NZ women Ashleigh and Carli lift the lid on working in a male-dominated industry

When these two painters show up for a job, they usually meet with the same reaction.

A blank stare, silence and an obvious “up and down” look followed by a misogynistic comment.

Having been in the industry for more than seven years, Ashleigh Cleghorn told she had “heard it all” and is sadly used to the sexism that can come from working in a male-dominated profession.

But it was after he took 22-year-old co-worker Carli Carnegie under his wing that he realized how common these misogynistic attitudes were.

The pair are now working to instigate change and raise awareness of the issue.

“Nothing really surprises me anymore, to be honest,” she continued.

“When I started I wanted to give up every day, I really had to show that I respected myself.

“A lot of men, especially the older ones, are stuck in their ways and still think it’s a man’s world.

“I never let it bother me too much and I was determined to keep at it. But when I started working with Carli, I started to realize how bad it could be.

“When I saw it happen to someone else, that’s when I started shouting more than before and now I’m fighting to raise awareness.

“We need more women in this profession, and it’s time for those attitudes to change.”

Ashleigh and Carli, from Christchurch, New Zealand, are no strangers to archaic misogynistic sentiments and instances of blatant sexual harassment.

“Sometimes you feel like a piece of meat,” Ashleigh said.

“We get sexist comments, they look at us like we’re aliens, men call us things and the wolf whistle.

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“We’ve learned not to wear our high-vis shirts to places like the supermarket or you’ll get the weirdest look like you’re from another planet.

“Even comments like ‘is your boyfriend high profile?’ or “you should leave that kind of work to men” really bother us.”

Although she’s newer to the industry, Carli agreed that sexism can be pervasive and she loves using any toxic experience to show that women are strong, powerful and capable.

“We get a lot of stares and people looking us up and down,” he said.

“Going to rest, we will always be stared at or even wolf whistled.

“Honestly, it’s a different world out there, it’s like they’ve never seen a woman in their lives.

“We both like to be able to show people and show that we’re not just two ‘pretty girls’, we’re actually traders.

“It’s fulfilling and great to be part of a male-dominated industry. I think any woman is capable of doing that.

“Do what other people think, do it yourself and get out there.”

In Australia, female painters make up just 4% of all people in the trade, according to government Labor Market Insights.

This is up only marginally from 3.7% in 2001, an Australian Bureau of Statistics spokesman told

In New Zealand, this statistic is slightly higher, with women making up 7.9% of the total workforce of people in the painting and decorating industry, compared to 5.9% in year 2000.

Ashleigh and Carli are working to change sexist attitudes towards women in the trades, while also hoping to encourage more women to try the more male-dominated fields.

Both said they wouldn’t trade their “dream job” for the world and would love to see more women consider painting as a craft.

“We both love what we do, and now we work for a great company,” Ashleigh said.

“It can be difficult at first, and you often have to deal with some misogynistic attitudes, but this is unfortunately the case in many male-dominated professions.

“It’s a great career. Every day I do different things and you’re constantly learning.
“I love the level of responsibility I have in my position and I feel very grateful to be a woman in a leadership role.

“There’s room for growth and it’s not down to gender, you can progress in your position just like a man can.

“It would be great to see more women have the opportunity to step up and become leaders in their craft. If I had a female leader to look up to during my apprenticeship, it would have been so much easier.”

The couple added that there are some unique advantages to hiring painters that can often be overlooked.

“You often feel that women are more precise, cleaner and more presentable,” Ashleigh said.

“But I think that in every job there are people who are stronger in some areas than others and it’s not gender specific.

“I think women have an eye for detail and we have a different way of seeing things. Women can solve problems differently than men.”

To raise awareness of women in the painting trade, Ashleigh and Carli have taken to social media to show a fun insight into their profession.

The duo hope it can inspire other young women to consider entering the industry or even make a career change.

“It’s been really fun to get on TikTok and share what it’s like,” Carli said.

“We get the usual sexist comments, but we also get loads of people telling us how great it is to see women kicking ass in a typically male role.

“It’s really motivating and rewarding to watch.

“We just wanted to spread the message that women are capable of anything. It’s not just a man’s world these days!”

Originally published as “Wolf whistle, rife sexism”: Feminist traditions reveal the reality of the industry

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