we have interviewed, regardless of how they've experienced the workplace, have just loved what they do. It's their passion. So go for it, because that will fulfil you. There are also some wonderful support groups, tradie ladies, all sorts of groups that will be out there. 

    And maybe, I'm sure Stacey might know more about the names, but you can actually get groups of women, young women who are supporting, well, not so always so young, supporting each other. So that's that. Kind of have some mentors outside of the workplace as well. Get together and enjoy each other's company and share the triumphs and maybe the problems because the problems shared as a problem halve, but I really think go for it, because diversity is being different yet invited to the party. 

    Now, what you need to find is a workplace that will include you because inclusion is being welcomed into the party made to feel like you belong and you can join in and have fun and being accepted. I think there are many companies; ask your trades, the educators where you're doing your apprenticeship to recommend companies with a good reputation for women. 

    Ask around. And my advice is, if you are experiencing bad behaviour, do talk to someone you trust, maybe outside first and then someone within the company. And I always tell my students if things don't improve, leave find another company that will treat you well because you deserve to be treated well. But now, there are many companies out there who are exceptional to work for as a woman. 

    I wish you luck, and I really hope you pursue your passions.

    Host: Thank you, Christina. And we did interview Hacia Atherton as part of the first podcast, and she's from Empowered Women in Trades, so she's another organisation. I'm also a career development person myself. And I just want to echo your thoughts, Christina, in that if you follow your interest, your passion, and what you are good at, I just truly believe that you can't go wrong. I want to thank you both today for your contribution. 

    It's been an incredibly inspiring podcast. And I just wanted to say that your work, your research, and most importantly, your voice is absolutely making a difference in this landscape. I'm just particularly appreciative of what you are doing, and I'm sure all the young women out there are, too. Thank you very much and a little shout out to your research participants who have made this possible. Thank you to them, too. Thanks very much, and I hope you have a lovely day. 

    This project is funded by the Trade Pathways Program - Training Services New South Wales, and produced in partnership with MIGAS Apprentices and Trainees. Now, if you are on the lookout for an apprenticeship opportunity, we've got a valuable resource for you. In the show notes, you'll find a link to MIGAS, where you can connect with them directly. They've been instrumental in helping thousands of tradies get qualified.

About the Podcast

This project is funded under the grant program by Trade Pathways Program - Training Services NSW.

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Published 24/10/2023

In the spirit of reconciliation, MIGAS Apprentices & Trainees acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.