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We all have a part to play when it comes to inspiring young girls and women to consider a career in construction. By working together, we can achieve a real change in our society where all career options are considered viable for both boys and girls

Inspire young girls to consider a construction career – By Jenny Parker

Research has shown that girls as young as six are turning away from a career in construction and STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as they believe these occupations are ‘for boys because they are smarter’. We cannot simply stand by and let all that potential just evaporate. How are we going to break this cycle, and who is going to do it?

We are all responsible for breaking down these stereotypes to show young girls that the construction industry is a place where females have successful careers and a sense of belonging. Through our words, actions and examples we can inspire the next generation to live up to their full potential.

I strongly believe that reaching out to young girls from preschool and primary school age is the key to sparking their interest in construction. We need to reach them before they start believing that construction isn’t for them. That’s why NAWIC is focusing more than ever before on connecting with children at a younger age so that we can show boys, girls, their teachers, parents and society as a whole that this is a diverse and exciting industry which welcomes everyone.

Role models

We currently visit a number of primary, intermediate and high schools throughout New Zealand, along with attending career expos and open days. Our members are role models who are passionate about sharing their experiences with young people, and we see students’ eyes light up when a new world of possibilities opens up before them.

However, we need to capture students’ attention at a much younger age, so this year we will connect with preschools to reach girls before they decide that construction is not a path for them.

Role models are key to these school visits. It is amazing to see the looks of complete surprise on the faces of both boys and girls as they react to seeing a female builder, plumber, engineer or architect for the first time. This may seem like a very simple action, but we have found that our members become role models for both boys and girls. The looks of surprise fade away quickly once we get into a discussion, and by the end of the session a number of girls start mentioning their interest in construction careers.

We’re partnering with other organisations to help this initiative reach more preschoolers and primary school-aged children than ever before. We plan to get more books with strong female role models such as ‘Ada Twist, Scientist’ and ‘Rosie Revere, Engineer’ into schools. NAWIC members in related fields will visit schools and share their experiences with children.

We’re also hoping to work with schools to develop lesson plans which will work in conjunction with the books and school visits. We hope that teachers will also see the diverse range of opportunities available and that they will encourage their students to consider construction as a viable career path.

Support and encouragement

What happens though when girls go home and mention their new dream career to their parents, or others in their family circle? We hope they will receive support and encouragement, but we know from members’ stories that support is often initially lacking from family and friends when young women mention their ideas about pursuing a career in construction. We all have a part to play here by encouraging both boys and girls to explore a wide range of career options and supporting them to think outside the box without any judgement.

It’s not just parents and teachers who have an important role to play – it is much broader than that. The media, marketing and PR firms need to also consider the messages they are giving out in terms of the way the construction industry is represented.

How often do you see an advertisement for a building company which only contains men? Imagine if a prospective employee or graduate visits a website to learn more about a company to find not a single image of a woman. Would they be inspired? We all need to see a diverse range of people represented in construction media and advertising. After all, how can we expect young girls to consider a career in construction if they can’t see anyone who looks like them?

Achieving a real change

Last year, I was shocked to hear that one of our members – an outstanding bricklayer – had been told by a careers guidance adviser at school that although she was the best in her year at carpentry, she was well suited for a career in retail.

The member spent five miserable years working in retail before reconnecting with her love of construction and getting an apprenticeship as a bricklayer. She now wakes up each day with a sense of purpose and looks forward to her future career. All she required were those vital words of encouragement to help her find her true calling.

We all have a part to play when it comes to inspiring young girls and women to consider a career in construction. By working together, we can achieve a real change in our society where all career options are considered viable for both boys and girls.

A diverse construction sector will create a built environment which better reflects New Zealand and everyone who lives here.

Jenny Parker is the general manager for Building Recruitment, a recruitment agency with a sole focus on the building and construction sector; this year she will take up the role of president of NAWIC NZ (National Association of Women in Construction) and will focus on promoting the benefits of New Zealand’s construction sector to young women

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