Male overrepresentation compared: a view from the Australian political and construction sectors

Stream: Panel 72 - Gender Politics: Gender and Representation: Women in Power 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


Recent work has reorientated the focus of unequal political representation away from female underrepresentation towards male overrepresentation (Bjarengard 2013; Murray 2014; Eveline 1994, 1998). This work has obvious and widespread implications for other sectors as well. This paper compares the overrepresentation of men in Australian political life with men in professional positions in the Australian construction sector – the most male dominated sector in the Australian economy. It shows, that as with attempts to introduce gender equality policies into politics through quotas, government led gender diversity policies and initiatives to address men’s over representation in construction has made little impact: men’s overrepresentation in Australian politics has remained constant while it has increased in construction industry in recent years. Drawing on theories of masculinities and on feminist institutionalism, this paper argues that part of the explanation for overrepresentation of men in these sectors is linked to practices that privilege and maintain hegemonic masculinities, which in turn serve to maintain gender hierarchies. Through elite interviews and ethnographic data from the construction sector, the paper demonstrates that as in political life, entrenched privilege benefits elite men, and acts as a barrier to the attraction, retention and progression of women to the construction sector. The paper concludes that despite core differences between the two sectors, the concept of privilege provides a valuable lens to explore how hegemonic and complicit masculinities maintain male overrepresentation within both construction and politics overtime.


Louise Chappell (Presenter), UNSW
Louise Chappell is a Professor in the School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales. Louise and has published widely in the areas of feminist institutionalism, gender and rights, and comparative gender politics and policy. Her most recent book, published by Oxford University Press is The Politics of Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court: Legacies and Legitimacy.

Natalie Galea (Presenter), UNSW
Natalie Galea is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales. Natalie’s research is focused on gender in the Australian construction industry, especially the role masculine privilege plays in shaping the conduct, performance and outcomes for male and female professionals in the industry.