Women in Trade: Smashing Gender Norms

Last updated at: 2020-08-15

If someone asked you to describe a typical tradie, you’d probably describe a bloke and while there are more men in the industry, many women tradies are paving the way for other young women aspiring to get a trade.

These women are breaking down stereotypes and gender norms proving that their gender doesn’t inhibit their ability to do a good job onsite.

In this blog, we chat with three women tradies about their experiences on the job, the challenges they face, and their career highlights.

Leanne, Apprentice Electrician

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you like to do in your free time? How did you decide that you wanted to become an electrician?

A. I’m a 31-year-old adult apprentice in my second year as an electrician. I've always been interested in how things work, and I believe there is a bright future in the electrical trade.

In my free time, I enjoy camping, beach walks with my dog and generally being outdoors.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you?

A. I get up at 4:30am and work from 6:00am until 2:30pm then when I get home, I'll look after my veggie garden, hit the gym and sometimes I'll play some Xbox if time allows.

Q.  What role does social media play in your work?

A. Social media plays a massive part in my day, due to confidentiality rules I don't get to post anything about my day job but when I get to do work experience in the domestic field, I always grab a couple of photos.

I believe it's a fantastic tool to learn and upskill and also connect with like-minded tradies and businesses.

Q. What challenges do you face within the workplace?

A. Being the only lady onsite can always come with its setbacks, but I don't let them get me down. My workplace is super supportive, and all the team is happy to help me and train me.

Q. What's your proudest career moment as an electrician?

A. I've got too many to mention! It's the little things that when you finish a week on the job, and you realise all the little things you've learnt and retained

Q.  What advice do you have for other women looking to get into the industry?

A. Don't stop pursuing your dreams. A trade is an amazing job. Your gender doesn't determine if you can or can't do a job. Go out there and show them you belong.

Danie, Heavy Vehicle Mechanic

Q.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you like to do in your free time? How did you decide that you wanted to become a heavy vehicle mechanic?

A. My name is Danie I am 27 and I grew up in Mackay, QLD.

My free time is spent working on my vehicles and keeping my dog Mars entertained.

I originally realised I wanted to be a mechanic when I got my first 4WD and I started doing little jobs on it myself, like swivel hubs, servicing, etc. When I installed my front locker following installing instructions, I realised how much I enjoyed it and started looking for a job.

Q. Can you explain a little more about how a heavy vehicle mechanic is different from a mechanic? Is it a specialist area? Does it take longer to learn?

A. A heavy vehicle mechanic is trucks whereas a light vehicle mechanic is cars. The difference is mainly the competencies are aimed more at larger equipment, you have larger torque specs, lifting devices to understand.

I work on several pieces of equipment; MAN trucks, Generators, Earth-moving equipment, Aircraft Loaders, etc.

Doing my certificate through Defence I completed my trade in 3 years as opposed to the normal time of 4 years.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you?

A. My typical day starts at 0730. We have set jobs for each day and time-frames which they need to be done by. We are lucky enough to have allotted work time to go exercise.

Knock off is 1630 and I go to my other job where I work casually at an auto fabrication shop. Then maybe get a few jobs done on my car and take the dog to the park before heading home.

Q.  What role does social media play in your work?

A. My social media is all built around my hobbies and spare time. I mainly share what I am doing to my car, travels, camping, 4wding, etc.

My job has definitely given me the confidence to be able to do mechanical style YouTube videos.

Q. What challenges do you face within the workplace?

A. Challenges for myself have mainly always just been my strength. I am quite small and certainly not nearly as capable as some of the other mechanics when it comes to man-handling large components or cracking a tight bolt.

Heavy vehicle wheel studs all need to be torqued to quite a large setting which again isn’t achievable for me. Luckily, I work with a great group of people and we all help out and there are many tooling and machines these days to assist and make the job easier.

Q. What's your proudest career moment as a heavy vehicle mechanic?

A. My proudest day was the day I completed my logbook. It's just such an amazing feeling to complete something that you set your mind on all those years ago and it’s something that you have a passion for.

Q.  What advice do you have for other women looking to get into the industry?

A. My advice would be to get out to local shops and ask if you can help out for a few days. Or look up organisations that offer work experience. It’s the best way to start getting an idea of the industry first-hand and decide if it is something you would enjoy.

Another great piece of advice is to purchase your own vehicle and start off doing basic jobs, read the workshop manual and if possible, get someone experienced to help. There’s no better feeling than working on your own vehicle and being able to enjoy it afterwards.

Chelsea, Carpenter

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you like to do in your free time? How did you decide that you wanted to deviate from your graphic design career and become a carpenter?

A. So, I’m Chelsea, 26 and live in Queenstown. I’m a keen adventurer, photographer and lover of all food.

I love to try to get up the mountains in the winter to go snowboarding and hit the trails with the mountain bike in summer. and I’ll always have my camera with me when I have the chance.

My partner and I are beginning to build our own home, this is now what consumes all of our free time. This was also one of the reasons I chose to leave my career in Graphic Design. After becoming qualified and spending 7 years in the industry I found that the job wasn’t going anywhere. The pay was average and sitting behind a desk all day can get pretty boring.

We always wanted to own our own home, and the only way to do this was to build it ourselves. So, I decided to leave design in exchange for carpentry so that I could actually help build the house and have knowledge of what I’m doing. Plus, the pay was better! I’m outdoors and always something different to do every day.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you?

A. Most days I’ll get to work at either 8am in winter, as its rather dark in the mornings, or 7.30am in the summer.

Depending on the task, I will get on with what I was doing the previous day, or I’ll wait 'til my foreman arrives to see what needs to be done next.

We have Morning tea (smoko) at 10am for 30 min and then lunch at 2pm for another 30 min.

The hardest part is going back to work after lunch. We finish at 5 or 5.30pm depending on what we’re doing. Some evenings we will just work until the job we're doing is done.

Q. What role does social media play in your work?

A. I decided to start sharing my work on social media to make females in trades visible. To make it acceptable I guess.

The younger generation has grown up with social media, whereas I guess I grew up with magazines and newspapers. I looked to social media to help me make my decision to take up a trade, I just wanted to see another female doing it so that then I could say, “okay cool she’s doing it so I can too,” but I never found it, so I decided I would be that female I wanted to see when I was making my decision.

The feedback I’ve received from employers and employees reminds me often as to why I started my page, and all the people I’ve helped.

Q. What challenges do you face within the workplace?

A. I don’t really have too many challenges to do with being female, which you’d expect. The only challenges I face are self-doubt and comparing myself to others. It’s bad when you work with people who have so much experience every day, and you constantly compare yourself to them. It’s ended in tears a few times, but I just have to chill and realise the person I’m working with often has 10 years’ experience on me and I’ll get there one day.

Q. What's your proudest career moment as a carpenter?

A. So many! Learning a new skill makes me proud, but I guess it would have been when I was a 1st-year apprentice and I was helping out on a multi million-dollar build in town for another company. My brother (who I was working with) was away one day and the owner of the builder running the job gave me 2 Mortise door locks to install…. on a cedar front door. Cedar doors are VERY expensive, I had no room for error and was terrified. Even though I probably took WAYYYY too long, I got them done and they turned out great!

Q. What advice do you have for other women looking to get into the industry?

A. This is something I tell everyone… just do it, don’t feel like you have to follow the trend and go to university, or feel as though you are too old, or too weak to take on a trade.

Stand out, be different and do what YOU want to do. I’ve done both, I’ve been to university and worked in an office because I was too scared to do carpentry, thinking it’s a guy’s job, girls don’t do building. It turns out, careers don’t have genders, they’re for EVERYONE and everyone can do it.