Researchers at Victoria University have developed a new approach to help increase and promote female participation in traditionally male trades.
Despite decades of interventions, only two per cent of electrical tradespersons in Australia are women. Female participation in all traditionally male trades remains below four per cent.
Perfect For a Woman: Increasing the Participation of Women in Electrical Trades by researchers Emeritus Professor Anne Jones (VU), Emeritus Professor Berwyn Clayton (VU), Dr Naomi Pfitzner (RMIT) and Honorary Fellow Hugh Guthrie (VU) concluded that past interventions had failed for a number of key reasons, including:
- a too-narrow focus on just one aspect of the problem, e.g. promoting trades to young women without working with employers to encourage them to take on female apprentices
- failure to address workplace cultures and behaviours that are often disrespectful of women.
A significant gender divide in the workplace means women who are excluded from trades careers are also missing out on accessing highly remunerated and deeply rewarding work. For 2016, the insurer, TradeRisk, reports average incomes of $85,000 for electricians and above-median income incomes for many other trades.
The few female electricians who persist in the field love the work, especially the satisfaction that comes from solving interesting technical problems. Electrical tradeswoman Megan has worked for a multinational security systems company for five years. She loves the combination of practical work and intellectual stimulation. Compared with more physically demanding trades Megan sees electrical work as ‘…kind of perfect for a woman’.
From ill-fitting clothing, to hours that don’t accommodate working mothers, many women feel excluded from trades workplaces where the tools are designed around men’s physical capabilities.
The company I am in now, they just told me no, you don’t get a female shirt. That means I have a size small man's shirt that is so big - and I feel is dangerous because it can get caught in things - Chloe, tradeswoman.
In some work places, overly competitive, aggressive behaviour and disrespect of women make female apprentices feel unsupported and scared.
Jen, a tradeswoman with nine years’ experience almost gave up her apprenticeship after becoming 'worn down' by harassment, co-workers not trusting her to do tasks, co-workers making sexist comments and management who are complicit in their colleagues’ bad behaviour. Jennifer now works for a large infrastructure company and is active in networks to support women in electrical trades.
VU's and other research show that businesses that employ tradeswomen notice the benefit, including a more productive workplace cultures and improved employee wellbeing. Employers say that women are better communicators, more attentive to detail and better organised.
As one employer put it:
Women have a can-do attitude; no one can tell me I can't do this, kind of thing…So I think there is a lot of attention to detail and they are certainly better organised and you can see that they are well ahead of - sometimes ahead of their male counterparts because of these skills.
- David, employer.
The ground-breaking report points out the benefits of increased diversity and gender equity in these trades and highlights the benefits women bring to such workplaces. The researchers propose a new model based on a program of coordinated, collaborative, sustained and mutually reinforcing actions involving female apprentices and tradeswomen, their employers and work colleagues, unions and other industry organisations, schools and governments.
Dr Anne Jones is available for interview and the report can be accessed via Victoria University’s research repository
Journalist – Victoria University
M: 0435 960 793