Equal employment opportunity in Australia’s construction industry: design, implementation and outcomes

Australia's construction industry needs to do more to correct the imbalance of women's participation, says Professor Glenda Strachan.

The equal employment opportunity (EEO) agenda, although applied and enforced in a variety of ways worldwide, is underpinned by legislation and organisational policies that seek to reduce the domination of males in senior and management positions by increasing women’s participation. In typically male-dominated industries and occupations such as construction however, women continue to be under-presented in operational and management positions.

Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing member,Professor Glenda Strachan,and QUT colleague, Associate Professor Erica French, have analysed 83 Australian construction organisations’ EEO reports for period 2011-2012, as submitted to the Australian equality agency, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, in an effort to identify the activities undertaken in seven areas — recruitment and selection, promotion and transfer, training and development, work organisation, conditions of employment, sexual harassment, and pregnancy and breastfeeding – to correct and mitigate these imbalances by either increasing women’s numbers in the industry, a particular area of work, and/ or in management.

In their recently published article, ‘Women at work! Evaluating equal employment policies and outcomes in construction’, EricaandGlendanote that:

“Occupational segregation…is the most enduring aspect of labour markets around the world…One of the extremes of occupational segregation by gender is seen in the construction industry…[where] only 11 per cent of [Australian]…workers are women…[-]most in support roles.”

Professor Glenda Strachan
Professor Glenda Strachan

This low representation of women in construction — both nationally and internationally — is an ongoing issue. And Ericaand Glenda’s analysis has demonstrated that the industry is still not engaging with equity issues for women. Professor Strachan(pictured left) explains:

“[These construction] organisations lack a commitment to equality or diversity as they have very few policies designed to promote the employment of women in male-dominated occupations or in senior positions. The current approaches comply with Australian anti-discrimination legislation but offer no, or few, ways to change the status quo of male domination.”

Having assessed almost 2000 case studies to find like factors of equal employment and policy application which encourages equality and participation in these organisations, the team conclude that although correlations did exist between an increase in number of women in the industry with an organisation’s size:

“The question of whether organisations can themselves achieve full structural integration of women to accurately reflect the external labour market remains unresolved, and there is no agreement on the means for achieving a gender-balanced organisation. Overall, the results continue to suggest that for substantive change to occur, the implementation of different measures and positive goals and actions may be needed.”

Download a copy of Erica French and Glenda Strachan‘s article: ‘Women at work! Evaluating equal employment policies and outcomes in construction’, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, 2015, vol. 34, issue 3.