• Penny Petridis says clients have responded well to having women on site, and the Female Tradie is growing year on year. (SBS Small Business Secrets)
Having spent decades as one of the few females on site, Penny Petridis has made it her business to get other women involved in trades.
SBS Small Business Secrets
21 Jul 2016 - 3:32 PM  UPDATED 18 Mar 2018 - 1:33 PM

When Penny Petridis started as a metal worker 20 years ago at 23 year old, she was unsurprised to be the only female on the floor.

Decades later, with five of her own female apprentices, she says she's shocked at how little has changed.

"I want to get more girls on board, we are really busy so I want to get more girls on board but they're just not out there," she said.

"Women, we don't grow up learning any tool skills, hand skills so just even the basics. So when a woman tries to go into the trade they don't even know their basics so it is really intimidating for them. And the boys do have a bit of a macho thing, especially in the building industry. They do like to rub their shoulders and show what their stuff is."

Penny's own experiences on site were largely positive, as the boys "didn't talk down to her", but she found she was one of few women who were comfortable in the male-dominated work environment.

Now, she is trying to encourage more women into the construction industry, through training courses and apprenticeships at the Female Tradie.

It's a phenomenon not limited to Australia; Buffy Prince was tired of the relentless sexism she encountered in courses and on sites when she worked as an apprentice in the UK.

'I was the only woman in my course and I think a lot of women would have been put off and probably quit," Ms Prince said.

Since moving back to Australia, she approached the Female Tradie for the opportunity to do the job she loved, in an environment she enjoyed.

"The way men are socialised is to help women out with physical labour and when you are doing something that looks difficult they might try and take over the job from you and it's actually really condescending."

It's a similar story for the four other apprentices and tradespeople who work for the Female Tradie.

"I think they just feel more secure that there is a few girls on board and they just don't feel as intimidated and I try to be alright, cool and teach them as much as i can and not put the pressure on too much," Ms Petridis said.

In the first year of operation, it was just Penny, paying off a long list of tools.

"It has taken three years to break even because everything we made was put back into buying tool and everything we need," she said.

"Now we have grown and we're good -and we are not just breaking even, we are finally making money!"


In those three years, more clients have emerged, keen to see if the girls do things differently.

Petridis admits, there are "plenty of great male tradies" but that women tend to pay more attention to detail and are considerate of cleanliness in homes.

Julia Stevens, who chose to hire the Female Tradie after seeing their brightly coloured black and pink van on the street, was interested to test that theory.

"You're putting a lot of trust into people inviting them into your home i suppose and i guess it is quite an intimate thing and I personally feel more comfortable having women around the house."

In the months since, Julia has enjoyed the team's style and the influence they are having on her baby daughter.

"This is a great thing for Stevie to see, that women can do all these manual things and be practical," she said.

While others plan to buy a home, through her business, Penny wants to build one instead.

"My aim is in maybe three or four years when we get a few girls doing trades and they get qualified and we can actually build a whole house with just female tradies."

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