Offensive graffiti, attitudes targeted in NSW bid to improve

Obscene graffiti will be removed and new toilets and changing facilities installed as part of a New South Wales trial to improve construction sites for female workers.

The “culture standard” will be rolled out at two government construction sites in coming months, with the results to be studied to see if pervasive cultural issues can be addressed and workplaces improved.

The government hopes the trial will make the sites – Wentworth Point high school and the Mulgoa Road upgrade – more friendly to women by introducing more family friendly hours, dedicated spaces for women and assessing and addressing gender pay gaps on the projects.

Men account for 88% of construction industry workers across the country, according to 2021 data.

Alison Mirams, the chief executive of construction company Roberts Co that will be building the Wentworth Point school in the trial, said the industry was “very macho, ego-driven” and there needed to be widespread adoption of better practices.

“It can be very verbally aggressive, it can be a very in-your-face environment to work in,” Mirams said.

“[Workers] will draw d*cks on walls, they will draw boobs. I don’t know what industry that would be acceptable [in] but on a construction site it [is]. To a young female coming in, it’s sexual harassment.

“It sounds silly to be talking about [female] toilets but it’s not common [to have them on-site].”

The trial – which will see working weeks being capped at five days – will be led by the joint NSW and Victorian governments’ Construction Industry Culture Taskforce, the Australian Constructors Association and industry leaders.

Mirams, who has been working in the industry for more than 20 years, hoped the trial would show others in the industry that women had a lot to offer and made the workplace better.

“I want the industry to get to the point where women have equality in the industry,” she said.

“You can work five days a week and have the same productivity and have happier, healthier people and better quality and safety. We’ve got to stop focusing on how many hours you’ve done as opposed to how productive you are.”

The NSW metropolitan roads minister, Natalie Ward, said she hoped the initiative would help achieve the government’s goal of boosting women in construction to 15% by 2030.

“The sad reality is that women on construction sites can be subject to sexist slurs, offensive graffiti and second-rate amenities that don’t accommodate their needs, including a lack of sanitary bins or private spaces,” Ward said.

She said the standard would set out a “basic roadmap” to make sites more inclusive.