Lady Tradies, Changing the Face of the Trade Industry

“I do everything the man does, only backwards and in high heels” – Ginger Rogers

Yes, Ginger was talking about dancing, but the sentiment remains. For decades women have been fighting for equality, and while we’ve come a very long way, the road ahead is still long and arduous.

Today, mention the word tradie to anyone, and most people will picture a big, burly man in a high vis vest. A woman with long hair and skinny jeans certainly isn’t the first thing most people visualise. 

And although more women are becoming tradies, they still only make up about 2% of the trade industry.

The Rise of Women in Trades

Women in Trades is Not a New Concept. In wartime, women had to fill the roles of the men who went off to defend our country, becoming factory workers and mechanics, among other things. While she was still a princess, Queen Elizabeth briefly served in the army as a truck mechanic. Before becoming a pin-up model and subsequently an actress, Marilyn Monroe worked in a Radioplane factory during World War 2, which is where she was discovered.

They did so at a lower pay rate than the men, and many were incensed by the expectation that they would leave their jobs and go back to home duties when men returned from the war. 

Thus ushered in the beginning of women in the workplace.

Eventually, more and more women were allowed back into the workforce, but in mainly “feminine” roles such as secretaries, phone operators, and teachers.

Over the years, more women moved into professions that were traditionally male-dominated. Whoopi Goldberg was a bricklayer in the 1970s. The construction of Trump Tower in 1979 was overseen by Barbara Res, making her the first woman ever to supervise the construction of an American skyscraper.

Barbara’s role in the construction of Trump Tower was not a passive one. She had studied electrical engineering and had worked as an engineer and construction worker, paving the way for other women to step into her safety boots and become tradies.

The Challenges They Face

Despite this progress, female tradies in Australia are still few and far between.

This is likely due to cultural perceptions. Many people still believe construction or plumbing, or mechanical work is too dangerous or difficult for women to handle. Others believe that women should be in more feminine roles since tradie work is largely masculine.

Many women who work as tradies report that they face difficulties and challenges that men don’t. Harassment, bullying, sexism, the accusation of preferential treatment, and even the suggestion of sexual favours plague some of these women as they attempt to build their careers within the industry.

Some report that some men even refuse help that they would usually give a male colleague– a dangerous practice that could result in injury or death.

 It’s clear that any woman entering the industry needs to have a thick skin.

That all being said, the number of female tradies doubled between 2010 and 2020, although some reports from Canberra suggested that the pandemic caused the number to halve in just one year.

However, the government does seem to be paying attention and have created various learning and apprenticeship schemes to encourage women into the industry. 

Lady Tradies are The Future and The Key

Women have a lot to offer as tradies.

Studies show that men are more likely to take risks, making them more of a liability for business owners. Women tend to leave less room for error and be more cautious, making them valuable employees.

Skill shortages create economic issues for Australia, so having women fill those gaps means a boost in the economy. 

Women are often seen as more personable and less intimidating than men, so vulnerable customers may feel more comfortable having female tradies in their home- a massive gap in the market that is far from filled.

Below is some advice from existing lady tradies for any young women who are thinking about entering the trade industry:

  • Develop a thick skin. You will have to overcome obstacles that many men won’t. Tradie work isn’t easy, but if you can, find a job in a supportive environment with a supportive boss. 
  • Know your worth. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed around or treated differently.
  • Don’t try and compete with the men you work with– you bring your own set of skills and advantages.

Now, over to you. Do you have any lady tradies working for you? Are you a lady tradie? We would love to hear about your experiences!
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