Bright future for female tradies as numbers spark a change


Raven Maris is one of an increasing number of women joining “non-traditional”, male-dominated trades around the country – a timely shift given housing shortages and infrastructure bottlenecks. Image: Supplied

Raven Maris is in her fourth and final year as an electrician’s apprentice on the Central Coast of New South Wales. The 30-something mother of two has worked in ski fields, junkyards, commercial kitchens and other historically blokey workspaces her entire life.

“I reached a point when my kids went back to school that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” she says. “I didn’t want to go back to uni, I didn’t want to be in heaps of debt, so I decided a trade was my next option.”

Maris is one of the increasing number of women joining “non-traditional”, male-dominated  trades around the country. Between 2016 and 2021, the number of working electricians identifying as female jumped from 1,697 to 2,811. This 66 per cent increase is the sharpest five-year uptick increase since 2006.

“I didn’t want to go back to uni, I didn’t want to be in heaps of debt, so I decided a trade was my next option,” says Raven Maris of her decision to become an electrician.

“I didn’t want to go back to uni, I didn’t want to be in heaps of debt, so I decided a trade was my next option,” says Raven Maris of her decision to become an electrician.Amid a national shortage of skilled building labour, the pipeline of female electrical apprentices is expanding 11 per cent per year, compared to just 3 per cent for males.

For Maris, the combination of less physically demanding work and the chance to use her maths and science knowledge made being an electrician the most attractive choice of all the male-dominated trades.

Sally Liddell founded her electrician business in 2014 and, like Maris, enjoyed the “theory side” of electrical work.

At the time, she only knew of one other women-owned electrical business in Victoria, but now feels the tide of female representation in trades is turning.

“When I was at school, there was no clear pathway for girls to enter a trade, it wasn’t even really considered,” she says. “So now that there are more women getting into trades, it’s forging a path for others to do the same.”

Communications manager at the National Electrical and Communications Association, Nathan Spithill, says the women who choose to go “on the tools” often excel. He’s observed that many are adept at maths and science, good leaders and overall “tend to make the better apprentices by a long shot”.

He also points to a domino effect of as one of the reasons representation is increasing so rapidly.
“Girls will go through the time as an apprentice, they’ll do really well and it won’t be long until they move into a supervisory role,” he says. “Then they’ll be paired with other female apprentices and become a mentor figure.” Combined with a more inclusive leadership team “up the chain”, he predicts this will create a more supportive working environment for younger women entering the industry as apprentices.

The workforce change, occurring during peak of housing shortages and infrastructure bottlenecks, is timely. But there’s plenty of scope for more, with a staggering 98 per cent of the national electrical work force male.


Tradeswomen Australia CEO Janet Cribbes says such extreme gender skewing is common in so-called non-traditional trades – a term used to denote male-dominated trades as opposed to hairdressing or beauty, which are traditionally female-dominated. But a combination of government policy and advocacy by organisations has contributed to an increase of women in these fields in the last five years.


The numbers will continue to grow as government incentives designed to combat skills shortages with newly trained domestic workers shortages deliver more women into the workforce.

“Since COVID … there’s been a really strong push to ensure that women have some equity around the opportunity to work in those trades,” Cribbes says.

Electrical worker and head of the National Women’s Committee for the Electrical Trades Union, Ellen McNally, says that increasing the number of women in the field is the first step towards equity, but that workplace rights are the next big challenge.

At the top of her agenda are paid parental leave, access to appropriate amenities and safety equipment and clothing specific to women’s bodies.

“We still have a long way to [go],” she says. On many sites, “women don’t have a basic toilet at work. I can’t imagine any other industry that that would be tolerable”.

McNally thinks that some women might be attracted to trades, and particularly electrical work, as a pathway to being part of the renewables revolution. “Nowadays the conversation is: ‘Are you concerned about the environment? You want to be part of the solution?’ Electricians will be a major part of that solution.”

Raven Maris says she will stay on the tools for a few years once she finishes her apprenticeship but eventually wants to move into construction management.

“You don’t have to stay in as an electrician, you can move sideways,” she says.

Besides the increase in skilled labour, Maris sees the biggest advantage to the increased number of women electricians is a shift towards more respectful workplaces.

“It’s making a cultural change so it’s not this old boys’ club anymore,” she says. “The more women or culturally diverse people that we see [on work sites] changes the way we tell jokes. Banter moves away from bullying and harassment to a more friendly, cooperative environment.”

She is already seeing the effects on the next generation.

“My youngest [daughter] already wants to become a plumber.”