When you spend your childhood playing with wrenches and screw drivers as your dad fixes a burst pipe or a faulty power board, it’s easy to imagine yourself grow up to become a plumber or electrician. But for most girls, the stereotypical norms set by our society makes choosing to become a tradie plagued with more thorns than roses.
Stepping into the man’s world is more about swapping heels for boots. While parents are happy to watch their girls make a doll house, very few of them want their princesses get their hands dirty by going into construction, building or similar trades.
Undoubtedly, it’s an up-hill climb for females! Going after their dreams in the face of little family support, gender pay gap, unequal employment opportunity, discouraging workplace cultures and stereotypical attitudes that define what a woman can or cannot do, all become hurdles in the way!
Amidst all the pains, still there are some super incredible women of strength who refuse to allow their gender define their career paths.
Danielle, from Purple Power Electrical did her HSC physics, and decided on a more hands on approach to further education.
“I still love being a tradie because I love the sense of pride when things work,” says Danielle.
The sparkie says that as long as you get the work done, most people don't seem to mind your gender as a tradie. “Most people are just impressed to get a tradie out these days.” Surprisingly, for Danielle, it's other women who make the cutting remarks. “I have had bosses in the past that were not supportive of me, but I now choose to surround myself with other tradies who do support me.”
For Danielle the biggest challenge is still knocking on people's doors when she hasn’t booked the job as this gives them a bit of a surprise. On other days, it’s getting some others to acknowledge her opinions on the work at hand.
For Carlie, former tradie at Shailer Park Plumbing and currently working as a Plumbing Inspector at the Brisbane City Council, the mere fact that so much work still needs to be done to change the thinking of younger generation when it comes to women in trades, keeps her motivated to go on.
“Parents, School Teachers, TV, Books are just some of the few channels that need to change their perception and allow the younger generation to pursue their dreams,” says Carlie.
Over the years, this perception has made it hard for Carlie to try to prove her metal, both as a plumber as well as an inspector, despite being as good as her male counterparts.
Having said that, there are some big positives for female tradies that cannot be overlooked.
“When I was on the tools a lot of our maintenance jobs came in because they knew the company had a female tradie. They felt more comfortable knowing it was a female attending, trust was another big one, certain nationalities would engage us to do work because of their religion/beliefs,” Carlie admits.
A fully qualified, licensed and insured Carpenter, with nearly 2 decades of experience, Hayley runs her own business “The Chippy Lady Tradie” and knows only too well what it’s like to compete in a man’s world.
“The biggest challenge for me is working with some men who believe that a female tradesperson will never be as good as a male or that we should have to work harder to prove ourselves,” says Hayley.
Luckily, Hayley didn’t have a tough time getting the job. “I think as long as the work gets done, they (employer) don’t care if you are a man or a woman. It’s great to see the industry getting out there and actively supporting women in non-traditional roles and for some companies to be working towards a 50/50 work force.”
Hayley always liked doing manual arts in high school but never considered it a career until she got a job as an office junior that helped her realise that’s not what she wanted from her life!
The Chippy is currently enjoying a steady growth in her customers, who frequently tell her that they are glad they have finally started to see some women in trades too!
Running her own tradie business, Southside Professional Painting in Melbourne, Mel was offered a painting apprenticeship by her own dad.
Now, fully qualified with over 10 years of experience, Mel takes great pride in her abilities, which are nothing less than what her male counterparts would deliver.
“Sometimes there is an element of surprise when people see your skills as a trades woman which can sometimes be offensive but it can also give a sense of satisfaction knowing that you are more than capable as a trades person.”
Mel believes that when it comes to hiring female tradies, there is an element of trust that comes into play, especially in regards to elderly people or single women. “Females are entrusted more so within people’s homes and that at times can pay slightly more attention to detail and work with integrity.”
Apart from using the same toilet, Mel’s biggest challenge in this male dominated field is to find workwear that fits!
Initially enticed by pies and iced coffees for morning tea, Mel now enjoys transforming people’s homes reflecting their personal touch with paint selection and application.
Second year electrical apprentice, Sarah found the motivation from her partner Jen who runs her own electrical company, Point to Point Electrical.
“Learning new things and doing things I would never have pictured myself doing is what motivates me now. We are still building our company but we are both loving it despite some days being harder than others,” says Sarah.
Despite being quite muscly for a female, Sarah says, sometimes it’s frustrating to need help lifting something that she can see a guy just pick up one handed. But the sparky uses this frustration as a point to motivate herself to hit the gym.
Being an apprentice, Sarah’s exposure in this male dominated profession has been somewhat limited, but the men she has worked with have been very supportive. “If anything, people are more surprised that we are running our own company than us being electricians.”
Nonetheless, Sarah and Jen have encountered people, mostly older men who have a trade background, who have been cautious and asked what qualifications the girls had and would ask step by step of what they were going to do.
When Norma was young, she remembers people telling her that girls can’t be handyperson. However, as an outdoor person who loves to fix things and get her hands dirty, as she grew older, Norma’s passion became so strong that she left her office job and entered the industry without a second thought!
“I wish I had done it 15 years earlier!” Norma says.
Now the owner of Handywoman and Lawn Maintenance business, Ms Fixit, the tradie believes that the industry’s perception of women in trades has improved, but not as much as she would have liked.
“I'm still one of very few women in Bunnings buying materials. However, now there are a few, 10 years ago, none!” The reason? “A woman has to prove ability with photo or physical examples. Male tradies question or doubt the work quality until they see it,” says Norma.
On the customers’ end however, the picture is not that bad. “Some clients think it's great and envisage attention to detail and a great cleanup at the end from a female tradie. Some clients think only a man would have the tools or strength to complete the job properly. The good news is, so many single women/mums prefer having a female tradie. They feel more comfortable.”
Female tradies are breaking more stereotypes than we can imagine! While a lot still needs to be done in terms of public perception, workplace gender equality and government support to help women tradies level the playing field with their male counterparts, we can already see that nothing is stopping these super women on the tools from achieving their dreams!
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