Call to build equality into built environment policy

The Australian Institute of Architects is calling on all states and territories to adopt formal policies that better engage women in the construction industry.

National President, Tony Giannone, commended the Victorian Government for leading the way with their Building Equality Policy (BEP) which came into effect at the beginning of this year.

“Gender equity remains a major issue in Australia, and in the building and construction industry in particular,” Mr Giannone said.

“The latest data released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency today is particularly sobering.

“The gender pay gap remains significant with women earning $7.72 for every $10 paid to men, and women being paid on average $25,800 less than men. This gap narrowed by only 0.5% in the past 12 months, a rate of change that is wholly unacceptable.

“Construction continues to be a male-dominated industry, with women making up only one-quarter of the workforce.

“Both the public and private sectors need to redouble their efforts to improve equity in an enduring way.

“Formalising gender quality policies for the built environment is a concrete action state and territory governments can take to drive change and demonstrate the leadership that is so urgently required.”

The Institute’s National Committee for Gender Equity (NCGE) analysed the policy highlighting that the Victorian Government’s Building Equality Policy (BEP) implements onsite and apprentice-trainee quotas, as well as a requirement for suppliers to develop Gender Equality Action Plans. Such stipulations will help prompt change to the deeply ingrained status quo of construction culture in an ongoing way.

“We look forward to the outcomes of this policy improving equity and participation,” Mr Giannone said.

Victoria’s policy will apply to all publicly-funded construction projects in the state of $20 million or more, and contractors will need to monitor full supply chains.

“It is encouraging to see government recognise and leverage the procurement process to drive change; however, it will be important that it is not only government-funded projects and large construction companies that benefit from these new requirements,” Mr Giannone said.

“The Institute hopes that opportunities the BEP creates will quickly manifest in private and smaller public projects too. We envisage that this will require greater commitment and involvement by architects, and intend to work and consult with groups within the construction industry that represent women to aid the development of a register of Gender-Conscious Contractors.”

Precursors to the BEP include Victoria’s Gender Equality Act 2020, and Women in Construction Strategy 2019-22. Policy compliance will be committed to in the tender process and monitored through an arm of the government’s Social Procurement Framework.

Victorian Treasurer and Minister for Economic Development and Industrial Relations, Tim Pallas MP, said: “As Victoria’s economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic we must not go back to the way things were. The pandemic has taught us that workplaces can adapt and change, and this policy will help us use the recovery to improve conditions for women in construction.”

The Institute acknowledges the significant work already undertaken to prepare the BEP, which sets out an overall structure for implementation, but also notes that the method of evaluating outcomes is not yet fully defined and will be crucial to its successful implementation. The BEP’s specified quota percentages are low, requiring an annual review to keep pressure on industry to lift these as quickly as possible.

Importantly, the BEP recognises problems around retaining women and puts the onus on participating suppliers to develop and implement meaningful action plans. Besides well-documented sexism in the industry, long and inflexible work hours are at the root of barriers women face to stay in construction. Versions of the same problems resonate through related practices in consultancy and architecture. Through the NCGE, the Institute is working to raise awareness of these issues in the architectural profession, and support gender equality in all construction-related work areas.

The NCGE will be advocating for all states and territories to adopt similar gender equity policies in our local chapters through submissions to state and territory governments. If you would like to contribute to the submission please send any comments through to Beata Davey policy@architecture.com.au 

References and additional reading

Pre-policy strategic work is described here: https://www.vic.gov.au/victorias-women-construction-strategy

Information about Victoria’s Gender Equality Act 2020 can be found here: https://www.genderequalitycommission.vic.gov.au/about-gender-equality-act-2020

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-17/women-in-construction-goverment-can-do-more/10382932

https://infrastructuremagazine.com.au/2021/12/07/new-gender-equality-policy-for-the-construction-industry/ 

https://roadsonline.com.au/new-vic-gov-policy-to-drive-industry-equality/