Women at work

More women are now working in all areas of the construction industry, earning respect, acceptance and admiration along the way.

By Frank Leggett

There’s no denying that, traditionally, the construction industry has been very male-dominated. As more women take up a variety of positions, they’re faced with a variety of challenges and old-fashioned attitudes. It can be confronting and there are still obstacles to overcome but these women are also enjoying the respect of their customers, and the friendship and camaraderie of their workmates.

WHAT’S THE ATTRACTION?

Women are drawn to the construction industry for the same reasons as men— the variety of the work, being part of a team, overcoming challenges and the satisfaction of a completed job. The National Association of Women in Construction hopes to achieve 25 per cent minimum female participation across all of the construction industry by 2025.

“Before starting at Desco nearly three years ago, I was working in a small, family-owned hardware store,” says Morgan Dohnt, a sales representative at Desco Workplace Supplies in Darra, a suburb in Brisbane.

“The general manager asked if I would be interested in a new challenge which I was very excited to accept. I’m happy to say I’ve been reaching and exceeding my goals from day one.”

STARTING OUT

Early experiences with the building trades can ignite an interest and a passion for the industry. It might stem from a part-time job, a long-held interest or joining the family business.

“My father, Sam Jooste, a builder by trade, was initially a customer, then bought into the business back in 1996,” says Sally Jooste, director of yousta construction supplies in Revesby, NSW.

“From a young age, my sister Jill and I were involved with small projects for pocket money. After I started my career in marketing, I noticed how transferrable the skill set was across industries. When Dad bought the remaining shares of the business in 2017, Jill and I were very excited at the opportunity to come on board as directors.”

UNIQUE CHALLENGES

Whether they’re a sales rep, operations manager, managing director or purchasing officer, women are constantly dealing with male customers, contractors and builders. Often they’re required to give advice and impart practical knowledge, and can face a certain amount of resistance. Thankfully, attitudes are changing.

“When I first started in the industry 25 years ago, I would be asked to get the bloke in sales,” says Sally Turnbull, managing director of Banks Bolts & Fasteners in Roma, QLD.

“I would reassure the customer that I work in sales and can help them. Now I have customers who bypass the counter and find me in the office to guarantee they get the right part. These days, the customer is looking for quick quality service with the reassurance they leave with the right product to do the job. Gender simply does not play a part in that equation.”

FEMALE INFLUENCE

While attitudes are rapidly changing, being a female in such a blokey industry still has an influence on how women are treated by male customers and colleagues.

“I’ve pretty much seen and heard it all,” says Jaye Thomas who works in purchasing and sales at Mandurah Bolt Supplies in WA. “There are still people who believe women can never have knowledge of a man’s world. I take that

as a challenge and love it when I prove them wrong.” Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of changing mindsets and leading by example.

“Our objective as female leaders is to create an environment where everyone feels supported,” says Sally Jooste. “Having a diverse team helps to foster collaboration and our team works together better now than ever before. I think everyone feels that business success is only possible through a joint effort.”

THE GOOD STUFF

While there are difficulties and challenges facing women in our industry, there are also rewards and satisfaction. “While being female in this job can be a challenge, it can be an advantage getting through the door when cold-calling,” says Karen McGuire, operations manager at Brisbane Fasteners & Engineering Supplies in Brendale in Queensland’s Moreton Bay region.

“Generally in the industry, there can be a lot of chest-beating during male-to-male contact. When they encounter a female, the interaction tends to be calmer and the language changes. I really enjoy meeting so many different characters among customers and staff . Getting to know people on a personal level is the best way to overcome any issues.”

MORE WOMEN

Many females are trailblazers in their various positions and are setting the standard for women to follow in the future. The big question is, would they encourage other women to be involved in the industry?

“Definitely,” says Hayley Firth, assistant sales manager at Bolts & Moore in Hallam, a suburb east of Melbourne. “There’s no need for women to be scared off from an industry like this. The only advice I have is that in the beginning, it’s going to be difficult. There are people out there who can be rude towards females. But don’t take it to heart because, I promise you, it does get better.”

Jaye Thomas agrees. “It’s a very rewarding career. But if you’re not thick-skinned, you probably won’t last very long. I’ll just leave it at that.”