Building better for women, by women

Fed up with being treated unfairly, Dominique Gill set up own construction business five years ago.
Fed up with being treated unfairly, Dominique Gill set up own construction business five years ago.

Women are more likely to hurry past a construction site, fearful of unwanted attention, than they are to look for a job there.

Building sites have long had a reputation for rudeness, crudeness and toxic masculinity, and judging by damning research statistics released by recruitment specialists Randstad, it's well deserved.

The data shows two in every five women working in construction have experienced gender discrimination on the job and nearly two thirds have endured inappropriate comments or behaviour from colleagues.

A shocking one in four women in the industry say their sex is preventing them moving up the career ladder.

But there is change in air.

As a new generation of builders emerge, replacing the old guard, there is hope for a industry beset with negative connotations that is, even now, dominated by men, 8 to 1.

Dominique Gill was an architect before deciding she was less interested in design and theory and more interested in "boots on concrete".

She retrained as a builder and spent nine years working for a top Sydney construction firm.

But keen to see other women join the industry and frustrated by her employer's reluctance to let her be involved in hiring or policy writing, Gill founded her own company five years ago.

Named Urban Fitouts and Construction, it's grounded in diversity and inclusion.

"It was something I became passionate about," says Gill, adding that women in construction are often more creative and collaborative and their projects are more profitable.

"This far into the 21st century I should be part of the next generation of women running construction companies, not the first.

"One of the things that I deplore is that I feel like a pioneer."

Gill's first hurdle after starting her business was to get people to take her seriously as a builder.

"Where's your toolbelt?" she recalls being asked repeatedly during meetings.

"If it was a man in a suit introducing myself in a meeting as a builder, that question would never be asked."

But the industry is changing, Gill says. The sexism, harrassment and intimidation of old is not as prevalent as it once was, as a younger more egalitarian workforce takes the helm.

And it's not just benefiting the women, she adds.

"The men who work with us feel more comfortable too.

"The same culture that intimidates women intimidates men."

Seeing women like Gill running big companies is key to inspiring young women to join the industry, says Randstad's diversity and inclusion lead, Kerry McQuillan.

"It's all about visibility," she told AAP.

Gone are the days of the buff 'tradies' dominating the heavy lifting on site. There is equipment available so a 'weaker' woman or slight man is just as capable of doing the hard yakka, she says.

"There aren't many jobs on a construction site that you need to be superman do anymore."

Australian Associated Press