By Lou Cooper
People often ask me what it’s like to work in the construction industry. After some thought, I might reply that it’s the same as any other job; sometimes it’s demanding and challenging, but most of the time it’s satisfying and rewarding. However, the real answer lies in the question that was asked – it’s not about the job so much, as it is about being a woman who works in a typically male dominated industry.
Truth be told, the answer is not much different. The construction industry is changing, albeit slowly, and although we’re a little way off having the sympathetic environment for women that is needed, progress must be acknowledged. The sympathetic environment I speak of is chiefly concerned with the everyday needs of women, like separate toilets (and hygiene facilities) on site or PPE and high vis gear that accommodates our bodies – this makes a huge difference to attitudes, visibility, culture and recruitment.
In recent years there have been some fantastic initiatives and campaigns by employers and WorkSafe, advocating the benefits of starting a career in an industry that may not be top of mind for women. The key here is visibility. According to StatsNZ, around 13 percent of people in the industry are women, and although that figure is small, the more we highlight the possibilities and scope for personal development that comes with the career, the trickle down effect will have a huge impact.
Marilou Rebosura is an electrical engineer from the Philippines. She moved to New Zealand several years ago and has worked as a security technician for Vision Systems for two years. Marilou is enthusiastic about the possibilities afforded to her in a role that has historically been the preserve of men, and wants more women to consider a career in construction.
“At first, I was nervous about working with men most of the time, but it creates a balance as I bring different skills and perspectives to the table.
“I’m challenged, physically and mentally everyday and love it when I can do a job that a man has offered to do for me. I’ve experienced so much positivity and support from my male colleagues – maybe I’m lucky, but I think this reflects the changing culture within the industry.”
Marilou is just one example of the many women I have spoken to who love their job and want to see more diversity. Here at Vision Systems, we ensure our policies are inclusive and progressive – we want women to be seen and heard throughout the firm and this includes senior management roles in addition to a job on the tools. For us, education is a vital component, not simply in the way we communicate, but in our partnerships with education providers.
The rise and uptake of scholarships has been encouraging in recent years and I believe the impact of the global pandemic and housing crisis may also present an opportunity for more women to step into careers that are in demand and will be needed for many years to come.
If employers can get the basics right – the environment, and inclusive language and policies, the benefits are huge. By diversifying your workforce, you’re harnessing a different approach to problem solving and designing solutions; you will achieve different outcomes and resolutions by embracing change.
Maybe it’s the uncertainty of the past couple of years, or the closed borders providing more opportunities to be taken at home, but it feels like there is momentum. Infrastructure has long been discussed as one of the major factors to help stimulate the post-Covid economy, but with employers struggling to fill roles typically filled by migrants, the solution isn’t as easy as it sounds. Or is it?
The industry recognises there is a shortfall in talent and acknowledges we need to diversify – 2022 is the year we need to be more concrete in our ambitions and truly seize the potential on our doorstep.
Let’s start by having bold conversations about what we need to change and how we can support women to succeed in an industry ripe with opportunities.