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Denita Wawn interview with Matt Stevens, ABC Riverland


Event: Denita Wawn interview with Matt Stevens, ABC Riverland
Date: Monday, 6 February 2023, 8.35am ACDT
Speakers: Matt Stevens, host ABC Riverland; Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Women Building Australia, female participation, building and construction; labour market shortages

Matt Stevens, host ABC Riverland: It might be 2023 but there is still a lot of jobs and industries that are dominated by men. So, when women do take on these roles it’s important that they get the right support in order to succeed. Master Builders Australia are promoting and supporting a mentorship program for women working in the building industry. Denita Wawn is the chief executive officer at Master Builders Australia. Morning Denita.

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning, Matt.

Matt: So how many women are currently registered with Master Builders Australia?

Denita: Well, we don’t have enough in the workforce and in the industry. We’ve only got about two per cent of the trade workforce are women and around 12 per cent of our total workforce are women. The Women Building Australia program is now in its fourth year. In part that includes the mentoring program. We do about 100 pairs each year to support new entrants into the industry so that we can provide them with confidence and the skills to hopefully have a long-term career in the industry.

Matt: Is there a stigma associated with this? Is that one of the big problems that you’ve had? I mean over a four-year period of having this program to try and get more women interest in enjoying Master Builders?

Denita: Yeah, there’s certainly an issue around the fact that women have had a perception that they are not welcome into the building industry that is not correct but it’s been there for a long period of time. We as an industry need to encourage more women. Make sure when we do have women working with us that we’re providing conditions that ensure that they feel comfortable. And pretty simple things like two portaloos rather than one on a building site. And so there are issues there that we need to address as an industry but more importantly women need to have the support as they enter the industry. We know how well mentoring has worked across the country in a range of industries. But when you’re dealing with a culture that is changing and is very male dominated then you need those extra support. We started off quite small, but we are now being inundated with interest in our mentoring program which just shows that we’ve been able to develop greater interest over time about entering the industry.

Matt: Denita Wawn is the chief executive officer at Master Builders Australia. So, the mentorship program that you’re talking about, is that available in the Riverland for women who want to get into the building industry?

Denita: Absolutely. It’s available Australia-wide for anyone who has just entered the industry or is going through the process of entering into the industry. We pair people up. If we can’t pair them up with a mentor in the Riverland, we would pair them up with somebody nearby. It’s generally done all online. It’s a great thing now that video conferencing is so easy and provides a link with somebody who will have a similar background but maybe five to 10 years’ experience to help them go through some of the issues that they may confront as they are entering the industry.

Matt: So, what are those issues that you talk about there Denita?

Denita: Well certainly there’s some really simple things. It’s certainly, when I’ve been taught, with women who are the first female on site and their understanding if there are issues is it because they are a female or is it because of other things. And it’s giving them skills and confidence to address some of those challenges before them. It’s the simple things such as raising issues with their employer on things such as toilet facilities and clothing and making sure there’s clothing that’s the right fit. Also things such as more concerning around paternity leave and maternity leave and so forth and pregnancy. So that are the issues that we help our mentees with as they are embracing the industry. And in many instances it generally is not as confronting as they think but it’s rather giving them the confidence to blossom in that new role.

Matt: Denita, why do we need more women in the building industry? Why is this such an important area for Master Builders to be looking at?

Denita: Well it’s a couple of things. First and foremost we’ve got a skills shortage and as such we need to be encouraging anyone in the workforce to look at building as a career rather than just 50 per cent of the potential workforce. So that is important for us that we get the best and the brightest in the country to work for our sector. But it’s also important from a pay equity issue. We are concerned in this country that women are not earning as much as men and in part that is because not enough women work in male dominated industries where pay levels are quite high. We are, on average, one of the highest paying industries in the country and as such there’s opportunities for women to get the skills that enables them to be paid well and also particularly in trades be your own boss and work at a pace that suits you personally.

Matt: So you’ve got the mentorship program there, are there any other ways that you’re planning to attract women to the building industry?

Denita: Yes, we’ve now been running for a number of years our career expos for Women Building Australia. That is very deliberately targeting women entering in the industry. We attend around about 10 to 15 expos a year. We’ve also got our Women Building Australia website that has all the materials that we provide at expos. So if anyone is interested I suggest you look at the Women Building Australia website. We also provide a hotline of advice if people are concerned about discrimination or harassment in the workplace. So that’s another initiative. Another important one of course is providing advice to employers about how they make sure their worksite and their business is ready to attract women and to bring down some of those unconscious biases that have been in the industry over the last few decades.

Matt: Denita Wawn is the chief executive officer at Master Builders Australia. And if I could just change subject finally Denita. Getting a house built has had a long lead time recently. Is that getting any better from Master Builders’ point of view?

Denita: No unfortunately, it’s not. And part of it is because of the skills shortage that we are having. Initially it was around material shortages but now it’s very much around a shortage of people coupled with high demand. We found that in COVID because people didn’t go overseas, they were spending more money on new homes and renovations. And then of course we have had the range of climate challenges in terms of floods and fires which resulted in a huge amount of building as well. Which has meant that we are having significant delays. An average house normally takes around about nine months to build. It’s at least 12 months at the moment. We’d like to see that brought down and some of those costs brought down accordingly. And hence the reason we are promoting people to enter the industry but also focusing on how we can attract more skilled workers into the country to relieve that shortfall.

Matt: Denita, great to chat. Thanks so much for your time.

Denita: Pleasure, thank you Matt.

Media contact:
Dee Zegarac
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
0400 493 071

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