Systemic Gender Barriers in the Building and Construction Industry: Co-Preneurs as Managers

Systemic Gender Barriers in the Building and Construction Industry: Co-Preneurs as Managers

Megan Alessandrini (University of Tasmania, Australia) and Romy Winter (University of Tasmania, Australia)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8611-3.ch005
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This chapter examines structural gender-based disadvantage experienced by women in the building industry. This is found in trade and technical occupations, but is much more prevalent in administrative and management roles in small and micro businesses where female family members and spouses carry out work often for little or no remuneration or recognition. Nor does this group have any protection in income support, injury or sickness cover or retirement benefits. This also contributes to inefficiency in the industry as there is minimal opportunity for professional development or skill enhancement. Using a non-positivist methodology, the authors found that this phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the building and construction and that many were unpaid and were employed in other occupations. This disadvantage contributed to status driven tensions between these women, often called co-preneurs, and those women working on site in trade and technical roles.
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The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that as at October 2010 the building and construction industry was Australia’s fourth largest industry in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employed around 9% of the Australian workforce (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010). There are some 352,000 construction businesses in Australia, of which 60% have no paid employees. Strikingly, only about 3% of building and construction enterprises have more than 20 employees (ABS 2010, 2012). Thirty per cent of all independent contractors work in the Construction Industry (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012), often sole trader owner-operators with the support of their spouse.

Typically women in Australia have rarely found employment in the building and construction industry. In 2011, women comprised 11.7% of the industry workforce (ABS, 2012). While there has been some movement since the 1980s with young women entering trade occupations, these tend to be women with existing family connections to the industry with the benefit of robust mentoring (Dee & Cowling, 2011; Fielden et al, 2000). Nevertheless, women still constitute less than two per cent of tradespeople in the Australian building and construction industry (ABS. 2012). Larger firms in Australia are more likely to appoint women. In recent times Australian women have increasingly found employment in managerial and executive roles in the industry, such as in site management and project design in larger enterprises (Fielden et al, 2000).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Occupational Segregation: Where groups are segregated into occupations on the basis of physical or ascribed characteristics not related to the work performed- in this case, gender.

Non-Positivist Grounded Theory: Readers can investigate detailed technical explanations of this approach. In short, this research is not driven by a hypothesis invested by the researcher, but by concepts and problems identified and prioritised by the individuals and groups researched.

Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs): Businesses firms or enterprises operating in an industry with 20 or fewer employees, frequently family based. This group also includes micro-businesses- with just one full time employee and the support of a co-preneur.

Gender Role Stereotyping: Where roles are ascribed based on gendered assumptions of capacity and interest, for example, women in nurturing roles, home making, food preparation; men in roles involving physical exertion, strength and leadership.

Executive Managerial and Administrative Roles (EMA): Occupations not directly involved with construction activity performing clerical, decision-making and administrative functions.

Trade Occupations: In this chapter, ‘trade occupations’ refers specifically to building and construction related trades with formal qualifications, including but not limited to carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and Painters/ decorators.

Glass Ceiling: Experienced by women seeking to advance their careers who for no rational reason are unable to progress. The glass ceiling is not visible so difficult to challenge and the sought location is clearly visible, but unattainable. The concept of the glass ceiling proposes that this is because of gendered assumptions about capacity and motivation.

Co-Preneur: Business partners who are in their role by virtue of their familial relationship, usually spouse, sibling, parent or child. These are usually women with remuneration ranging from none to full partnership in the enterprise.

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