Being the only female tradie on worksites doesn’t bother Fiona Shewring, but the perception that she’s not up to the task does.
She has been working to change such attitudes through her support and networking group for female tradies, SALT (Supporting And Linking Tradeswomen).
The initiative led to her being named, in the 2012 Financial Review-Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards, as one the nation’s most inspiring women.
Nominations for this year’s awards opened this week.
And Ms Shewring is putting the call out to Illawarra residents to nominate women from the region who are making a difference locally, nationally or globally.
‘‘I was nominated by Alison McLaren from Women NSW for setting up SALT, which is a non-profit organisation that supports tradeswomen and apprentices and women who want to get into a trade,’’ she said.
‘‘It was amazing to be named one of the 100 women of influence. And I also won the national Regional Woman of Influence award, which was amazing.
‘‘It’s been a huge boost to my cause to support women, and I’d urge others in the region to nominate the many women in our community who are out there doing great things.’’
Ms Shewring, who is also a painting and decorating teacher at Wollongong TAFE, fell into her trade by accident 20 years ago.
‘‘I was a single mum with five small kids when I met my second husband, a painter, and I started working with him by necessity – we needed to pay the bills,’’ she said.
‘‘I’ve always worked with my hands – I was a potter previously – and I just really enjoy painting and decorating.
‘‘But it can be challenging, especially when you turn up to a building site full of men. And some women find it hard to get into a trade, and stay in once they are there.’’
So three years ago Ms Shewring set up SALT, her non-profit organisation, which now boasts more than 400 members and co-ordinates workshops and meetings across Australia.
‘‘Trades can be extraordinarily fulfilling occupations for a great many people and you can earn good money,’’ she said.
‘‘They’re not for everyone, of course. But I just wanted to do something to help those women who did want to pursue a trade, and to let all women know of the choices available to them.
‘‘There may be some initial attitude, but I’ve found that quickly changes when you get in there and work hard and work well,’’ she said