New Victoria University report on increasing female participation in trades
Victoria University recently launched the research report, Perfect for a Woman: Increasing the participation of women in electrical trades by, Emeritus Professor Anne Jones (VU), Emeritus Professor Berwyn Clayton (VU), Dr Naomi Pfitzner (RMIT) and Honorary Fellow Hugh Guthrie (VU).
Despite decades of interventions, only 2% of electrical tradespersons in Australia are women. Investigating this issues, the research team valued their interaction with nine employers as well as 31 impressive electrical tradeswomen, apprentices and former apprentices who shared their experiences and insightful observations with us.
Employers, especially those who have recruited electrical tradeswomen, told them that they notice the benefit, including a more productive workplace culture 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 apprentices and tradeswomen told Victoria University that they love their work, especially the satisfaction that comes from solving interesting technical problems and completing meaningful projects. They also value above average earnings and opportunities for developing a long-term career. The report’s title was inspired by electrical tradeswoman, ‘Megan’ who 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.’
The report concluded that past interventions had failed for a number of reasons, most significantly:
- A too narrow focus on just one aspect of the problem e.g. promoting trades to young women without encouraging employers to take on female apprentices nor ensuring that workplaces provide tradeswoman-friendly clothing, tools and other infrastructure.
- Failure to actively and sufficiently address workplace cultures and behaviours when these are disrespectful of women.
From ill-fitting clothing, to hours that don’t accommodate working mothers, many women feel excluded from trades workplaces where the infrastructure is designed around men’s physical capabilities and availability:
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 workplaces, 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. Jen now works for a large infrastructure company and is active in networks to support women in electrical trades.
The report proposes a new model involving tradeswomen’s networks, employers, unions and other industry organisations, training providers, schools and governments. We recommend that stakeholders work together on a program of co-ordinated, collaborative, sustained and mutually reinforcing actions to enable more women to work in male-dominated trades. Importantly, there is an urgent need to develop resources to assist employers to develop tradeswoman-friendly workplace cultures and behaviours.