Tackling the ‘pipeline problem’ in construction requires more than employer action

Employers in both male and female-dominated industries face a double challenge as they seek to address imbalance in workforce composition. They need to hire and promote underrepresented individuals in their organisation and work collectively to attract diverse talent into the industry as a whole.

The Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 requires employers with 100 or more employees to report annually against 6 Gender Equality Indicators.

GE1 measures gender composition of the workforce. This includes the participation rates of women and men, their employment status, and roles. Participation rates of non-binary identities are currently being collected voluntarily.

Let’s take a look at the construction industry in Australia.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) results data shows that the workforce composition in the construction industry is skewed to men, who represent 74% of total workforce.

And, by pay quartile, the highest quartile of average remuneration is largely dominated by men at 88%. Average total remuneration for this upper quartile of employees is nearly $230,000.

By contrast, women are 47% of the workforce at the lower pay quartile with average total earnings of $62,000.  

This imbalance is a key driver behind the construction industry’s gender pay gap. WGEA’s results show that 50% of employers in the industry have a total remuneration gender pay gap above 25.8%.

This is one of the highest of any industry and compares to a mid-point gender pay gap of 9.1% for all private sector employers.

Imbalance can occur due to gender discrimination, systemic or structural inequality within each organisation.

This has a profound impact on attraction and retention at the employer level. Against this backdrop, gender stereotypes can both reflect and reinforce the perception of particular jobs, occupations and industries as work for men or women.

Employers in construction are working to address inequality – WGEA’s results also show 63% of employers conducted a gender pay analysis and 58% of those took some type of action as a result – but deliberate, long-term action is required to make progress to close the gender pay gap.

Employers can make changes in their organisation to address inequality.

How employers can take action

Construction employers (64%) were most likely to take action to correct like-for-like pay gaps following a pay gap analysis. Like-for-like pay gaps are pay gaps between women and men undertaking work of equal or comparable value, for example, comparing two senior engineers in the same organisation.

This is better known as ‘equal pay’. In Australia, this has been a legal requirement since 1969.

Gender pay gaps are not a comparison of like roles. Instead, they show the difference between the average or median pay of women and men across organisations, industries and the workforce as a whole.

Closing the gender pay gap requires cultural change to remove the barriers to the full and equal participation of women in the workforce.

Some of the ways that business can reduce the gender pay gap include:

  • undertaking a gender pay gap analysis if one has not been done recently
  • actively considering the impact that unconscious bias may be having on recruitment, promotions, and succession planning recruitment, promotions, and succession
  • planning opportunities for working part-time and flexible work
  • support for employees with caring responsibilities
  • mentoring and talent identification programs
  • opportunities for networking.

These actions should support both women and men. Given the right support and messaging, the actions mentioned above can help transform workplace composition through cultural change.

Individual employer Action Plans also need to address the talent pipeline, which refers to the fact not enough women are entering the construction industry.

The pipeline that exists, is often termed the ‘leaky pipeline’ due to the perpetual reduction of women represented at every stage of career progression. This is caused by a number of factors, not limited to lack of support, flexibility and structural inequality within workplaces

‘We don’t have enough women in the industry’, is a common reason many employers give for the imbalance in gender composition. While that may be true, it is not a reason for inaction.

Collaboration at an industry level is crucial to attract women to the sector.

And it is happening. Last year, the Australian Constructors Association (ACA) committed to:

  • 75% of ACA members being certified as a WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) within five years
  • attracting a new cohort of talent to sustain the industry
  • embedding flexibility on all ACA member projects

As a collective, construction industry employers and peak bodies can identify and address key challenges specific to their sector and set industry-level strategies to address gender issues.

For example, the construction industry may target previously untapped cohorts by considering the wording used in job advertisements. By using inclusive language, organisations and recruiters can encourage applications from young women leaving school or graduating from further education or mothers returning to the workforce after parental leave.

WGEA is also working with construction employers to help them to understand the complex issues they face.

Employers can learn from this example to explore the best ways to address systemic or structural barriers to gender equality in workplace composition. Keen to tackle your workforce composition? WGEA’s policy and strategy guide can help you find new evidence-informed ideas.