There are many reasons why females make up less than 2% of the construction and trade industry. The first being women aren’t made aware that they could potentially work as a tradie in a variety of fields in construction. Secondly, the opportunities for apprenticeships are seldom given to women –even if it’s against the law to discriminate – as most companies will choose a male apprentice due to fears around stereotypical conditioning that a woman doesn’t belong on a construction site.
Some of the fears and reasons that potentially hold companies back from offering an apprenticeship to female can include:
• She won’t be able to handle the hard labour expected on the job site.
• She will rely on other tradesmen to pull her weight.
• She won’t want to get her hands dirty.
• She might get harassed or discriminated against onsite and make a complaint which adds extra work on the employer to sort out.
• She might initiate changes to the usual work environment which will mean men have to watch what they do and say onsite.
• She might get pregnant and require 12 months maternity leave which can leave the company understaffed and inconvenienced.
• If she gets pregnant her duties will need to be reduced or changed which is another inconvenience to the company who relies on the full health of their employees.
These are just some of the barriers and mindsets women in trades have to come up against before they are considered for the job.
I understand the fears of employing a female apprentice, but often the fears are unreasonable. Every work situation is different and the goals of both the employer and female apprentice need to be understood to ensure the working relationship can be a successful one.
The reasons why companies should hire a female apprentice include:
1. A female apprentice will be loyal. Loyalty is rare to find these days in apprentices because most of them quit before their time. A woman knows how hard it is to get an apprenticeship in the first place. Sadly, even if she wants to find employment elsewhere as a tradie, it will be difficult to find. Unless she starts her own business, which she won’t be able to do until she finishes her apprenticeship. If a company is seeking longevity in their apprentices, the female applicants shouldn’t be crossed off the list.
2. A female apprentice will pull her weight and she will be the first to offer help when others are struggling. Women are drawn to help. No matter her possible ‘tomboy’ traits, nurturing is part of her nature and the call to help is part of her DNA. A female apprentice is a much needed team member in all work projects.
3. Pregnancy is a health condition that can be planned around. Unlike a work injury which requires immediate action by the employer to finder lighter duties or find an interim worker straight away, pregnancy will give an employer approximately 3 – 4 months to find lighter duties for the female employee and organise a subbie to work in the interim until she returns back to work. Pregnancy is not something that needs to be feared as it can easily be managed. Let’s not mention the male apprentices who show up to work hung over after a night on the town and need to be sent home because they are in no state to carry out their job. Most female apprentices will think about starting a family after her apprenticeship is completed.
4. A female apprentice will change the atmosphere onsite – for the better. Some tradesmen will think twice about what they say or do onsite which can make it a better environment for all. Sadly there will also be those tradesmen won’t give a shit about their behavior even with a female apprentice onsite. All I will recommend is if there is negative behavior towards a female apprentice, stand against the behavior. Sexual Harassment and bullying are not on in any workplace. Making a stand helps set the example.
5. A female apprentice has the capacity to work in tight spaces. There were times where my hand was the only one that could fit into a stack to turn off the hot and cold water. Tradies need to come in all shapes and sizes. Try fitting a fat tradesman under a house or inside a wall cavity to connect pipes into a stack. ‘Big’ isn’t always a blessing as a tradie. Don’t underestimate a female apprentice’s flexibility in getting tricky jobs done, providing it can also be done safely.
6. A female apprentice will pay attention to the details. Near enough is not good enough for a female apprentice and what employer doesn’t want attention to detail? It’s a good quality to have and a female apprentice will usually have it in bucket loads.
7. A female apprentice will over deliver. Why? Because she wants to prove herself and the negativity to her presence onsite will just push her harder to succeed and get results.
8. A female apprentice genuinely wants to be at work to learn and get results. It’s not a fall back career to her. Isn’t it much better to offer employment to a woman who wants to work, as opposed to a guy that has chosen an apprenticeship as a last resort?
I look forward to the day when there is less fear around what the employment of a female apprentice will involve. Women have a lot to offer the construction industry and the untapped potential shouldn’t be limited to old mindsets.
What old mindsets have you had thrown towards you while working in a male-dominant environment? Ever had to prove yourself at work to get accepted?