Following the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, demand for construction labour to help in the rebuild was high and employers struggled to fill roles. At the same time, there was a decrease in women’s employment. Gender analysis helped connect these issues.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs worked to bring gender analysis in at the start of the rebuild process by gathering data about women’s employment patterns after the earthquakes. This data showed that despite the high and increasing demand for labour in the rebuild, women’s employment in the construction industry remained flat.
To help bring gender into the policy issue, the Ministry asked how groups of women might have different needs or experiences from men, and how those groups of women and men might have different expectations or priorities about what needs to happen around the rebuild. The Ministry recognised an information gap about women’s willingness to participate in the traditionally male-dominated construction industry. This led to the commissioning of 2013 research.
The research showed that women wanted to work, were available, and were not opposed to working in the rebuild, but they were not being included in the construction labour force. Almost 40 percent of the 500 women surveyed were considering training or retraining. Many women had not considered rebuild jobs, or were unsure how to access them, or they saw construction jobs as jobs for men. Specifically, some women saw job advertisements as being directed at men, and some women thought they could not meet the physical demands of some rebuild jobs. Similarly, employers sometimes overlooked the potential of women to meet their workforce requirements.
Bringing gender into engagement and collaboration was key to success. The Ministry convened a Canterbury Women in Construction Working Group (the Working Group) which worked to increase the numbers of women working in construction in Canterbury. Participating organisations included the construction industry, government and business organisations, training organisations, Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tāhu, and the National Association of Women in Construction.
The Canterbury Women in Construction Working Group brought gender into their options by thinking about what opportunities, or entry points, for change existed and how to best use those opportunities in the Christchurch rebuild. Based on the research findings, the Working Group decided to increase the visibility of women in the rebuild. The phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” encapsulated their thinking about visibility.
The Canterbury Women in Construction Working Group brought gender into implementation by promoting women’s visibility in the rebuild. This included profiling women in construction and highlighting women as a source of labour in the rebuild. Media stories about women in the rebuild celebrated their successes. There were also changes in the way recruiters advertised jobs to make it explicit that women are welcome to apply for construction jobs (for example, by including phrases like “women are welcome to apply”).
Members of the Canterbury Women in Construction Working Group brought gender into monitoring and evaluation inside their own organisations. For example, the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) set an overall goal of 13 percent for women in its operational roles by 2016. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of women in trades at SCIRT overall increased by 50 percent.