MBAV International Women’s Day Breakfast

On Wednesday the 4th of March at 7.30 am, a team of MC Labour women attended MBAV’s first-ever International Women’s Day event at the National Gallery of Victoria. Upon entry into the venue, guests were greeted by beautiful gardens, a flower wall, and a delicious breakfast of fruit, pastries, tea, coffee and juice to start off their day.

Rebecca Casson, Chief Executive Officer of Master Builders, commenced the morning with the very exciting announcement that the event – the first-ever International Women’s Day event ran by Master Builders Association of Victoria (MBAV) was a sold-out event. She acknowledged the traditional custodians of the land, the Boon Wurrung, and Wurundjeri/Woiwurrung people, introduced the main speaker Susan Halliday and welcomed the MBAV board members and sponsors of the day. She proceeded to also welcome special guest Shaynna Blayze, interior designer, television personality, passionate women’s and social justice campaigner, and advocate for domestic violence charities.

Rebecca continued by mentioning that MBAV is the “leading voice in the construction industry”. She shared a message about being vulnerable, explaining that vulnerability is about showing up and being seen and putting yourself out there without knowing the outcome. She shared her story about immigrating to Australia from the UK without a job or housing but has since followed her career dreams to normalising women in the construction industry.

The first International Women’s Day, then called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909, in New York City. It is a day commemorated in many different ways across the globe. In some countries, it is a public holiday, a day of celebrating womanhood, in others, it is a day of protest against the unfair and unequal conditions women live in today and in other countries it is an event largely ignored. The aim of the MBAV International Women’s Day event was to start the conversation, raise awareness to support the community. Rebecca stated, “Women taking roles in the construction industry is an economic imperative.” She then continued by quoting Oscar Romero:

“… We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.”

Rebecca was followed by Susan Halliday, a former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and Disability Discrimination Commissioner. Susan commenced by explaining that International Women’s Day would never be a success without men supporting women. “It would rock the fabric of society to give women equal rights,” she said. She shocked the room by explaining that currently, women are still 202 years away from wage clarity based on current progress and 95% of maternity/paternity leave is taken by women. While there is a range of measures in place for men to take paternity leave, they just aren’t taking it. Culturally Australia lags behind most nations in the world when it comes to gender equality. “For a nation that sees itself as privileged, and educated, we still have one of the most segregated workforces in the world. Something isn’t right here, and it’s culture” said Susan. “Every day there is cultural disharmony in the workplace, somebody brings their personal views into the workplace and compromise someone else’s employment rights. If you have opinions that compromise people’s rights, leave them at home.”

“It would rock the fabric of society to give women equal rights”

“Stereotyping is alive and well and it does disadvantage people to this very day.” Susan continued. “And I’m not saying that the construction industry has not been taking some leaps and bounds as of late, by my goodness it has been dragging the chain.” She asked businesses if they have an active and up to date ‘positive duty plan’. “Employers should be putting actions into place. Men and women still experience bullying and harassment in the workplace, it is unlawful. It’s time to fix your policy. Understand the legislation frames in which you work in”.

“So why am I standing here in these colours; purple, green and white?” Susan asked, indicating to her outfit. “They have strong significance for International Women’s Day legacy, for the suffragettes. Purple for the royal blood that flows through the veins of each suffragette, white symbolic of purity, and green representing hope and spring.” Long after the suffragette movement was established in 1903, these colours have lived on. Many corporate and conservative companies have actually adopted these colours in years since. In 1975 when the first female cabinet senator Margaret Guilfoyle was elected by the Labour party, the party celebrated by using the purple, white and green Suffragette colours to advertise. These are colour’s to be proud of, it’s a statement.

The biggest barrier for females in the construction industry is the nature and culture of the industry itself. The construction industry carries highly masculine values that are too often expressed as misogyny, homophily, or outright sexual harassment. It is this environment that turns so many women away from the construction industry and prevents us from improving the statistics of women in construction.

“I have had the odd male engineer or tradie come to me and say, “this has just happened to my daughter” and because of this they tend to take a leap in the 21 century because it’s now their personal hook. When it’s happening to someone you love it’s hard to ignore.” Susan explained. “You own the culture” she continued. “Every one of you out there who hear someone bad said and don’t call it out, you are in that toxic culture. We call that condoning. If you allow that behavior to continue you are part of it.”

We all have a job to do to change this culture, to improve the statistics of women in the industry, to make changes so we can take that step closer to equality.

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