We hear a lot about the gender pay gap.
We know that when it comes to paying women fairly, Australia ranks 36th in the world. We know that at the current rate of change, women will have to wait until 2133 to receive equal pay.
We know that women are underrepresented in board rooms and in cabinet.
But what we don’t hear about enough is what this inequality looks like at a grass roots level.
For women who work in trades, inequality is the absence of a female toilet in your workplace. Inequality is having to wear a uniform that doesn’t fit. Inequality is sexual harassment, and the absence of effective policies to deal with it.
Inequality is being a female in a career so profoundly male-dominated that you seem innately out of place.
Most of us, regardless of how progressive our ideas about gender are, would take notice of the presence of a female plumber, female construction worker, or a female automotive engineer. Not because we would doubt their skills, but simply because they’re so rare.
And the appearance of a woman in a construction vest is statistically unusual.
Less than 10% of applicants for trade apprentices are women. But it’s curious that in 2016, a time when we are so adamant on telling girls they can do anything, learning a non-traditional trade still doesn’t feature as a prospect.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, there’s a lack of opportunity for girls to take technical or trade subjects at school, and they’re not encouraged to undertake school based apprenticeships.
Then there’s the “dirty” image of trades, which is culturally perceived as “unfeminine”. Thus, parents are far more likely to encourage their daughters to choose hairdressing, nursing or childcare over mining or motor mechanics.
But even women who do choose to take up a trade apprenticeship face significant barriers.
As a result, the rates of drop-out for female apprentices are disproportionately high. So in NSW we have women who want to take up a trade, but ultimately leave, because the issues in their workplace seem insurmountable.