The federal government last year reported labour shortages in the automotive trades for the fourth consecutive year.
Dr Sarah Oxenbridge, lead author for the University of Sydney research,‘One of the boys?’ The work and career experiences of Australian women working in the automotive trades occupations, said women who are making more than 100 applications are determined to get into the industry. Many had topped their TAFE classes and had won skills competitions including ‘apprentice of the year’.
“They just had to work doubly hard to be seen to be deserving of their role,” she said.
Study co-author Professor Rae Cooper said a rejection of women in automotive trades was a symptom of a “hypermasculine culture” which was alienating some men as well as women. She said the skills shortage meant highly-skilled women should not be having difficulty getting a job.
“There is something going wrong,” she said.
“It is a pointy issue for women, but it is affecting the whole industry. Employers are crying out for skilled labour, women are really interested in interesting careers in the sector, so this mismatch is a problem for productivity in the sector and needs some keen attention.”
The study included an online survey of 119 female employees, 12 face-to-face interviews and 20 telephone interviews. The survey found half of all respondents described their workplaces as environments where “men and women were treated equally”.
Almost one in four women in automotive occupations (24 per cent) said they had directly experienced sexual harassment, and 43 per cent stated they had been subjected to some form of offensive language or offensive behaviour in their job because of their gender.
Ms Azzopardi said she had experienced only one or two male co-workers among many who have treated her like she did not belong.
“One guy at a workshop came up to me and looked me dead in the eye and said I shouldn’t be there – that he wouldn’t let his wife do it or his daughter do it,” she said. “Some people are still old-fashioned and think that way.”
Many customers have also been surprised to find her emerge from underneath a heavy vehicle.
“They would see my feet hanging out from under truck and start talking to me and reply. And they’d be like, ‘oh, you’re a girl’,” she said.
Sharon Pask, the chief financial officer at Frankston Toyota in Melbourne said it has set a goal to become “gender neutral” by 2020. This will mean 40 per cent of the workforce will comprise either gender. She said 36 per cent of its workforce was made up of women and this had been achieved through blind recruitment, a computer-generated process which filters prospective resumes based on skill-set.
“I want the automotive industry to come into the 21st century,” she said
“We have actively gone out and sought women for roles by making sure that our language and advertisements are gender neutral. It has been a game-changer for us.”
Ms Pask said that while 10 per cent of all sales staff in Toyota dealerships across Victoria were females, women outnumbered male sales staff at her dealership in response to 47 per cent of new car buyers being women. “We have seen a growth in our bottom line,” she said.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.