Breaking through barriers

The outlook for women in the residential building industry looks bright, and HIA is working towards their future.


Kate Veteri

If there’s one thing award-winning journalist and talkback radio host Erin Molan knows about, it’s achieving greatness in a male-dominated environment. 

That is exactly why Erin was selected to be the keynote speaker at a HIA Building Women Luncheon in Sydney earlier this year. In front of more than 80 industry professionals she shared stories about the obstacles she has faced, heart-warming anecdotes on her experiences, and keys to breaking through barriers.

‘Erin represented exactly the kind of message we wanted to share – that there’s a need to support and empower women in the workplace, especially in industries where men have often been more heavily represented,’ says Alicia Owen, HIA Senior Event Coordinator.

‘Even better, she stayed and chatted with individuals about their own journey. It was clear that everyone who attended was passionate about mentorship and learning from other women, so it was great to see many left feeling elated.’ 

Erin Molan women in building keynote speaker
Award-winning journalist and talkback radio host Erin Molan
women in building
HIA Building Women Luncheon in Sydney

The luncheon was just one of numerous events of its kind held throughout 2019 as part of HIA’s Building Women program. This initiative offers a range of different opportunities across Australia for women to be recognised, inspired and to build their networks. Events were held in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Launceston and Adelaide, and brought together women working in the industry, or aspiring to make our industry part of their long-term future. Guest speakers on the day provided insights on building their own careers, providing attendees with some pointers and renewed motivation.

Queensland in particular continued its celebration of women in industry, hosting for the fifth consecutive year the HIA Recognition of Women in Building & Construction Awards on 2 August. The event has grown in popularity year-on-year and saw a record number of entrant applications. 

HIA Executive Director QLD Michael Roberts congratulated Chantel Kisten, national operations manager for Steel-Line Garage Doors, on winning the top award for 2019: HIA Professional Woman of the Year.

‘She is a tremendous example of what women can achieve in what is still a very male-dominated industry,’ Michael says.

Chantal Kisten women in building

'[Chantal] a tremendous example of what women can achieve

in what is still a very male-dominated industry'

Chantal Kisten, 2019 HIA Professional Woman of the Year

These awards – in addition to the 20 years of acknowledging the efforts of business partners to residential building – are just some examples of the long tradition HIA has of supporting women in building. As far back as 1995, HOUSING recognised five women in residential construction, who at the time showed stamina and drive in the heavily male-dominated workplace. One of the featured women even noted that she was one of only six to obtain a full builder’s licence in her state that year – compared to over 20,000 men. 

The HIA Building Women program provides the Association with an avenue to support women working in every part of the residential building industry – onsite and off-site. Looking to 2020 and beyond, HIA aims to ensure that women continue to see a future in the industry and to provide opportunities for education, mentoring and networking. 

‘Broadly speaking, supporting diversity and minimising adversity has always been at the heart of HIA’s direction for the residential building industry,’ says Kristin Brookfield, HIA Chief Executive Industry Policy. 

‘From supporting HIA Apprentices of all ages to empowering women, HIA hopes to open up opportunities to many more future participants and leaders.’

women in building and construction awards
Award recipients from the 2019 HIA QLD Recognition of Women in Building & Construction Awards. Back Row (L–R): Julianna Davis (for Diane Gaffney), Patricia Mackie-Smith, Jenna McGregor, Melissa Ayre, Fiona Luckey. Front Row (L–R): Ezra Finch, Kai-Lee Incognito, Chantal Kisten, Jessica Dippel. Absent Debra Randall.
NSW business partners women in building
L–R: Amanda Baddock (2018), Merylese Mercieca (2016) and Amy Thackeray (2017) NSW Business Partner Award winners.

On the subject of gender diversity, the numbers paint a picture of a ‘work in progress’. While women represent 46 per cent of the general Australian workforce only 12 per cent are engaged in the construction workforce. That in itself is a reason to look for solutions to what may deter some from entering or deciding to remain in the industry. 

From an educational perspective knowledge is shown to be a vital part of influencing career development. By providing specifically curated educational opportunities, guidance and messages HIA hopes to broaden the scope for women currently in, or looking to become, part of the housing industry.

HIA will continue to identify role models, and showcase their diverse backgrounds and experiences to support and inspire those who are ‘up and coming’. Networking is a proven way to provide an outlet for members to support one another, share solutions to common problems and provide confidence to grow women’s involvement in the industry.

So, get involved. If you are a woman currently working in, or thinking about joining the residential building industry, reach out to HIA to help you build your career.

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