“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me.” — Ayn Rand
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2016, women represented 12 % of the workforce in Construction which is a decrease from the 17% in 2006. According to another ABS report in 2012, women represented 14% of staff, with most senior management and operational roles dominated by men while women constituted of junior and administrative roles.
Although traditionally a male-dominated industry, the Victorian Government is committed to achieving gender equality in the workplace. Tim Pallas, MP, Minister of Industrial Relations, says, “The Victorian Government has promised to close the gender pay gap and we know that boosting the number of women in traditionally male-dominated industries is key to achieving this. That is why the government has funded the development of Building Gender Equality: Victoria’s Women in Construction Strategy 2019-2022. We need to make women aware that construction is an attractive and viable career option. Women must be proactively recruited and have access to strong career pathways. Workplaces must be inclusive and adaptive to ensure that women stay in the industry.”
In light of the statistics of women in construction, we talk to two such women who are taking significant steps to “breaking the concrete walls” in their workplace and fighting the fight to make their voices heard and succeeding at it. Meet Belinda Bennett and Jewels Lodewijk from Lodeveld Contracting who are at the helm of key decision making and running the demolition, water treatment, and earthmoving company.
Belinda works as a Project Manager at Lodeveld and her work typically encompasses setting up pre-demolishment work, client engagement, sub-contractor engagement, acquiring permits, and everything in between. While Jewels takes care of the compliance and policies and day-to-day problem solving, “Although at first, I felt a familial obligation because it’s my family company, soon I realised that I have a strong interest in engineering, the environment, earthmoving, and hydrology which aligns with the company values.”
Belinda recalls, “I have been in this industry for as long as I remember. My mum had once told me that I work around men all the time and she was concerned about me not being a ‘lady’. I used to work for a building inspection company before I joined Lodeveld 2 years ago. It was unusual at that time for me to show interest in construction, or so to say destruction, and earthmoving, and at the time of joining Lodeveld, I was the first female to be hired with knowledge of the construction industry.”
According to the Randstad Women in Construction Survey the main reasons that deter women from entering the workforce are “bad cultural fit”, unfairly passed over, and being forced to confront discrimination. We ask the girls their experience of working in a full-fledged male work industry. Belinda shares her experience, “Sometimes you may get a bit of pushback from some people. But that is no reason to give up. Jewels reiterates matter-of-factly, “That’s the reality that sometimes you have to go against the grain as you interact with a generation whose views and values about the roles of women can be quite traditional and limiting”. Belinda thinks that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you are a male or a female as long as you are working towards the betterment of the company and the industry as a whole.
“When I joined this industry a long time ago, the ‘blokey bloke male directors’ weren’t sure of my skills and they were doubtful about whether I understood earthmoving and demolition, as well as they did. They were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to represent their company in the way they wanted to sell their business. After so many years I can hear the difference in the attitude of people in the industry. One of my clients called me up and told me “I called you because I know you are the one who knows what’s going on here at all times.” Jewels, deconstructs, “As women, we are effective at our jobs because we are continually seeking new information and continually growing. We are intentional about learning and recognising the need for that to be ongoing. We are always striving to better ourselves, not striving to be better than the men – but to work in unison with them, to gain respect and recognition in the industry as professionals. 98% of CEOS in construction in Australia are men and 88% of top management are men. As women we do not just have to recognise the opportunity and need to be engaged but to be more overtly intentional about growing. We can multi-task, we are proactive and we plan structures and processes which seek to impact mental health positively.”
Lodeveld Contracting Pty Ltd currently has 30% women working and the management hopes to build that up to an equal ratio in the future by intentionally seeking opportunities for women to enter the company.
There is good news for women looking at a blue-collar job because when we asked the ladies about the pay gap for women in the industry, they both reiterate in unison that this does not exist within their company – though it may continue to exist in the broader industry. Jewels says, “It is the skillset and experience and not the gender that determines the pay at Lodeveld. Although it “may largely depend on the company culture or the size of the company.” Belinda advises, “If I were a woman looking for work, I would call around speaking to people to get a glimpse of how the company is if I am concerned about the behaviour towards women in the workplace.”
As a word of encouragement Jewels says, it is not so much that success will be achieved by women modeling their behaviour on men in order to work in the construction industry. Rather it is that both genders consider what views they may hold and the words they speak can unknowingly adhere to traditional gender stereotypes, and be intentional about challenging where these impede the progress of women within the field. She further adds, “In my family and correspondingly, in our business, we are supported and encouraged to be our best and do our best, regardless of the circumstance. My parents started the company as equal shareholders and equal voices, sharing the vision, decision making, and financial responsibilities. They have encouraged each member of our family, and where applicable by extension our workers, to do the same. It is because gender is not a consideration in our company, that our capacity and voice are as valuable as any other workers. Belinda wears colours every day, where the men see and listen to her not despite all of her colours but because of all her colours. She is free to be herself and is embraced for who she is. We are intentional about collaborative decision-making, and that encourages everyone, regardless of gender, to embrace changes. You don’t need to be one of the boys, you need to be authentic to yourself. We have the ability, adaptability, and skills to undertake our roles successfully in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry. We recognise that this may not always be the same experience for other women in the construction industry, so we are passionate about using this opportunity to promote construction as an aspirational career pathway to women, and as an example to other construction companies for what can, and will be.”
The work-life balance
Juggling between work and life can always be a challenge irrespective of which industry you work in. We ask the ladies if it is any different or more difficult in a high-risk job. Belinda says that she strikes her work-life balance in perfect harmony. When she is not busy making decisions on which site to demolish, she finds comfort in creating. Restoration and upcycling are what she finds most satisfying. The jovial Belinda also indulges in African drumming in her free time and hopes to facilitate a Laughter Therapy Group in the future. While Jewels loves learning, when she isn’t working, she is busy strengthening her knowledge in areas of hydraulics, water management, agriculture, earthmoving, and construction. She also volunteers for a youth health promotion 4WD charity every few weeks. Going by the way these incredible women are going they are doing a fab job in striking a perfect work-life balance.
Being a family-owned business, Jewels is engaged in taking the business forward and promoting Lodeveld as an inclusive, responsible, and equitable workplace. Belinda defied tradition two decades ago to prove her mettle and skills in a male-centric industry. If these women are anything to take inspiration from, we can conclude that the building and construction sector is slowly but surely changing and more women should open up to the idea of entering it.
A Certificate IV in Demolition with Frontier Institute of Technology will help you gain certification and an internship with our partner Lodeveld Contracting, Victoria-based Demolition Specialists in live projects.