Plugging the leak: How pipeliners can act

The Women in Pipeline Forum discusses this year’s United Nations International Women’s Day theme: ‘Count her In: Invest in women. Accelerate progress’. In this article, Women In Pipeline Forum’s Gretyl Lunn explores the real ways we can make a difference for women in the industry.

I went to my first International Women’s Day event two years ago and couldn’t quite de-scribe why I thought it missed the mark.

The gender pay gap, affirmative action, even menstrual leave, were some of the topics mentioned. Important topics, but all I could think was, “wow, the presenters are trying so hard to be edgy with these topics.”

Pretty soon I realised what was missing: ac-tion.

International Women’s Day was first cele-brated in 1911 and was recognised by the United Nations (UN) in 1975. Today, this date is a reminder that gender equality is still a human rights challenge across the globe.

This year’s theme from the UN is ‘Count her in: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress.’ As the industry undergoes change, how we em-brace diversity of people and thought will re-main pivotal for our role in steering Australia to a greener economy and sustainable energy systems.

There are two components to building a gen-der diverse workforce attraction and reten-tion.

The first involves encouraging more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics qualifications, trades and the industry, which remains a permanent priority.

The second involves supporting and develop-ing the women already in the industry, so that they can thrive. However, despite massive strides in women’s representation over time, there is still a noticed attrition of women over 30 from the industry. This phenomenon is re-ferred to as the ‘leaky pipeline’.

During the APGA Convention last year, the WPF asked, ‘what can you do to empower women in the industry?’ and ‘what do women in the industry need?’ The responses covered five common themes: trust, opportunity, mentorship, support, and safe spaces.

Support and safe space made up 34 per cent of the responses regarding the needs of wom-en in the pipeline industry. It’s critical, and yet importantly, can be remedied with the ac-tions of individuals.

To me, a safe space looks like my first com-missioning manager sitting me down and telling me, “if you have any problem with an-yone on site, you tell me, and we’ll handle it”. It was my General Manager terminating the contract of a contractor who had sexually harassed me. It was my friend, also a first-year graduate at the time, saying after I con-fided in him about the harassment: “I thought I should have said something be-cause you looked uncomfortable and next time I will”.

You can’t write a procedure on how to be a safe space. It is a choice that is made by indi-viduals and hopefully fostered by a site or company.

Ultimately it comes down to individuals treating women with the same respect as their male colleagues, bestowing trust, and being trustworthy providing encouragement.

It also comes down to recognising women’s achievements, actively ensuring a safe work environment – physically, socially and emo-tionally, checking their unconscious bias and ensuring women on site or in their team are included in social events.

Mentorship also empowers women, not just professionally, but by actively providing that safe space, particularly for young people who may have never been in a professional or site-based role before.

There are other, broader goals, which aim to empower women. Opportunity was featured in 27 per cent of responses on how to em-power women in the industry. Many missed opportunities stem from the fact that women are still assumed the primary care giver in our society. To change this requires a greater so-cial change, but we could start with encour-aging flexible work for men to share home duties more equally as well as changing con-struction rosters to make them family friend-ly.

Encouraging flexibility for everyone allows both men and women to have real choices about care giving and gives women oppor-tunity in the workforce.

Finally, there are procedural initiatives which can be implemented within companies:

  • Gender neutral parental leave
  • Flexibility in working hours – without conditions that impact career development
  • Availability of development training
  • Awareness of harassment and reporting policies
  • Effective diversity, equity, inclusion and unconscious bias training
  • Industry and company mentorship pro-grams

So with International Women’s Day this month, are you going to inspire action to tru-ly make women feel like they count, or is it just going to be a day for a nice morning tea (organised by women)?

How are you counting the women around you in? Would your graduates or apprentices feel safe sharing with you something that’s made them uncomfortable? Do they have the opportunity to?

To truly count women in and plug the leaky pipeline is a choice all can make every day.

This article featured in the March edition of The Australian Pipeliner. 

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