A bumper crowd of more than 840 people packed the Centrepiece event space at Melbourne Park this morning, as Master Builders Victoria celebrated its annual International Women’s Day (IWD) breakfast.

The theme for IWD 2024 is “Count Her In: Invest in Women, Accelerate Progress” and this morning’s breakfast attracted the biggest crowd in MBV’s history of celebrating the milestone event.

Addressing the crowd, Master Builders Victoria (MBV) CEO Michaela Lihou said that given current heightened demands and workforce shortages, it was imperative to reflect on the existing barriers that deter women from entering the building and construction industry.

“At Master Builders Victoria, we are committed to working together to remove these barriers and we are making progress, albeit slowly,” she said.

“The stats tell us that women have consistently comprised only 2 per cent of field-based workers in the Australian construction sector over the past 30 years.”

”At the end of the 2023 financial year, more than 13,600 apprentices and trainees had commenced their journey in building and construction in Victoria, but of those, only 5.1 per cent were female.”

“That’s just 695 women who chose to start an apprenticeship or traineeship, out of 13,600 people,” she said. “There are more people in this room today, than females who started an apprenticeship last year. Clearly, we still have some way to go.”

The event was hosted by former Olympian Nicole Livingstone OAM, and featured a keynote presentation by interior designer and television personality Shaynna Blaze, who shared some of her trials and triumphs during her career associated with the building industry.

A panel discussion featured Alice Hanna, Head of People and Culture, Kapitol Group; Penny Gray, Head of Trade Solutions, Bunnings Trade; and Melinda Davis, Chief Operating Officer with Empowered Women in Trades.

Reflecting on the challenges, progress and opportunities for women in building and construction, there was a common theme in the discussion of empowering women to feel more confident to put themselves forward for new challenges and roles.

“I think instead of the theme of ‘Count Her In’, we need to be encouraging all of us to have an attitude of ‘Count Me In’,” said Penny Gray. “We need to advocate for ourselves and have the courage and support to put ourselves forward.”

Alice Hanna reflected that it had taken a global pandemic for the industry to take a forced look at flexibility in the workplace.

“It wasn’t so long ago that women had to drive 10 or 15 minutes away from a site to use a bathroom. But what we’re seeing now is companies increasingly wanting to authentically attract and build an inclusive space for women, rather than just ticking a ‘gender equity’ box, because it’s actually good for business,” she said.

Melinda Davis called for less discussion about gender and more of a discussion about appropriate skills and attributes for the job at hand.

“We need to focus on not limiting ourselves. We need to have the courage to challenge ourselves and challenge each other with a focus on skills and not gender.”

Today’s event also saw the launch of the 2024 Women in Apprenticeships Awards, which were created last year by Bunnings Trade, in partnership with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).

The awards were designed to recognise and reward female apprentices in the building and construction industry, and give their careers a financial and professional kickstart.

In 2024 the awards are back and even bigger. Partnering again with NAWIC, Bunnings Trade is encouraging female apprentices, or those who know an apprentice, to nominate for a chance to win an individual support pack valued at over $10,500, including trade quality products and mentoring and wellbeing support.

Entries officially opened today and will close on Friday, April 5. Full details here: https://trade.bunnings.com.au/campaign/women-in-apprenticeships#

In closing the breakfast, MBV President Geoff Purcell said while the industry was making collective progress, events like today’s highlighted the opportunities for the industry to do even better.

“We can – and we need to – ensure there are opportunities for women to succeed right across the building and construction industry,” he said. “We have to empower everyone to reach their potential!”