Jennifer and Sarah are lady tradies, but you wouldn’t know it from their business name. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)
Female tradies are increasingly running their own businesses and capturing underserved markets, but they’re not always interested in putting their gender front and centre.
In fact, shifting focus away from this aspect of their businesses has become so common that one woman has made it her mission to help others track down female electricians, carpenters, mechanics and builders.
Wendy Pinch started compiling a directory of female tradespeople through the Lady Tradies website in 2012 after renovating her own home in New South Wales.
“I was getting very frustrated at tradies who weren’t turning up and weren’t even returning my phone calls,” she said.
“I also had an elderly relative two hours away that refused to let a plumber in the house to give her a quote because she was home alone and she felt vulnerable.”
Ms Pinch knew female tradies were out there — she had worked alongside a few of them in mining and construction — but said it was almost impossible to find them.
“The problem is that they don’t advertise or recognise their company is owned by a lady,” she said.
“There [is] a real need out there for the consumer that really wants to use female tradies to be able to connect with these women.”
The list started out small but now around 40 trade businesses have a listing on the website.
Almost all of them are owned and operated by women.
Female tradies can be hard to find if they don’t openly promote their gender. (Flickr: El Gringo)
Ms Pinch said the directory also helped trade-qualified women tap into a steady stream of work for elderly clients, domestic violence victims and other vulnerable people too intimidated to welcome male tradesmen into their homes.
“There’s a real customer base there and a real need,” she said.
“There’s still men in the trades who think it’s not a place for women and that’s something we’re trying to change attitudes about.”
Fear of ‘pushing’ female power
Small business owner Jennifer Louw spent her entire electrical apprenticeship in Brisbane surrounded by men.
When she became her own boss she hired a female apprentice to work alongside her.
Although she runs an all-female operation right now, Ms Louw said she was hesitant to highlight that as part of her professional brand.
“I have seen it be successful for other businesses … but a lot of our clientele is male and I don’t want to put males off us because we’re pushing females so hard,” she said.
“We don’t want to seem like that sexist bunch of girls that’s all female and we’re in power.
“While I think it could benefit us to a certain point, I think it could also be a detriment to the clientele we don’t know about.”
Ms Louw said people were still surprised to discover the woman quoting them for a job over the phone was the same person who showed up at their door to do their electrical work.
“For the most part, I’d say 95 per cent of the time, people say it’s fantastic and are super keen,” she said.
“Occasionally we have the grumpy old man saying: ‘I don’t know, are you even qualified?'”
Brisbane carpenter Hayley Guinnane, known as the Chippy Lady Tradie, said she saw value in promoting her gender through her business name.
“Part of me was like, why should I clearly point out that I’m a female if all people are looking for is someone to do the job?” she said.
“Then I thought, carpenters are a dime a dozen so I do need to set myself aside and showcase what makes me different.”
Hayley Guinnane is known by her clients as the Chippy Lady Tradie. (Supplied: Hayley Guinnane)
Ms Guinnane started working solo last year to escape a “toxic, masculine atmosphere” at her last job.
She said since going out on her own and proudly promoting her lady tradie status, she has had nothing but support from her clients and the community.
“You get people who are specifically searching for a female tradesperson and weed out the people that will have an issue with you being a tradesperson,” she said.
“I went and did a quote at a lady’s house the other day and she was so excited to see a female tradesperson she gave me a hug when I knocked on the door.”
Number of women in trades still low
Griffith University philosophy doctorate Karen Struthers said women consistently represented less than 2 per cent of trade-qualified workers in Australia since the 1980s.
She said she understood why some female tradespeople were cautious about advertising their gender.
“The majority of people still seem to prefer a male tradie,” she said.
“They have confidence in men, and it’s men who’ve been in these trades for a long time.
“But what women have said to me is it’s really important they’ve got the option of good, qualified women tradies.”
Dr Struthers says a national approach is needed to get more young women into trades. (Supplied: Karen Struthers)
Through her research, Dr Struthers has found women in trades were setting up their own businesses to get away from the “rugged” culture they experienced in male-dominated workplaces.
She said it was disappointing to see a large, proudly female plumbing business in south-east Queensland targeted by social media trolls last year.
Its page received hundreds of negative comments in a single night, damaging the business’s reputation.
“It was pretty gross and it was largely men trying to undermine the good work of companies like that,” Dr Struthers said.
“While all that nonsense is around girls are going to say, ‘No, that’s not for me’.”
Less than 2 per cent of trade-qualified Australians are women. (ABC Central West: Melanie Pearce)
Women could help fill major skills shortages in Queensland, but Dr Struthers said many young girls were turned off trade-based careers by Year 10.
“Kids start forming those ideas really young, so if all you’re saying to girls is you’d be a great nurse or a great hairdresser … they’re the messages they take on board.
“There’s such profound barriers and gender stereotypes that have been there forever and that’s what makes it really hard.
“They might have fingernails and like doing their hair up, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put on the hard hat and boots and do a great job.”
Having successful tradeswomen to look up to and support from men in the industry were also identified as good ways of encouraging girls to take up a trade.
Meanwhile, Ms Louw said women still needed to integrate into male-dominated workplaces until the dynamic of the industry shifted.
“You definitely need to be a little more relaxed and put up with those jokes that males like to tell and just have a laugh with them,” she said.
“Being laid back in that regard is very important.”