I had a teacher deliberately avoid giving me a high distinction in wood work in front of the school because I was a girl. My mum called the school and tore the teacher a new one. I didn’t have a great deal of confidence at that time and was lucky I had my mum to back me.
I always had a great deal of support and encouragement from my parents. They taught me to be strong and stand up for what I wanted. They put me in martial arts when I was young and that helped my confidence a great deal. Being gay in a relatively small town also helped me with my resilience. Not a lot of people were openly cruel but there was always a lot of dislike from many people. Even some teachers who you’d expect support from.
I finished school in 2014 and went to work in steelworks with my dad. Both my parents have always been supportive of whatever I want to do. I remember my mum frequently saying she wouldn’t care if I cleaned toilets for a living as long as I was happy. My dad has always been really happy and proud of my career in industry. He always had my back when we worked together and taught me so much of what I know today. He has supported me whole heartedly and encouraged me every step of my career.
I always wanted a hands on job, I loved wood work in school and even back then noticed there was always an underlying attitude of that work being for men. I had some bad experiences with one of my woodwork teachers but luckily I had some really great ones. They helped me enjoy my time in school, I honestly hated most of my schooling experience but woodwork was always my happiest time. I don’t know if I would have started an apprenticeship sooner, I’m glad I took the path that I did. Steelworks was never my passion but I learnt so much that I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I had a teacher deliberately avoid giving me a high distinction in wood work in front of the school because I was a girl. My mum called the school and tore the teacher a new one. I didn’t have a great deal of confidence at that time and was lucky I had my mum to back me. The teacher ended up giving me my award privately (small victories). I did stand up to him when he told me that sweeping up the mess was an actual woman’s job. I threw the broom to him and told him to stick it somewhere unpleasant.
I’ve never been one to accept something just because it’s what’s normal to most. I did most of my training at CIT. The company I worked for put me through all of my tickets and the necessary training for the job. I started at CIT in late 2014, and finished in mid 2019. I initially started to make some money after school and soon realised I loved the work. I got my c2 crane licence and other relevant tickets at age 20 and was a crane operator/trades assistant until mid 2019. Once I got my crane licence I was even more in love, it was a lot of responsibility and I took care of the crane like it was my own. I often had to put my foot down because a lot of people assumed I didn’t really know what I was doing. It could be quite intimidating sometimes, but it always worked when I told them how it was. It helped knowing I had my bosses support as well as a lot of the boys I worked with. I learnt a lot of valuable skills, I learnt how to weld passably and always prided myself on learning more. I never thought I’d learnt all I could learn.
I had to get comfortable with the idea of standing my ground and trusting that I knew what I was doing. A lot of people argued with me because I was a young girl in such a male dominated trade. My favourite project to work on was the Parliament House fence upgrades. There was a lot of controversy around it but I was proud as hell every time I got to sit on a crane on the front lawn of Parliament House. We often had photographers and reporters and a wide range of onlookers at the fence watching our every move, it gave me a lot of confidence that I could do my job well even with that level of scrutiny. It’s a job with a lot of responsibility and can go badly very quickly but I was rarely nervous, even when we made the front page of the newspaper.
I decided to get into carpentry and took an apprenticeship. At 24 I’m a 2nd year apprentice and I’ve noticed a huge difference in the amount of girls on site and felt a lot more comfortable being myself. It’s been great to see more and more girls interested in the Industry and the change in attitude of a lot of men. In the course of 6 years I’ve seen a drastic change in the mindset of the industry.
The best advice I could give would be to find the people that are going to have your back. It’s hard to get started in the industry. Especially as a young girl. I was lucky having my dad and have always made an effort to let people know it’s ok to have someone to help you find your footing. I was able to find my own confidence knowing I had such great support. I learnt that if something is wrong or just doesn’t feel right it is ok to speak up, it doesn’t mean you’re weak or complaining.
I got into carpentry because I’ve always had a love of wood work. I knew a teacher at CIT who’s been a good family friend for a number of years. He helped me get in contact with HIA and I was able to get a mature age apprenticeship. Working on mostly commercial sites has been good for me as it is pretty similar to my old work.
The big changes I’ve seen have been in the way men talk about girls in trade. I used to get stared at, talked about, scoffed at or ignored. Now most men talk about girls in trade as a good thing. I think as long as you’re working your hardest they don’t care if you’re a boy, girl, man or woman. It’s pretty refreshing.
I think more girls are joining because they’re realising it’s not a men’s job. Anyone that wants to do the work is welcome. There’s a lot more awareness and encouragement these days that shows girls that they can do the job they want to do, without the fear of being shunned or harassed.
It’s not just a man’s job. There’s no more gender definition on jobs. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. If you’re willing to get up before the sun and put in a hard day’s work anyone is welcome.
I’m glad to be a part of Build Like a Girl. It’s a really great idea and it’ll be really good to see more girls eager to get into construction.