“...there’s actually no excuses to not have a woman in trade. There’s none at all.” – Dave

Women in Trades NZ
Women in Trades NZ

The old myth that women aren’t strong enough to do blokes’ jobs is still around, but it takes more than just brute strength to get a job done.

Along with a decent level of fitness, a combo of skills is needed to make it in the trades – including balance, dexterity and stamina. But at the end of the day, it’s about working safely as a team and using the tools and techniques available for everyone to work smarter, not harder, and avoid injuries.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work.
Kane Williamsom might be captain of the Black Caps but you’ll never see him open the bowling. He’s a batting specialist. That’s his role in the team. It’s no different with your team on-site. You need some all-rounders but you’ve also got to have your specialists – and women can be both!

It’s Less About Strength and More About Fitness and Technique.
Muscles develop over time with the repeated use of tools and equipment. When they’re just starting an apprenticeship, everyone struggles with heavy gear until they build up the specific techniques and muscle-fitness to handle it.

Any physical job requires training of the muscles, whether it’s working as a nurse or working as a welder. One woman we spoke to said it best.

“When I first started working in the transport industry and lifting heavy things, I did need to build up some strength but I got stronger on the job. To me it’s about technique. It’s about working smart, because if you’re not working smart, you can injure yourself – and that happens to men, too.”

The reality is, a bloke with a few niggles or injuries from his time in the trades could actually be less physically able to do some tasks than a fit, injury-free woman.

Dave: Yeah, but it’s not just about being on the tools. What happens when they’ve gotta lift something real heavy?

TradeCareers: We’ll let one of the employers we spoke to answer that one, Dave.

“You know, lifting is not a problem. In our trade we lift a lot of cabinets and things like that. These days, with bloody lifting aids, and techniques to lifting, we just get those practices in place. With health and safety you’re not allowed to carry any more than however many kilos anyways. So all those things – there’s actually no excuses to not have a woman in trade. There’s none at all.”

Here’s 4 ways to help all staff with manual lifting tasks:

  • Follow the basics of workplace safety.
  • Use mechanical/lifting aids where possible.
  • Be smart about delegating tasks.
  • Plan regular breaks and rotate jobs.

Dave: Fair enough. I think I get it now. It’s not about how strong you are. It’s about doing the hard yakka as a team, doing it smarter, and using the equipment and techniques that make it easier and safer for everyone. Yeah?

Trade Careers: Yeah, Dave. You’ve got it! But everyone can play a role in figuring out the smartest, safest ways to get the tough stuff done.

When workers are actively engaged and involved in health and safety decisions – everyone benefits. And a healthier, safer workplace has a positive impact on performance and productivity. Here’s a few ways to make that happen:

  • Create a culture where it’s OK to say, “Hey. We need a safer or smarter way to do this to protect everyone involved.”
  • Give your workers a reasonable opportunity to express their views and raise work health or safety concerns, and contribute to the decision-making process.
  • Ask your workers to suggest ways to design, or redesign, the workplace to minimise manual handling risks.

This info from Worksafe has even more ways to get workers engaged and participating in protecting everyone’s health and safety on-site.

“Just treat us the same as everyone else. Everyone is so busy, we are here to just get the job done. But please get a toilet for women on site!” – Holly

Women in Trades NZ
Women in Trades NZ

Here’s the bare minimum you’ll need for health, safety, and legal compliance when you welcome women workers on site.

  • A clean toilet
  • With a lockable door
  • A clean toilet
  • And a bin
  • And nearby handwashing facilities

Dave: Righto. So we’re not talking gold taps and silk?

Trade Careers: No, Dave. But there are good reasons to pay attention to toilets.

Bradley Corp supplies commercial washroom accessories. A survey they did showed that 89% of people rate their employer by the quality of their work toilets.

Red Hot Tip

If you don’t care about providing decent toilets, your employees might not care as much about doing a decent job.

On the flipside, job satisfaction and productivity go hand-in-hand. Workers with easy access to decent toilets will be happier. Happy employees are better employees.

Now imagine a customer or client visits your site and needs to use the loo! The buck stops with you if toilets are dirty or not working properly, but if you can instil a bit of portaloo pride on-site, it can be everyone’s responsibility.

We’ll leave the last word on toilets to Wellington tradeswoman, Holly.

Women are capable, women are human. Just treat us the same as everyone else. Everyone is so busy, we are here to just get the job done. But please get a toilet for women on site!

What about periods?

Chances are you’ll never have a conversation with your female employees about periods. Women are well-practised at managing them. Some women use pads, some use tampons, some use a menstrual cup, some use a mix of all of them.

“Women have survived doing all kinds of jobs on their periods; surgeons, pilots — they can do the trades too.”
– Colleen. Wellington Focus Group attendee.

You do need to provide suitable toilet facilities. This means making sure that there is more than a urinal on-site, that any loo has a bin in it and handwashing facilities are close by. It’s your responsibility to make sure it is kept clean and the bin is emptied.

Cool Facts: Despite being a basic necessity for women, period products are taxed at a higher rate than any men’s personal hygiene products. Some employers are now providing period products for staff for free!

“Support women in pregnancy and parenthood and you will have one committed employee.”

Women in Trades NZ
Trade Careers NZ

There’s no need to wrap her in cotton wool. Dealing with a pregnancy really isn’t much different to dealing with an employee with an injury.

Red Hot Tip

The best thing to do is talk with her and make a plan together. Plan regular check-ins and keep her actively engaged in managing her work.

Some people breeze through their pregnancy, while others can sometimes experience morning sickness or tiredness. So be flexible and open to the fact that plans might need to change.

