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The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. According to research, approximately 75% of women have or will experience gender based bias in the workplace. In this article, Kayleigh Barnes (Business Unit Manager, Mass Darwin) shares her experiences of bias she’s faced working in predominantly male-orientated industries, and provides advice on how to help #BreakTheBias

Q. Kayleigh, you’ve worked in some very male-dominated industries throughout your career – tell us about some of the bias you’ve encountered.

A. I’ve worked in Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction, and have recruited into blue collar industries like Construction and Mining, so, unfortunately, I’ve experienced plenty of bias throughout my career.

Time and time again I’ve had to disprove gender stereotypes, like when I worked on a boat and the men didn’t think I’d be able to do the physical work. Early on in my career I had people openly tell me that I’m ‘probably not going to make it’ because I’m female and ‘females don’t typically last in this industry’. Male colleagues have questioned my skills and knowledge, or haven’t taken me seriously, simply because I was a woman working in a technical industry, and even when I progressed into more senior roles, there were times when I felt like I wasn’t given the level of respect I deserved because of gender bias.

Like many women, I’ve also encountered inappropriate behaviour in the workplace – I can remember one time, very early on in my career, when I was new to my role and visiting a construction site, getting wolf-whistled at by the men, which was very confronting.

Q. What was the impact of those experiences on you?

A. I’m a pretty strong and confident person, so every instance of bias that I’ve experienced has made me want to prove the other person wrong, challenge the gender stereotype and break their bias. At times being in the minority and not having female leaders to look up to or get support from left me feeling isolated and lonely, but overall my experiences motivated me to get into HR so I could do something to tackle inequality and protect others from bias, prejudice and inappropriate behaviour.

As a feminist I am outspoken on the issue of women’s rights and want to be a role-model for others to look up to. That’s why I’m proud to announce that Mass Darwin is a sponsor of the National Association of Women in Construction in the Northern Territory which is all about championing and supporting women in the workplace. To find out more information visit their website here or reach out to me on (insert phone/email).  

Q. What advice do you have for women to help them break bias in the workplace?

A.  Throughout my career, I’ve proven that women can do whatever they want and I hope to inspire others to do the same; don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because of your gender. If you experience bias, call it out. If you come up against gender stereotypes, challenge them and work hard to prove the other person wrong. Most importantly, if you experience inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, speak up and report it to HR or your line manager; don’t accept it and don’t suffer in silence.

Q. What can men do to be better allies and support their female colleagues?

A. Throughout my career I’ve been lucky to have the support of senior, male colleagues who encouraged me to break bias and challenge stereotypes. They motivated me to keep going and prove people wrong, and that support and encouragement is in part what we need from our male colleagues. It’s also critically important that our male colleagues call out bias in the workplace and speak up when they witness inappropriate behaviour; it’s not solely the responsibility of the women who are receiving it to challenge it. And of course, men should treat women as equals in the workplace – don’t make assumptions about our abilities based on our gender and don’t act in a biased or unfair way towards us.

Q. What about companies in general? How do they contribute to breaking gender bias?

A. Companies can help to break bias by supporting events like International Women’s Day, promoting female role-models within the business, talking about the importance of equity and inclusion, and taking action to address anything that doesn’t support this. Industries or workplaces that are male-dominated should consider ways that they can look out for their female employees and protect their wellbeing, to ensure that they’re not being disadvantaged, excluded or encountering biased behaviour and make it safe and easy for them to speak up if they are.

Thank you Kayleigh for sharing your experiences.

Mass Resources proudly supports International Women’s Day, and is an equal opportunities employer every day of the year. We want every employee to feel safe, respected and valued in the workplace, regardless of their gender, race or any other aspect of their identity. We’re proud to be a sponsor of the National Association of Women in Construction (NT), who champion and support women in the workplace.

To learn more about our sponsorship of National Association of Women in Construction please contact Kayleigh Barnes on (kayleigh.barnes@massresources.com.au)