Of the 1,395 million people that the South African construction industry employs, 88% are male and only 12% are female. While the number of men far exceeds the women in the sector, women’s representation in the construction industry has increased by 60% over the past decade.

“The integration and development of women must become a priority if we are to swell these numbers even further. First and foremost, we must stamp out the gender discrimination that still plagues the industry which, in my opinion, is the root cause of its slow transformation,” says Executive Director of the Master Builders Association of the Western Cape (MBAWC), Allen Bodill.

Wendy Damon, Owner of Damp Control Cape, one of MBAWC’s 400 member companies, agrees with Allen.

“Gender discrimination is one of the biggest challenges I have had to face. Being a woman, I have found that I am not taken seriously and this is something I experience on a daily basis. The general perception is that the construction industry is a man’s world, but through the quality of my work, I have now built up a solid reputation that speaks for itself,” says Wendy, who began her construction career as a receptionist and currently runs a successful business.

“I am proud of what I have achieved so far and would like to inspire other young women and show them that gender does not have to be a barrier,” says Wendy before adding that her advice to other women wanting to achieve similar success in male-dominated industries is to ignore the naysayers and the wolf-whistles. “Focus rather on what it is you want to achieve,” she advises.

Colleen Alben, Owner of AAA Absolute Plumbing, says she has encountered discrimination by employees, clients and competitor companies with regards to her experience, physical appearance and skills.

“Although I’m not a qualified plumber – having come from a financial background – I have been involved in several construction projects and I am able to hold my own,” says Colleen, who would one day like to complete her plumbing studies.

“Over the last four years, I have managed to assert myself and gain the respect of workers and clients alike, particularly by going onsite with – and learning from – the men. I am proud of my achievements and to me, it is an indicator that women can succeed at anything they put their minds to. I also believe that there is still a lot of work that can be done to open the industry to more women and that women can contribute significantly to the expansion and improvement of the sector,” says Colleen.

Colleen hopes to expand AAA Absolute Plumbing to create more opportunities for people in her community, specifically women, in the future.

“We have to eradicate gender discrimination in the construction industry and hasten transformation so that our daughters feel at ease taking their rightful place next to their brothers in building South Africa,” concludes Allen.

For more information, contact the Master Builders Association of South Africa on +27 (11) 205 9000 or via www.masterbuilders.org.za.

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