For International Women’s Day , we celebrated three Women in Construction who are showing Australia that there is an equal industry workforce on the horizon. Melanie Rollings, founder of The Tradie Lady, talks to us about how she is reshaping the minds of young girls and boys through her construction of playgrounds at childcare centres and educational facilities.
Q. How did The Tradie Lady come about?
It all started about 3 and a half years ago – we were actually in the childcare industry, and we had a lot of friends in childcare. A lot of us needed our yards redone, but the landscapers quoting us were charging an absolute mint. Women were getting ripped off, and the more we asked around, we realised everyone had similar stories.
Myself and my now business partner thought, it can’t be that hard. We started off with our child care centre to knock some of the cost out, and thought we did a pretty good job! When we got our first ‘real’ job, that was it. We made a Facebook page and got a bunch of likes and followers, and after that we booked in to study, got qualified and just started from there.
Q. How does The Tradie Lady empower women in construction?
I think with our business, the young kids in preschools and especially the young girls see have exposure to women that are giving it a go, and it raises all the right questions. We also do woodwork lessons with our kids at after-school care. We’ve noticed that the boys will move on after half an hour or so, and girls will do it all day — they’re really enthralled with having that opportunity. We’re giving them tools and teaching them how to use them, and undoing any gender conditioning early. We want them to think, and know, “I’ve got the same hands and the same tools as the boys — so why cant I?” We’re empowering young girls to really believe this for when they grow up.
Q. What is The Tradie Lady’s proudest achievement?
We worked on this yard and a previous company of men came in and said it was too hard – they can’t do it, they can’t do it, they can’t do it. So we had a look and we thought, yeah, that’s going to be difficult — it was on a really steep hill and the work was going to be hard. But you know what, we did it and we nailed it! It felt really good to just to stick it to someone! To say, actually, not only can we do it — we can even do it when you said you can’t!
Also, it was a very proud moment when our business became established — to see where we’ve come when we started from nothing is a huge accomplishment.
Q. What would you say is the biggest challenge, and biggest reward, for women in construction?
The biggest challenge is still the way people think. A lot of random guys will see you in the hardware store, with a trolley full of materials and tools, and come over and ask “what are you and your husband building?”. Or think it’s really ‘cute’ that we’re in the hardware section looking at drills, instead of sticking to the plants or paint aisles. So a lot of it is still hearing that and holding it together.
The biggest reward for me personally is watching our designs come from a piece of paper, and watching my hands make it into a reality.
Q. What would you say to women currently in construction, or those trying to get into the industry?
Just give it a go – you’d be surprised at how much you enjoy it. It’s a really great job. If you’re creative and you like doing it, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it because you’re a female.
Also – if there’s anyone out there who know where to get worker’s clothing in female sizes, please let me know! I’m sick of buying men’s uniforms!
Q. Why is sustainability important to you?
In childcare, there are sustainability goals that every centre needs to actively work towards, so I’m always looking for ways centres can be more sustainable. We really encourage it – there are so many cool things you can recycle and reuse, especially with timber products.
Q. Do you have any tips about practising sustainable construction?
Look, it is expensive; but we try and find stuff on Buy, Swap, Sell and sites like that. People are giving it away all the time, it’s just a matter of finding it. Yes, it takes effort and there’s a lot more work to using reclaimed timber. But the end product looks so much better, and it’s important in the long run.