Senior Research Fellow, Dr Phillippa Carnemolla (By Andy Roberts)

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“I feel like I would be intimidated”: New study probes why girls don’t go into construction

12 March 2019 | By GCR Staff | 3 Comments

Despite the wide diversity of roles in construction, the industry is invisible to teenage girls considering career options, a year-long study in Australia has found.

And where impressions had formed, a fear of gender-based discrimination emerged as one of the main barriers, as did parental preferences for careers deemed more aspirational.

One surprising finding, however, was that students from all-girls schools were significantly more likely to study construction project management at university.

“No one would listen to me because I am a girl”

The study, which involved interviewing high school students, was carried out by Dr Phillippa Carnemolla (pictured), Senior Research Fellow at University of Technology, Sydney’s (UTS) School of Built Environment.

To probe why construction remains Australia’s most male-dominated industry, Carnemolla investigated pupils’ perceptions through interviews and by analysing UTS enrolment data for its Bachelor of Construction Project Management.

She found that construction was “not in the lexicon” of career aspirations for high-achieving pupils, despite the wide range of professional roles in the industry, from engineering and project management to consulting and law.

Nor was it equated with other topics in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) category.

“In interviewing the students, it was clear that they had little knowledge of the construction industry and its potential career options,” said Carnemolla. 

“The fact that it is a growth industry and one of Australia’s three largest industries was also unknown.”

None of the interviewed students could recall speaking to a successful woman with a career in construction, or could visualise themselves in a construction role.

The research also revealed that “many girls didn’t believe they would be respected or heard in the construction industry,” said Carnemolla.

“Why would I want to be in the construction industry? No one would listen to me because I am a girl,” said one participant.

“I can’t see myself doing construction at all. I feel like I would be intimidated,” said another, adding: “I feel like I would be pushed over, if someone tells me I am doing something wrong I will back off.”

But data analysis also showed that females from all-girls schools were significantly more likely to choose to study construction at university.

55% of girls offered placements in the UTS Construction Project Management degree as school-leavers came from all-girls high schools. Only 9% of schools in the state of New South Wales are girls-only.

Concluding, Carnemolla said: “If the industry expects female high school students to aspire to a construction career, it needs to rebrand itself not only to the students, but also to parents and schools, in order to overcome the barriers of lack of interest by students, influence of parents and lack of guidance towards the industry from school networks.”

Commenting on the findings, Professor Heather MacDonald, Head of the UTS School of Built Environment said universities face a challenge.

“Many young women don’t understand the range of skills and knowledge entailed in the field, nor the significant opportunities to be part of major projects that transform the built environment,” said Professor MacDonald.

“One of the key messages we hear from our industry partners is the importance of expanding the recruitment base for Construction Project Managers – not only to ensure that the industry reflects the diversity of Australian society, but also to ensure project managers bring a wide range of skills and experiences to construction in the 21st century.”

The report, “Why Would I Want to do That for a Career?”, was commissioned in 2018 by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), as part of a $20,000 scholarship to Dr Phillippa Carnemolla, sponsored by CULT design.

View it here

Image: Senior Research Fellow, Dr Phillippa Carnemolla (By Andy Roberts)