Women in trades: interviews with employers and tradeswomen

Women in trades: Interviews with employers and tra…
01 Nov 2011

This study was to understand what employers were currently doing in New Zealand to attract and retain women in male-dominated trades and to learn more about the benefits of having women in what have been traditionally male-dominated industries. 


The aim of this study was to understand what employers were currently doing in New Zealand to attract and retain women in male-dominated trades and to learn more about the benefits of having women in what have been traditionally male-dominated industries.  

The New Zealand workforce is highly segregated.  Around half of all New Zealanders work in occupations in which 70 percent of or more of workers are the same gender as them. A large section of the workforce, approximately 11 percent of all workers, employ virtually no women.  These are primarily trades occupations.  In 2006, only one percent of builders, plumbers, electricians, and motor mechanics were women.

Occupational segregation contributes to the pay gap between men and women.  It may also result in an under-utilisation of women’s and men’s skills, decreased labour mobility, with subsequent negative impacts on economic productivity and economic growth.

There are a number of barriers to women working in trades, including girls not receiving appropriate careers advice, myths and mis-information about gender and trades, lack of flexibility and discrimination.

We wanted to find out from women who are working in trades, and their employers, what works to get women into trades and to support them to remain working in the workplace. 



We interviewed six employers, selected across a range of industries and across New Zealand.  We selected employers that employed women  where the occupations were male-dominated (more than 70 percent male) and required a level four qualification or above. 

We also interviewed the tradeswomen working at the company.  As some companies had more than one woman employed, we interviewed 13 tradeswomen in total.  All interviews were conducted at the workplaces of the women.

We have used the information from the interviews to present a case study of each of the organisations. Each case study includes: what the organisation does, how they attracted their women staff, and an understanding of the benefits or the women involved and for the organisations. In the case studies we have used quotes that were directly gained from the interviews and tried to keep the comments, as much as possible, in the voice and style of the participants.

Key Results

Our research showed that by having more women in their companies, there were strong benefits for the employers, other employees and the women themselves.

A clear message from those interviewed was that employing women increased the value of the services being provided by the company. For many of the companies, having a tradeswomen was a distinct competitive advantage, both from the specific skills that the women brought to their roles, and their approach to customer service.

The key benefits that emerged for employers were the following:

  • Women working in a male-dominated industry mellowed the culture and benefitted the workplace
  • Employing women employed gave their business a competitive advantage
  • Women brought different skills to the roles, for example, excellent attention to detail and good customer service.

The key benefits that emerged for the women employed by these organisations were the following:

  • Women felt pride in working with their hands and felt a sense of achievement from their work.
  • Many women obserevd that, on the whole, trades workplaces had changed, and more diversity was welcomed.Trade workplaces were not the common stereotype of chauvinistic places with girly calendars (although these places do exist).
  • Women enjoyed the benefits of earning while they learnt (i.e they didn’t require a student loan)
  • Women developed best in their roles when they had a supportive employer.

Many of the women who were working in the industry, and enjoying success in their jobs attributed this most to women who were in management/decision-making roles within the company.  Most women we interviewed had not experienced any barriers to working in a male-dominated trade, although some had experienced difficulty finding an employer who would offer them an apprenticeship.  The women also commonly expressed that the reason they believed women did not work in trades was that they were not provided the information that this was a career option.

An opinion commonly expressed by both tradeswomen and employers in the interviews was that trades had evolved.  While heavy lifting and hard manual work was still a feature of some workplaces, the consensus was that health and safety requirements meant that the physical requirements of the job were manageable for women.

We are very grateful to the women and their employers who were interviewed for this project for sharing their stories and experiences. Their insights will useful for further work on attracting and retaining women into trades, and helping to break down occupational segregation.   The evidence is clear that women can bring many advantages to trades organisations, while offerring them a great employment opportunity.

Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018