With women making up only 3% of tradespeople in New Zealand, it can be tricky to find one for a construction job. That’s why this website has put all the details in one place.
Hiring a tradesperson to do a big job on the house can easily turn into a stressful experience. It’s not just because of unknown cost, or efficiency. It’s about letting a stranger into your home, which, for some people, is an uncomfortable thing to do.
For elderly people who live alone, or people who have experienced domestic violence or burglaries, establishing trust is not a given – it takes time, and tact, and a gentler, more conscientious interaction.
Which is why for some customers, hiring a woman tradesperson for a job around the house is a more appealing option. The only thing is, with women making up about only 3% of all tradespeople “on the tools” in New Zealand, it can be incredibly hard to find one.
It was when Emma Kaniuk was trying to find help to repair the rot in her house that she discovered the dilemma first hand. Surprised at the lack of diversity within the home construction industry, she began scouring the internet and assembling a list of all the women and gender diverse tradespeople in New Zealand.
“I just started googling ‘women in trades’, and using random arrangements of words to try and see if anyone was there,” she says. “And every time I found someone, I added them to a spreadsheet.”
After joining several online forums, Kaniuk realised that there was a widespread demand for women tradespeople. Her list got to a point where she was able to answer many of the queries coming up online, such as if there was an electrician or plumber in certain regions and towns. She realised the best thing she could do for customers and the industry was to make her list public on a free website. That’s how Tradespeople was created.
“People started asking these questions on the online forums, and I would end up going ‘oh, actually, I know someone,’ and then I became quite informally known as the person with the women in trades lists.
“So I just kind of started expanding it out to everyone in New Zealand. And that’s where the website is free for everyone to use.”
Kaniuk says Tradespeople isn’t just about giving customers more options. It’s about boosting the profile of the few women and gender diverse people who work in trades industries and sending more business their way. The idea was that with more opportunities and more work, it might contribute to the gradual growth of diversity within the sector.
“I was really keen on making sure that it was women and gender diverse people, because while there are statistics around women, there are no statistics on gender diverse people. And so that’s where it really started.”
Since its launch two months ago, Tradespeople has proved popular with both tradies and customers. Currently it has about 40 registered members, listed by their trade and location in New Zealand. It contains a blurb about what kind of work they do, whether they work with a company or as a sole trader, their contact details and their availability.
In the time the site has been active, Kaniuk has discovered that demand is far outstripping supply; most women tradespeople are so sought after that they can’t actually take on more work. Many women that the Kaniuk spoke with are passionate about increasing diversity within the trades; it’s just a matter of waiting for the industry to keep up and attract more apprentices.
The issue is certainly getting its share of attention and investment. The government has partnered with the construction industry through The Construction Sector Accord, the top priority of which is to promote and support diversity within the sector through a range of initiatives.
Since Covid-19 emerged, billions of dollars have been poured into various trades trading schemes to encourage more people to take up the tools. While it’s had an all round impact, with the number of new apprentices increasing from 7500 last year to 14,000 this year, it’s also doubled the number of women joining the industry: 1785 up from 845 last year. It’s good progress, but there’s still a long way to go to achieve the sector’s 2040 target of having women make up 30% of tradespeople.
Anecdotally, one of the most biggest barriers for new apprentices has been one of culture. Kaniuk says she’s spoken with a number of people, both men and women, who said they quit not long after starting work as apprentices because of an on-site culture of ridicule and chauvinism.
“Many of the tradespeople I’ve spoken to, especially the younger ones, have said something like ‘I got into building but couldn’t be myself. It was awful, so I left the industry.’ But they missed being a builder, and that’s what they really wanted to do, so they’ve come back to the trades years later and started their own thing.”
She says the people listed on her website have typically walked the gauntlet of the industry and have deliberately fostered new businesses around inclusivity and tact as opposed to the traditional trades’ culture.
“I think that’s why the directory works because it’s connecting those people, who are leaders, to this new wave of customers who are so desperate for something different.”
“I really just can’t count the number of people who have contacted me saying things like ‘I started working on my house [alongside a tradesman] and it was such an awful experience. Or I was dismissed or condescended, or I felt like I was being ripped off.’ So this has given those people a choice.”
While Kaniuk was initially expecting some backlash from those who thought she was endorsing women as better tradespeople than men, she says so far the reception has been totally positive.
“I’ve had quite a few guys who’ve got in contact and said ‘this is great, it’s perfect for my elderly mum who lives alone’.”
“I’m not saying women are better than men at the job. That’s not the point. It’s just about providing that choice.
One working tradeswomen who has listed her details on Tradespeople and experienced first hand the challenges of working in the industry is Genevieve Black, of Black & Bull Builders. With six years experience under her belt, she says she’s found her rhythm and has the confidence to handle everything that comes with the job. But it was gruelling at first.
“Early on I was going home crying at least a couple of times a week. I wanted to quit. I struggled with the culture and the behaviour of a lot of guys. There’s was lot of bullying and shocking communication and a pack mentality. It’s just so different to what females are generally used to.”
However, she says it’s become much easier through a combination of her own prowess and a gradual change of what is considered appropriate behaviour and norms on site.
“Although it was hard to deal with at first, I’m so much stronger now and I don’t put up with that shit. It’s changed heaps in the last couple of years. Society is changing and you don’t talk to people like that anymore. People shouldn’t be treated like that.”
While there is the still elements of “piss taking” that happen on site, Black says her presence has a moderating effect and prevents it from getting out of control.
“I’ve been told I’m very grounding, especially when the guys get carried away picking on someone or talking crap. It’s nice that I bring that to the table. They tone it down.”
While she seldom sees other women on site, she’s aware that the gender balance is slowly improving by engaging other tradeswomen through social media. What’s also encouraging is that many of the women and young tradespeople she speaks with have had easier experiences than what she did six years ago – an indication that the industry is slowly transforming.
“It seems like their journeys have been a lot easier and they’re having good runs.”
“I’m sure they still get some crap. But I think unacceptable behaviours are slowly getting phased out. And that’s bloody great, that’s how it should be.”
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.