Balancing our Trades

We can’t state difference and also state equality. We have to state sameness to understand equality – Zadie Smith, Author

Did you know that there are less than 6000 women employed in trades Australia-wide?*

Jo Saccomani, Churchill Fellow and licensed builder in the Bega Valley region, has a vision. She wants to see a fifty/fifty gender balance in the trades in her lifetime. And she’s going to do her darndest to make it happen. Jo, also the founder of Two Sheds, a woodworking workshop (try saying that three times, fast) for women and kids, addressed a packed-out Civic Centre on Saturday, 1st September for Bega’s first Festival of Open Minds. Included in a line-up of notable social change advocates including social researcher and psychologist Hugh Mackay AO and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Linda Burney, Jo would be forgiven for nerves. Jo, however, possesses such courage of conviction that her words rang out against the walls of the hall and into the ears of the paying audience. Jo’s message is clear — gender equality will only come about when seeing a woman in a set of coveralls isn’t strange. When having a female sparky rock up at your door to fix a short doesn’t set off alarm bells. When there’s no longer a conversation to be had.

I went to meet with Jo and check out her enterprise and was amazed at what she’s created. Beginning with a single shed four years ago and now encompassing two large workshop spaces and several storage sheds, Two Sheds Workshop is a hive of industry. Imagine your traditional Men’s Shed or school woodwork room — lengths of timber, sawhorses, chisels, sawdust, half-finished tables, Nordic swords (ok, maybe not the swords. I think that’s just Jo — she also runs woodworking classes at the local Steiner school) – Got it? Now replace the boys with girls. Got it!

Based on a user-pays system and no funding, Jo has built a safe, nurturing space for girls and women to come together (or alone) to learn the art of good carpentry. Jo says that women often come in wanting to start out in the building industry, but they feel intimidated by the culture. And while it’s true that opportunity exists, Jo believes that empowering women with skills and knowledge before they go into the trades workforce will result in a more sustainable, positive outcome and, eventually, a culture shift.
The bit that really interested me though was Jo’s plan for the future. Jo envisages, as early as next year, to have enough funding to develop a framework (excuse the puns) to teach women and girls how to make tiny houses; essentially providing them with the opportunity to skill up in every aspect of standard house building on a smaller scale.

I left Two Sheds feeling hopeful and inspired. Working in a regional area to engage kids in meaningful employment can be challenging. The more barriers we break down, the easier it becomes for everyone. And as a colleague remarked to me the other day, the hospitality industry was once male-dominated too. When was the last time you looked at a female cook and thought, ‘hey that’s different?’. Here’s to gender equality in the workplace.

For more information on SALT and Two Sheds, go to and

*sourced from