WHAT do you think of when you imagine a work site? A rally of sweaty men wolf whistling at every woman that walks by while shovelling a Four’n Twenty down for smoko?
In most cases, you might be right.
But there’s a change approaching for trade workers over Australia and that involves manicured fingernails, pre-packed, healthy lunches and a woman’s way of thinking.
Fear not. This isn’t an oestrogen takeover. But it is a sign of challenge against stereotypical ‘gender-assuming’ occupations.
At first glance you wouldn’t think Tai Emery works with a dozen men on an inner city train line. But that’s exactly what this twenty-six-year-old Brisbane electrician does for a living. “I love my trade,” Tai said. “It takes people by surprise and I’ll never get sick of that,” she said.
And this isn’t a rare case. Both women and men are fast moving into non-traditional roles across various sectors. The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia revealed that in 2012 the number of male nurses grew from 23,000 to 28,000 in just five months.
Despite the stereotype, 27-year-old nurse Chris Ball hasn’t experienced any discouragement in his four years of nursing. “I would say being a male is more of an advantage,” Chris said. “Men don’t stress as much over grief from patients and there’s definitely times when we get more respect from surgeons in the operating theatre,” he said.
This occupational evolution shows how far Australian workers are pushing themselves out of their passion for the job.
“I have to be my own role model in my trade because there are hardly any women in my workplace,” Tai Emery said. “I have to have enough strength to get the job done and not worry about copping shit for being a girl,” she said.
The Australian Labour Force has seen the number of women workers jump from 34 per cent in 1961 to 65 per cent in 2012 as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Strenuous physical labor and facing ‘gender judgement’ are just some of the challenges that women in the blue-collar industry are facing.
“It’s far from easy,” Tai said. “I’ve been laughed at and made fun of, had doors slammed in my face and been criticised for the way I use a hammer,” she said. But despite this reaction, Tai has been in her trade for nine years and has worked for organisations like Queensland Rail and the Brisbane Lions Football Club.
Working to strengthen equality for men and women in the workplace is the Gender Equality Agency. Last year the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 replaced the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999. Now the legislation promotes issues like bridging the gap in wages, abolition of discrimination and encouragement of full participation.
Nevertheless, male nurse Chris Ball says there are some issues that are irrelevant to gender. “Things like trauma and death affect everyone differently as individuals,” he said. “Other men in particular occasionally find my profession unusual but once they understand the work I do their opinion soon changes,” he said.
The Workplace Gender Equality Act reports that in 2012 women still earn almost 18 per cent less than men and that women’s superannuation payments are 43 per cent less than their male counter-parts. “There’s heaps of contrast between men and women in the trade industry,” Tai Emery said. “But for me it just took a bit of time and effort and I was respected,” she said.
Whether you agree with gender equality in the workplace or not, there’s no denying that men and women in non-traditional jobs have an interesting role to play. Whether it’s an elderly woman artfully grabbing the bum of a male nurse, or having to convince your clients that you’re their (female) electrician here to do the job, this is evolution at its greatest.
“I believe that if you’re competent and can do the job, then gender shouldn’t be an issue,” Chris Ball said.
The Australian Human Resource Institute’s Diversity Awards Program recognises the growing focus on the importance of diversity in Australian organisations and will be held in Sydney on Thursday June 27.