“I don’t mean to sound sexist, but as far as women have come over the last 40 years, you don’t really see a lot of women hunters. They’re still in the minority in the military, and there’s not a lot of female construction workers. I hope that’s not taken the wrong way. I think women are as smart, resourceful, and capable in most things as any man could be … but they are generally physically weaker. That’s science.”– Robert Kirkman
The third Thursday of every February is Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day.
While some may say that this is a great initiative, the fact that we even need it says a lot about the way in which the “weaker sex” are still portrayed within certain fields.
Society as a whole is moving towards equality but it seems that some pathways, STEM in particular, are still a “boys club“.
Initiatives such as Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day aim to increase the amount of women in what has always traditionally been a male dominated workforce. But the challenge with this is shifting the toxic culture that seems intent on keeping women down and out rather than embracing innovation and equality.
Findings from a 2016 study published in The Sydney Morning Herald declared that “Overt and covert sexism was widely tolerated and is a significant disincentive for women interested in careers in construction.”
Not that everyone in the industry is a misogynistic pig but, there are certainly ingrained problems that need to be addressed if we wish to keep moving forward.
“A core issue, we believe, is a workplace culture stuck in the 1950s … and we soon discovered that many men in construction are also struggling.” wrote study authors Louise Chappell and Natalie Galea. “Suicide rates in construction are double the national average in Australia and the industry is at the top of the charts for substance use.”
These damning figures point to a need for change overall and we wholeheartedly support any initiative that makes life better for all construction workers, but it cannot be ignored that finding a balance within the industry will go a long way towards helping with this.
The United Nations states that “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world … Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”
While we understand this in theory, there are actually less women practicing a trade in Australia than there were ten years ago.
In 2018, The Conversation reported that women account for “only 1% of those working in [Australian] construction, engineering and automotive trades.” This is in comparison with the 9% of construction workers that are female in America and CRL data that shows 12.8% of the construction workforce is female in the UK.
Luckily, society is slowly recognizing the value which women can bring to the field and programs designed to nurture this advancement are having success in most places that they have been implemented.
DIY Girls is one such program. Based in Los Angeles, America, the program aims to provide girls, particularly those from disadvantaged or low income families, with the skills and experience they require “to be confident makers and creators of technology”.
Through the program, a group of girls from San Fernando High School conceptualized and engineered a solar powered tent that has the potential to improve quality of life for homeless individuals everywhere if their MIT award winning project becomes available through mass production.
The girls completed all aspects of the project themselves from scratch, showcasing the fact that programs like DIY Girls can bring real value to society as well as participants’ lives, yet they told Mashable that they were the only two female juniors in their AP Calculus class, an experience often shared by any woman who wishes to work in a male dominated industry.
Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of a New York construction company’s book. They recently changed their “men at work” signs to include “and women”. While a sign may seem insignificant, it’s a step in the right direction and as they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.