Male-dominated industries get some fresh thinking for attracting women

Gender equality is being undermined by a lack of women in male-dominated industries like mining, utilities and construction according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, and it’s about time companies got serious about addressing the problem.

To help, the AHRC has today released a “toolkit of strategies”, including a new interactive website designed to encourage dialogue and the sharing of information between relevant companies and industries.

In construction, mining and utilities, women account for just 12%, 15% and 23% of the workforce respectively according to figures provided by the AHRC, despite women making up 46% of all Australian employees. The AHRC cites research from Goldman Sachs that finds Australia’s GDP could rise by 11% if women’s employment rates are lifted.

As such, improving the rates of women in these industries is not only a matter of gender equality but also of industry performance and developing Australia’s economy, according to Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

“Australia ranks fourth in the world in talent shortages and many male-dominated industries are suffering a lack of skilled workers,” she said. “Encouraging greater women’s participation in these industries is one solution that could go a long way to addressing these skills shortages.”

The Toolkit covers attraction, recruitment, retention and development of women’s skills in industries that have traditionally been male-dominated. It was developed by a number of members and leaders of male-dominated industries who were willing to gather information on their experience and knowledge, and includes an online networking component for sharing ideas.

Broderick told Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes during an AHRC podcast that she believes women are less involved in these industries because there are few visible role models.

She doesn’t believe women are avoiding such industries due to a “lack of interest” but that the fact their cultures could be perceived as masculine and “blokey” could affect participation. “Therefore, mum and dad are probably saying, probably that’s not an option for you. So I think it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, where we want to attract more women but it’s a blokey industry and in a sense that sends women away.”

She added that change starts with addressing workplace cultures, as well as challenging assumptions about the skills required for such industries and what women can and can’t. She also believes addressing structural issues – such as long hours in mining – will help.

This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.

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