In honour of International Women's Day, we're switching compensation rights for workplace rights and celebrating women who #beboldforchange in the workplace. Even though the total workforce in Australia is made up of close to 50/50 male and female workers, there are still a lot of jobs where it's rare to see a female employed.
The women we've interviewed work in job sectors that have some of the lowest reported numbers of females working in them. They've worked hard to change perceptions, prove themselves in their roles, and even educate others on how to succeed.
"When I first started I kept getting asked if I was the new receptionist or cleaner"
I've been working as a Mobile Plant Operator on a mine site in Far North Queensland for 5 years now and I'm one of only two women who works on site driving 600 tonne trucks.
I first got into mining as my Dad has been in the industry for over 35 years, so he was a major influence. When I first told him I wanted to work in the mines he was really concerned and worried because historically, there have been lots of challenges for women in the industry.
I had an awareness of the culture from living in mining towns growing up but my first impression still shocked me. I remember being overwhelmed and thinking, 'I don't belong here, this is a mistake'. I kept getting asked if I was the new receptionist or cleaner - no one assumed I was in the pit - but luckily I got a good crew where half of them treated me like their daughter.
The biggest challenge was when the male-dominated environment started having an affect on my health. I wanted to be on an overburden circuit - moving dirt instead of coal - but to be on the circuit you had to be a good truckie and not hold the circuit up. Being a woman, I couldn't 'just go' to the bathroom anywhere, I had to leave the circuit which took much longer and some of the older men on site didn't agree with it. I was told to 'just deal with it' and hold on - so I did. It ended up having painful affects on my body. I wasn't going to leave the job I wanted to do so I ended up having to talk to management to change the expectations on the site.
Having the opportunity to work in the mines is one I don't take lightly and I'm very lucky very mining has given me the opportunity to grow in a male dominated industry.
"I still remember the shock on people's faces when they discovered that the engineer, site manager, regional manager and department head was a female."
When people told me that women couldn't be engineers I didn't hear the negative extension to the word 'could'. When I asked for careers advice my girls school didn't have any information on engineering so they told me to spend three years doing mathematics and the "if you still want to do engineering" I could study another three years after that.
In the 1970s before the internet I researched and found university courses that would accept female undergraduates and even, much to my teachers' disgust, companies that were willing to hire women as engineers and even one that was willing to sponsor me through university and guarantee that I would get experience in my chosen field of construction management.
I was a 'dirty boots' engineer for ten years before rising into management. I still remember the shock on people's faces when they discovered that the engineer, site manager, regional manager and department head was a female. I also remember how quickly people forgot my gender and relaxed; results are more important than body shape!
As an executive I experienced international placements, met my husband in Madrid and eventually moved to Australia. Engineering opens doors and proves that you have practical intelligence. It is a great career for women who like to see the results of their work in tangible form and who want to make a major difference to the society they inhabit.
"Some of our staff, even my husband to some degree, doubted my capabilities and vision for the company"
I am the proud owner and CEO of Australian Innovative Systems (AIS), a company that designs and manufactures water disinfection technology and chlorine generators for commercial and residential swimming pools. The water disinfection industry is a traditionally male dominated one but I’m changing that, one woman at a time!
I have worked hard to be recognised for my contribution to the company and our industry. I first arrived in Australia as a university educated Russian immigrant who previously worked in the entertainment industry.
After my husband and I bought AIS, I immediately saw opportunities to grow the business however my limited English language skills and technical knowledge about the business meant that it was difficult to put them into action. I decided to embark on further studies, learning advanced English, gaining a Diploma in Business at TAFE and then a Bachelor of Business (Accounting) at QUT. I then immersed myself in understanding the science of water disinfection.
When I first started at AIS some of our customers would assume I was simply ‘the boss’s wife’ or the receptionist. Some of our staff, even my husband to some degree, doubted my capabilities and vision for the company. Many found it hard to believe that an immigrant could successfully swap a career in the ‘arts’ for ‘smarts’ and lead our company from the 3-staff operation it was to the 50+ staff multi-million-dollar success story it is today.
As a female CEO, I want to help other women succeed. I network and collaborate with women, champion gender equality, speak at events, mentor others and give back to my community through various board and not-for-profit roles. In 2016 I raised over $23,000 for Women’s Legal Service Queensland, as part of Dancing CEOs, to help women and their children escape domestic and family violence. I want to inspire other women to achieve their dreams.
"I was one of the 0.0012% of female registered builders in the State of Victoria"
I am a female builder and director of a residential construction company, a property developer and a mentor. I am also one of the 0.0012% of female registered builders in the State of Victoria.
As a female in a male dominated industry, there was only one thing on my mind - I was not allowed to fail. I felt like I would let down my female counterparts if I did.
Despite the portrayal, the private sector was more forthcoming that I was a young, female builder while the public sector was not so accepting and the greatest challenges were found in fighting for my license rights. In fact, I was supported more by private businesses than the Government Building Commission.
I didn't even realise there was a need for females in the industry until I started and now I commit my time to mentoring and teaching others how to succeed in the building industry.
My greatest reward is working with the female home owners who resonate with me and helping them understand building a home doesn't have to be scary and that the 'big bad builder' is a myth!
"I was asked to get them stationary, coffees and take their notes"
When I was about 21 years old, I managed to gain new employment with a highly respected brand in the IT&T industry as an Account Manager. My role as an Account Manager at that time was to provide solutions to enterprise and government clients. As I looked around the office during my first few days, I quickly noticed all of my peers were all middle-aged, white males.
I remember that whilst starting off in that job confident and ready to take on the world, it wasn’t long before that confidence was completely shut down. That had nothing to do with my ability to do my job, I was performing at a high standard, but it was how I was treated by my peers. Even though I was on the same level as my middle-aged, male counterparts, I was asked to get them stationary, coffees and take their notes. Completely treated like their assistant. I wish I had pushed back more on those situations.
It wasn’t until one day, when I was in a meeting with 12 of my male peers and the manager asked me to take the minutes for that meeting. Something inside of me made me push back. I politely said “I’ve actually got a lot I’d like to contribute to this meeting, would you mind if someone else took the minutes?” It was completely fine, another guy raised his hand and offered.
That was a defining moment for me because I realised that these guys hadn’t been treating me like that to try and put me down, it was completely unconscious. I realised that as a young female, being great at my job wasn’t enough to earn the respect of others. I had to start valuing myself more, speaking up and pushing back when appropriate. I am now a Co-founder & Director Client Engagement Work180 - an organisation that is dedicated to supporting women in the workplace.
Have you struggled to prove yourself in your workplace? Let us know in the comments!