When people hear the words 'building' and 'construction', they automatically think of a male-dominated labour force.

As the second most male dominated industry after mining, it's no wonder the likes of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) have taken on the challenge to raise the profile of women working in the construction industry as its key mission.

Since its inception in 1995, NAWIC has strived to build a dynamic organisation which encourages and supports women in the construction and related affiliate industries. 

According to a September 2011 article, the next five years will see an estimated 70,000 people that will leave the industry, with only 45,000 coming in. This suggests that there is an evident skills shortage issue that needs to be addressed, which then poses the question: Can women build a career path in the industry?

The building and construction industry covers a range of skill sets and divisions including architects, engineers, designers, interior designers, trades people and project managers. Whilst women have a lot to offer the industry, NAWIC stated that participation rates still remain quite low.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 4102.0 Australian Social Trends Dec 2011, there has been significant growth in employment, and increased participation in the labour force over the last 50 years from women, especially where part-time work is concerned. With NAWIC and the Victorian branch of the Civil Contractors Federation designing initiatives to help develop, recognise and promote women in civil construction, there's no better time than now for women to be entering the building and construction labour force. 

There are already signs of positive change.

A BVN Architecture Associate, Hayle Sainsbury, was recently recognised and commended for her achievement in the industry, recently winning the Hutchinson Builders Award for Achievement in Design. This annual awards offered by NAWIC Qld/NT focuses on the achievements of an outstanding individual who has contributed to a construction project in the areas of engineering, architecture, urban or transport design.

Last month, it was reported that the ACT Government is set to commence a women-dominated construction project building two four-bedroom Housing ACT properties for people with disabilities in Richardson. In the report, ACT Minister for Women, Joy Burch, stated that the project aims to increase female participation in the building industry. 

The Construction & Property Services Industry Skills Council (CPSISC) announced its support for the ACT Government initiative.

"Women currently make up a very small percentage of the building trades, at a time when skills shortages are rife. If we could increase the participation rate to 50% Australia wouldn’t have skills shortages," said Alan Ross, CEO of CPSISC.

The Australian Human Rights Commission examined the key reforms required to achieve gender equality in Australia. The Gender Equality Blueprint 2010 report actively promotes the importance of women’s representation in decision-making roles in the community, government and business sectors. As a result, the Commonwealth Office for Women has funded the Australian Human Rights Commission, which commenced August 2012, to identify strategies for improving women’s representation and leadership in male-dominated roles in male-dominated industries.

With organisations such as NAWIC, CPSISC and the ACT Government embracing such positive changes, there is great hope that more industry leaders will recognise women in the industry and work to improve the work/life culture, and for women to make well-informed and positive choices to follow their passion.