The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Chair, Kristine Scheul, last week presented at the Commonwealth House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities' Inquiry into procurement practices for government-funded infrastructure. The Chair’s address to the committee centred around the need for the Federal Government to reform how projects are procured and delivered across the country. 

NAWIC’s submission recommends the use of procurement processes as a means of securing more women on government funded infrastructure projects. The association believes this can come to fruition through making the engagement of women a prerequisite, as well as contributing to the ongoing pipeline of women entering the industry through apprenticeships, cadetships and other learning opportunities.

“The reform of procurement practices is one of the most significant ways in which the government can make impactful and sustainable change to both the industry and women’s economic security,” says Scheul.

“It is why NAWIC has recommended that female participation levels be mandated on government funded projects as a step towards bringing female participation towards equilibrium. By placing “gender on the tender”, the government would be setting the expectation that women should be able to contribute more to the creation of our built environment.”

Construction has the lowest female participation rate of any industry sector in Australia, sitting at 12 percent. Women only represent 2 percent of tradespeople and only 18 percent of leadership or managerial roles. Women in the construction industry also earn 26 percent less than their male counterparts, which is the second highest pay gap out of any industry sector in Australia. It comes at a time when the country is preparing for one of the largest infrastructure rollouts in history, with Infrastructure Australia estimating that 105,000 jobs in infrastructure will need to be filled by 2023.

“The targets vs quotas argument is an old one but if we are still – in 2021 - celebrating companies who have installed their very first female amenities block on site as an exemplar for the industry, then NAWIC would suggest that the softer “target” approach is not working,” Scheul says.

“More women in the industry will lead to cultural change, which will in turn create a more sustainable and equitable industry. It’s a simple formula, but it requires the cooperation of government, industry and industry organisations like NAWIC to work together. This inquiry by the Standing Committee is the single most important opportunity to achieve that collaboration.”

The discussion around women in construction often focuses on the number of women taking up a trade, and while NAWIC believe that to be important, it fails to acknowledge the number of career opportunities on construction projects which incorporate tradespeople, architects, engineers, designers, lawyers, site managers, quantity surveyors and project managers. As a result, NAWIC’s second recommendation, which focused on improving the pipeline of women entering the industry, was formed.

“If industry wants, and is required to engage more women on government funded projects, then it makes sense that they also contribute to the pipeline of women entering the industry. NAWIC and its member companies are already doing this through high school pathways programs and participating in high school STEM curriculum - but there needs to be an appetite within industry and dedicated resources to ensure this continues with more than just the time and passion of volunteers. Young girls need to see that construction is a viable, long-term career – but for now, the numbers will only increase if the industry is compelled to try.”

“Through procurement practice reform, the Government has an opportunity to accelerate this cycle of change. Whilst the culture is gradually changing, industry and not for profits like NAWIC cannot make it change fast enough without this reform. NAWIC has set a goal of 25% women in construction by 2025. That goal is just a number unless we have commitment from all levels of government to ensure that women can participate equally; sometimes, in order to do that, we must initially tip the scales to allow sufficient ground swell to take effect.”