Embracing Equity on International Women’s Day 2023

We’re supporting International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of #EmbraceEquity. Equity isn't just a nice-to-have, it's a must-have.


A focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society's DNA. And it's critical to understand the difference between equity and equality. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action. Read more about this here.

Let us introduce you to four women in trade who come from across the motu (country) to share how they embrace equity and why it's important to celebrate and recognise this annual day.

So for 2023 and beyond, we encourage you to give equity a huge embrace!

Meet four amazing trades wāhine (women)

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Colleen Upton is President Elect of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and General Manager/Director at Hutt Gas and Plumbing Systems.

Having been in the industry for near on 30 years, Colleen has some important advice for wāhine thinking about a career in trades.

Colleen loves construction. She likes the idea of being involved in making things her grandchildren and great grandchildren will use and benefit from. Her company was involved in building the Wallaceville Bio Containment Facility, Wellington Hospital, Margaret Stewart Hospital oncology and accident and emergency wards, and Dowse Art Gallery.

For Colleen, IWD is a chance to pause, to look forwards, to look backwards and celebrate women everywhere no matter what job they do or where they live.

Perceptions of gender equality have changed quite a lot over the last 30 years. I’m not saying we haven’t got a long way to go, because we sure as hell do, but the fact is, when I started 30 years ago there were no women plumbers that I know of. There were topless calendars, whistling on construction sites, you know all those things we look at now and go my god, why did we put up with that? Those things are gradually being outlawed. Right now, there are three percent and growing women on the tools. Long may that grow!

The biggest opportunity for change that Colleen has found in her career in the trades is being open minded to the fact that the best person for the job might wear a skirt and high heels sometimes. Once you get past that and can look at people for what they are and the skills they can bring to a job, we’ll be on the way to getting some equality in our industry.

Colleen is an employer and what she has done with her two business partners is promote equality. We have five female employees, from apprentice stage to fully qualified. We’ve been open minded when people have come to seek work and we’ve looked at the best people for the job. I’m proud to say that if we got another female plumber on site, nobody would even bat an eyelid. It’s normalised in our business and that’s something! Being open minded is all it takes, that belief in no matter what your gender is, if this is a job you want to do, then it shouldn’t matter what gender you are. Flexibility is a good thing and will certainly help increase gender equality in the workforce as well.

My advice to women considering a career in the trade is to be persistent. It’s a truth that unfortunately, women will find it harder to get an apprenticeship. But if you really want to do it, be persistent, ask for the opportunity to do some unpaid work experience. When you do your CV, put in there why you want to do the trades. Chase your dream and do it.

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Kat Ricketts is a Wellington business owner and building apprentice with a side hustle as @WellingtonTradieLady, a social media personality that shares all things TRADE.

Kat is in her fourth (and final) year of a carpentry apprenticeship and has owned BR Flooring, a commercial flooring company, for eight years.

Kat chose construction because being self-reliant appeals to her. The practical abilities you build are applicable across most aspects of your life.

For Kat, IWD is a day that marks a call to action with accelerating gender parity. Hard data comes out over traditional media and social media, and we discuss it. We look at how far women have come and how far we’ve got to go. It brings gender parity back into political and social agendas, setting goals and deadlines on what we want to achieve.

As far as employers embracing equality in our industry, there’s no problem having time off for family events, injury, and sick days are supported to get you back in full swing for work. Gender equity is an absolute given in that area. When you walk into a site there is a sign at the top that says you must respect everybody on site which I think is a very telling thing if that’s the first thing you see when you walk on site.

From my perspective, one-way employers could increase gender equality in the workplace is to hire more woman – as simple as that. The best people to consult on this are the people that are living the inequity so they can help mould the equity. It’s a lived experience and the people living will answer best.

My advice to women considering a career in the trade is to find your people. Work is where you spend most of your time, and your workplace has to be contributing to your mental wellness and your future. Work shouldn’t be endured; it should be pleasant and a place where you find people that make that time pleasant.

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Nina Griffith is a carpentry apprentice from the far north and is also a Te Pūkenga BCITO Apprentice Leader.

Nina has been in the building industry as a carpentry apprentice for almost three years. After Covid-19, she came back to New Zealand from Australia and had to choose a new direction. Nina was inspired by her uncle who encouraged her to consider building. She was curious to try something new, learn practical skills, and challenge herself.

For Nina, IWD is a day to celebrate and elevate women’s achievements in our journey regardless of our gender. She also thinks it’s important to document our progress.

Perceptions of gender equity in Nina’s industry have changed since she began her career. There’s been a normilisation of women in trades. It’s less of a surprise to see women on site and people have a better understanding of the benefits of having a gender diverse team.

Nina feels that seeing more women in leadership positions would provide opportunities for change in a trades’ career. This could challenge previous perceptions and demonstrate how women can bring a new perspective to decision making and be respected for different strengths we can bring to a team. This makes for a better team environment and better results overall.

To be identified as different can add to the separation of women and men on site. Treating us the same way can avoid the ‘special treatment for women’ stereotype and can keep the playing field even. Avoiding allocating tasks you would assume would be a ‘woman’s’ role such as cleaning or admin can be a simple way to avoid this. These tasks are important for men to learn too. These are some ways that employers can increase gender equality in their workforce.

My advice to women considering a career in the trades is that trades are a great option! Consider the benefits of being part of an awesome team, being fit, seeing great results everyday, and being paid well. Don’t think you are coming in as a minority. Most employers are awesome. Don’t be afraid of the physical challenges such as lifting heavy things on site. Remember, leverage is a girl’s best friend. Think about it before you do it.

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Willow Rolton is a second-year carpentry apprentice based in Queenstown who loves construction because it's hands-on and you can get stuck into it!

Willow has been in the construction industry for just over four and a half years.

For Willow, IWD is a day that makes us look at where we've been, see how far we've come and to keep fighting for more. Progress doesn’t happen by accident, all the accomplishment and success that women have achieved didn't come easy, but it just proves that it's possible.

Regarding perceptions of gender equity in the industry, everybody deserves to do a job that they love without the fear of feeling like they don't belong, due to gender, where you come from, or any of those discriminating factors. The biggest change I'd like to see would be this industry become a safer space for all. Across the board, there's a lot of work to be done for everyone in this industry and that is something we can work on together to achieve that safe space for everyone.

Willow often speaks up about equality and diversity. She thinks the more we have these conversations the more action will stem from these conversations. Whether it’s slipped in on a conversation or whether it's taking the time to educate some people on site about why it's important to educate themselves. Willow thinks the more we talk about things, the more action will follow.

Willow thinks there is a lot to be said about employers increasing gender equality in the workforce. In her experience, it depends on where you work. Employers could increase equality by letting anybody who wants to do the job, do it, whilst maintaining a safe environment for these people to do their work. Making sure that there are correct bathrooms, right workwear, right terminology, making sure there's no harassment on site, and making that conscious effort to look after the different genders onsite are some examples.

My advice to women considering a career in the trades is honestly, just give it a go. Take that step, jump in. Being in a male dominated industry, remember who you are, be unapologetically yourself, and don't feel like you need to fit into a box to belong. You are perfect the way you are, and you deserve to do the job you love without fear of feeling like you don't belong.

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