The strength of women in construction is 'underestimated'

It's harder for a woman to prove herself in the workplace TJ Daly told attendees at a National Women in Construction ...
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It's harder for a woman to prove herself in the workplace TJ Daly told attendees at a National Women in Construction conference.

Pay equity was high on the agenda at a National Women in Construction forum held in Christchurch as new evidence confirmed men are paid 12.7 per cent more than women on average.

The 120 seats were sold out and organisers will hold a second conference on March 29.

The forum coincided with the release of a pay equity report, prompting deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett to challenge businesses to carry out gender pay audits and publish them.

Nicole Rosie chief executive of WorkSafe talking about her journey at a conference for women in construction held in ...
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Nicole Rosie chief executive of WorkSafe talking about her journey at a conference for women in construction held in Christchurch.

The stories of individual women at the conference reflected how women were routinely passed over for skilled work, pay and promotion, rather than accounts of overt sexual harassment.

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Polly Bysterveld outlined how young men entering the work force enjoyed swifter promotions compared with her years of experience as a straddle crane driver at Lyttelton Port.

TJ Daly talked about working for Newfield Roofing, and sometimes being approached by would-be suitors for her phone number.

She raised laughs when she said one of her techniques was to give them her father's number.

Daly felt her employer really appreciated her when she received a pay rise after six months.

"Sometimes men in the workplace can be really grumpy and competitive and women can bring some happiness, they create a different atmosphere.

"They also underestimate how strong women are. I found I had to prove myself to get the trust of men. They'd get me to do smaller jobs rather than working on the tools," Daly said.  

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The common theme was a desire to be treated with respect and equality - centrefold calendars in smoko rooms were no longer acceptable, a speaker said. 

Hygiene was another "huge" area where men needed to lift their game especially around toilet areas.

Women in Canterbury make up 17 per cent of construction workers compared with 13 per cent nationally.

There was also discussion about how senior women in business can be more supportive role models.

E tu representative Susan Stewart highlighted a pending Appeal Court ruling involving care workers, potentially affecting 35,00 care workers who receive minimal payments.

She said the pay of predominantly female care workers was $14.60 an hour compared with the starting rate of comparable prison officer work at $26 an hour.

During a panel discussion followed by questions, Jacqui Bensemann managing director of Argus Fire Protection acknowledged she had not audited her company's pay by gender but believed her staff were paid equally for equal work.

Nicole Rosie chief executive of WorkSafe advised taking part in mentoring programmes in response to questions about about ways women could advance their businesses to a higher level.  

Sponsors included the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation which has launched a three-year research project to get more women into trades. 

"With $178 billion of work forecast for the next five years, the strong demand for skilled workers in the construction and engineering trades is unquestionable," BCITO chief executive Warwick Quinn said.

"Our traditional workforce pools are not large enough to meet the demand so we must diversify our approach," Quinn said.

Diversity Works NZ chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie pointed to ANZ Bank as a business with gender policies and personal commitment to gender balance from ANZ executives. Another was law firm MinterEllisonRuddWatts, she said.

The Christchurch conference and governmental initiatives took place against the background of International Women's Day.

 - Stuff

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