When the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) decided to tackle the lack of women in male-dominated jobs in the Hunter Valley last year, it didn’t waste any time getting the message out to the community.
Instead of trying to recruit candidates individually, the company targeted a group of women for entry-level jobs by holding an open day in Muswellbrook, setting up a Facebook page and getting the local media involved.
In the end, the Mayor made a speech, a total of 900 women applied for six roles, and 11 strong applicants were eventually given jobs.
The recruitment drive was deliberately aimed at getting women into non-traditional roles such as signal installers, and was part of the company’s effort to improve diversity and capability by drawing from a wider pool of candidates.
The wave of women recruits has been so successful — with many progressing twice as fast as men — that there are now all-women teams and other depots are asking for women, ARTC executive general manager of people Jenny McAuliffe told a seminar on women in construction in Sydney recently.
Plenty of men objected to the campaign
Working on the railways may not have been regarded as an option for many women in the past, but the ARTC campaign helped boost the total number of women in the workforce in just over a year from 17 per cent to nearly 20 per cent in December 2016.
And, while women comprised just 1.1 per cent of workers in non-traditional jobs in the Hunter Valley before the campaign, now, in 2016, they account for 9.6 per cent.
Predictably, there were plenty of men at the company who objected to the recruitment drive, says Ms McAuliffe. Some told her having women around was a safety concern because they would distract men, but that hasn’t seemed to occur.
The ARTC experience was a positive example at the forum on women in construction, but there was also plenty of sobering data on the barriers still faced by women in the sector.
For example, ABS data cited in the UNSW report, Construction Industry: Demolishing gender structures, revealed women made up just 12 per cent of the construction workforce in 2016, down from 17 per cent in 2006.
For the study, which was supported by Loughborough University and the Diversity Council Australia, researchers collected data from interviews with 61 professionals, observations of 14 company events, and visits to six construction project sites, between 2014-2015.
They found that while men dominated senior technical operational careers, women were concentrated in junior support roles, were employed in just 2 per cent of trades jobs, and faced inequality in pay and progression.