Swinburne’s Manager of Building Trades Jane Clancy has one piece of advice for anyone wanting to get started in construction, especially young women: “You’ve got to rate yourself,” she says.
“You have to trust yourself, trust your instincts and be willing to make mistakes – that’s how we learn.”
As one of the small fraction of women working in the male-dominated construction industry, it’s advice that’s seen her find continued success for more than 20 years.
She recently discussed her experience in construction on a Swinburne student-led podcast called Be What You Want To Be on challenging gender roles, part of a program to help prevent family violence.
Building a network
As she has progressed through her career, Ms Clancy says one of the biggest challenges has been finding a network of women she can share experiences with. While the number of women in construction has been growing in the past decade, women still represent less than 5 per cent of the 1.2 million people in the industry, with fewer still on the tools.
And while Ms Clancy says she’s been fortunate to be judged on her abilities rather than her gender throughout her career, she says the barriers for women in the construction industry remain very real.
“Groups like Women in Trades and the National Association for Women in Construction have been great for building connections. If you do ever start to doubt yourself or face barriers, that’s where your networks step in and boost you up,” she says.
Construction has a very high percentage of full-time positions, with precious few opportunities to work part time, including in project manager, supervisor or architect positions. While some of this can be put down to the nature of the work, she also says that, because of the male-dominated nature of the industry, there has been little creativity or flexibility to accommodate working parents or those seeking different arrangements.
“If you compared me to one of my male colleagues, I had to tap out to have kids while they continued along. So, whether it’s going up the ladder or moving laterally or earning more money, as a woman you definitely cop it a little bit,” she says.
Making a change
Ms Clancy is seeing a change in the industry, a change she’s committed to being a part of. For example, she promoted a course to encourage more women to become plumbers by allowing them to train together and providing them a supportive network. While it was still a challenge finding enthusiastic female students, she says the demand from industry and consumers for more diversity was extremely encouraging.
“I said to the women that I’m going to come and work for you lot one day,” she laughs.
Ms Clancy says change is still required on site with some employment relationships. Getting more women in a position to make hiring decisions will continue to accelerate this change, but there are plenty of employers out there that care more about what you can do than who you are.
For her part, Ms Clancy still gets a kick out of breaking gender stereotypes.
“Just being in this position, it's generally a male who is the role. So, when people realise you’re the manager of the trades department, they sometimes hesitate for a second and then think, ‘oh right, she’s the boss’. They are good little moments,” she says.
Hear more from Jane Clancey and other leaders in the new Swinburne student-led podcast Be What You Want To Be!