Dave: So it’s pretty much business as usual until she’s ready to pop?

Trade Careers: Not quite, Dave. There are a few things to consider to keep future mum and baby safe on-site, like the risks associated with exposure to noise, dust, and chemicals.

PPE: The correct fit of PPE is important for all your workers but baby bellies grow quicker than beer bellies. Basic Women’s Pregnancy workwear is available in NZ from Bisley Workwear. An expanded pregnancy range with more options can be shipped from Australia via CO Gear.

NOISE: Your pregnant worker can protect herself from power tool and machinery noise using standard hearing protection, but her baby’s hearing rapidly develops from the 24-week mark. Even with the cushioning effect of the womb, continued exposure to loud noise risks the baby’s hearing. If the worksite has loud and continuous noises after the 24-week point, consider alternative duties, jobs, or training opportunities.

DUST AND PARTICULATES: Changes during pregnancy increase the amount of air a woman breathes in and out. Dust or particulate matter occurs around worksites from rock matter to diesel fumes. The possible negative effects of these can be greater during pregnancy. Fit testing for masks is available to ensure her respiratory protection is adequate. Fit testing providers can be found through the HASANZ Register or the Commit2Fit register.

CHEMICALS AND SOLVENTS: These are used every day in the trades and some can be harmful to an unborn baby through contact with the pregnant mum. These risks will be listed on the supplier MSDSs that come with any chemicals or solvents used on-site.

TOILETS: Pregnancy can cause more trips to the toilet than usual – sometimes urgently! So make sure they’re nearby and safely accessible.

Dave: How will I know when it’s time for her to go to lighter duties, or when it’s time she stopped going up ladders?

TradeCareers: Most women will be under the care of a maternity specialist. They can advise about what duties are appropriate for each stage of their pregnancy and what pregnancy-specific hazards to avoid or protect against. Under the law, she can have paid time off to visit her maternity specialist.

Sometimes, things don’t go entirely as planned. She may need to be off the tools for a high-risk pregnancy. This could be an opportunity for her to learn about another part of the business like writing or reviewing SOPs, learning how to quote jobs, upskilling with a training course, or carving out some study time for that apprentice paperwork.

Most of the time, things will go just fine. Here’s what one employer told us.

“I had an employee who worked through to 7½ months. Women get pregnant. It’s just part of life. Take advice from your employee’s midwife and it will be ok. You can tailor the work around a pregnant woman by being selective of the jobs you send her to.”

Red Hot Tip

These days, many women return to work as soon as they can after having a baby – especially when they’ve already committed time and effort towards getting a qualification.

Keep her challenged, interested, and treat her well. Before she goes on parental leave, discuss expectations around communication while she’s off, who she can contact, and the return-to-work process.

How do I sort out parental leave?

Employment New Zealand has published everything you need to know about parental leave and employment law. Here’s the gist of it.
Employees who’ve worked for you for at least an average of 10 hours a week for 12 months or more just before the expected birth of the child, or the date they’ll take over the care of the child, are entitled to:

  • 52 weeks of unpaid parental leave
  • 26 weeks of government-funded parental leave payments if they will be the ‘primary carer’ of a child born (or coming into their care) on or after 1 July 2018.

Employees who’ve worked for you for at least an average of 10 hours a week for 6 months or more just before the expected birth of the child, or date they’ll take over the care of the child, are entitled to:

  • 26 weeks of unpaid parental leave
  • 26 weeks of government-funded parental leave payments if they will be the ‘primary carer’ of a child born (or coming into their care) on or after 1 July 2018.

Employment New Zealand’s info includes who is eligible, associated entitlements such as government-funded parental leave payments, and how employers should respond to a request for parental leave.

You can find more info here.

How do I sort out flexible working arrangements?

It’s true that women sometimes have extra caregiving responsibilities that require some flexibility around work arrangements. Dads who have shared custody of their children are likely to need some flexibility too. In fact, any of us could find ourselves in a caregiver role if we have an unwell partner, parent or relative.

Beyond caregiving, a variety of pursuits in people’s lives outside work might benefit from some occasional workplace flexibility.

Every situation is different so the easiest way to sort things is to have a conversation with your employee about what the objectives and expectations are.

There are lots of ways to look at flexible work solutions and they don’t necessarily mean working less. Flexibility is about helping people to manage their work and personal commitments while also meeting the needs of your business.

Red Hot Tip

At a time when it can be tough to find good staff, and just as tough to keep them, offering work flexibility and making it known can be a good business move.

Dave: Yeah, look. I see what you’re saying but I wouldn’t know where to start!

TradeCareers: Here’s a handy guide from Employment New Zealand, Dave. It outlines everything you need to know.

Dave: Sweet. Too easy!

“Doctors, Lawyers and Builders can all do amazing things while on their periods Dave.”

Known affectionately as ‘Her Majesty’, for the last 25 years, Colleen has been leading the charge to get more women into the trades, especially plumbing, drainlaying and gas fitting. Colleen is General Manager and Director of Lower Hutt plumbing firm Hutt Gas and Plumbing. She busts myths and gives some practical advice on how to get it right for women on site.

“Your employer can support you to do what’s best for you and bub.”

As the principal advisor for women at BCITO, Kelly has been working hard to make the trades more female friendly. She is one of the founding members of the Women in Trades Collective and is the reason this project is happening! She shares the low down on how to manage pregnancy while on the tools.

“Try everything, don’t hold back, be as nosey!”

Kat Kaiwai is a total boss. 11 years ago she started on the lollipop and has worked her way up to managing director of Tairāwhiti Contractors. Listen to her kōrero about how she runs her team – babies and all.

Right! Ready to give this a red hot go?