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How Women are Building the
Future of Construction

 

Originally aired on 4/22/21

57 Min Watch Time

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Catie:
Hello, everyone. My name is Catie Williams. I’m a Product Director at InEight. I oversee our connected analytics group. Personally I’ve been in the construction industry when I started my career in 2008, and I’ve been working and focused on technology and the digitization of the industry ever since.
Catie:
I’m really excited to be hosting this panel for you today. We have some great ladies that will introduce themselves here shortly, and they’ll be sharing their insights and perspectives on being a woman in the industry.
Catie:
Before we get started, a few housekeeping things. You cannot unmute yourselves, so everyone should be muted. No video sharing or anything like that. We would love it if you used both the chat and the question feature. You should see that in the lower right hand side of your screen. If you have any questions, we got several before we even started, which is great, so we’ll incorporate those in, if you already asked a question, but feel free to ask more.
Catie:
Then at the end of the webinar, we would love your feedback and to find out what you thought. If there’s anything you’d like to see. Any other future conversations that you’d like to have, we would love to hear that feedback. I think we can go ahead and kick off some introductions. I’ll just wait for the other ladies to go live, here. It will just be a second.
Catie:
You might notice there’s a few Kates, Caties on the line, so we’ll try to keep that clear. It’s definitely a popular name in the industry. Maybe Kate from WSP, maybe you could start and introduce yourself. Maybe share a little bit about how you got interested in the industry, and what you’re doing today. I think that would be great.
Kate:
Yeah, sure. Hi, everyone, and thanks very much for having me. I’m Kate Gilchrist, I’m a General Manager at WSP across Australia for our transport and major projects business. I’m a Civil Engineer by trade, as I like to say. I’ve been in the industry over 25 years now. I’m really pleased that it’s taken me around the world to all different places, from the Philippines to Ireland to London and lots of places across Australia.
Kate:
Early on in my career I was really lucky to get exposed to the concept of project management, and that really went on to be my area of technical excellence in the business. I’ve managed projects in transport, in mining, in environment and power. Lots of different areas and markets, and it has taken me to where I am now. Being the General Manager, I’m accountable for the delivery of 40 of our major projects across Australia.
Kate:
What that means for us is we really, WSP delivers the design and technical advice for some of those major infrastructure projects like rail and road and tunnels across Australia.
Catie:
That’s great. Thank you, Kate. All right, Kayte with a Y. Do you want to introduce yourself next?
Kayte:
Yes, thank you. I’m Kayte, and I’m from Mates In Construction. Probably not a traditional construction role, but I’m a social worker and have been for about 25 years. Came to the construction sector because of having such a high incidence of suicide within the construction industry, so I work for an organization where we primarily are doing mental health and suicide prevention. I do case management, which is so if people are struggling that little bit more, you can come and get some further ongoing support.
Kayte:
Statistically, people in the construction industry two times higher rates of suicide than the general population. It certainly is a big incidence within this sector, and there’s always a big focus on work, health, and safety within the industry. Focusing on the physical side, mental health aspect is just as important. We’re in most states and New Zealand, and yeah. That’s a bit about my background.
Catie:
Great. Thank you, Kayte. All right Jo, do you want to introduce yourself?
Jo:
Sure. My name’s Jo Vittiglia, I’m based in Perth, in WA. Being someone who’s born and bred in WA, a lot of people that I know, or are related to, or have worked with before have had some sort of relationship or worked in the mining or construction industry. Over the last 10, 15, or 20 years, I did FIFO too, flying in and out from there for a few years.
Jo:
Then back in Perth, worked for a construction and engineering company called Laing O’Rourke. I was their Business Systems Support Analyst there, and supported all the projects of getting them up and running with the systems that they used. Had a lot of flying out to different mining sites to support them on the ground, the different systems that they needed to use.
Jo:
Now I’m with InEight. Again, working with a lot of clients from the construction industry, and supporting them in the systems that they use for that area, as well.
Catie:
Great. Thank you. All right, the questions are already coming in, which is awesome. The very first one is about how often you’re asked to “man up” or “suck it up.” Maybe before we go to that one, but I love the energy already, maybe you all have a lot of experience in the industry. Several years. I think it maybe would be good to give some perspective on how things have changed as a woman? Maybe when you first started to where you are now, and maybe Kate from WSB, if you’re good if you kick it off, and then Jo or Kayte with a Y, if you have anything else to throw in, we can just continue to just keep the conversation going?
Kate:
Yeah, definitely I’ve been doing a bit of reflecting on that with some of my colleagues and friends from university. One friend of mine and I were talking about, oh remember when she first started, and all the women in her construction company were expected to wear skirts. That has definitely changed. She did ask how she was meant to go out to sites, and climb a ladder, so that’s changed.
Kate:
I think for me, I remember starting off, and I think now if I went to a construction site, I’m pretty confident there would be a toilet that I could use that would be suitable rather than the men that I worked with when I was younger who would say, “Oh, we’re just going to stop here, so that you can do what you need to do, okay? Things have moved a lot from there. But I also think we have things like diversity and inclusion committees.
Kate:
We have had a female Prime Minister, so we’ve had a female at the highest level in government so we can look up and see people that look a bit more like us in the construction industry. Automation’s really made a difference. There’s a lot more accessibility for a lot more diverse people. I’ve definitely been able to, like I said, travel the world with my role, which I don’t think I would have been able to do as much earlier on.
Kate:
That’s definitely more encouraging. And understanding that what the diversity of thought brings to any industry, but particularly our industry, and if we don’t have that diversity of thought we lack creativity and opportunity and different ways to be able to contribute. So there’s a few things. I’m sure the others have got some other stories.
Jo:
Oh, yes. I remember, again at Laing O’Rourke, a lady that I worked with. Mind you, she’d been in the industry for quite a long time. I think her first uniform were those very, very short stubby shorts. The very, very short short ones. That was what she had to wear as her uniform.
Jo:
Yeah, definitely agree around the toilets. Even some of the older mine sites that may have the dongas where it’s got a share ablutions, like shared toilets and shared showers and things like that, it was always, “Oh, what do we do? There’s a female coming.” To try and accommodate that.
Jo:
I think as a standard going forward, that’s definitely improved. Definitely around automation, as well. I think there’s definitely been a shift as far as physical ability for women to be able to do things. We’ve seen that trains, trucks can be driven remotely. You don’t have to go to site in order to be able to do that.
Jo:
Just recently, actually, the other night there’s a push in WBA of getting truck drivers. I was pleased to see the story of it, and there was a lot of females there that were training and learning how to drive trucks because there’s a shortage here at the moment with it. I think with automation, and I think just knowledge of knowing that there’s jobs out there that you can do, and that traditionally probably weren’t presented to you.
Jo:
I think that helps, but it will take time. But there’s a slow transition of that coming through, definitely, that I see.
Catie:
I don’t know, Kayte, if you had anything else to add to that before I maybe switch directions?
Kayte:
Look, only something minor. I think one of the other big things that’s happened in the last sort of few years, I obviously haven’t been around in the sector for 25 years, but certainly in the time that I’ve been around, big networking organizations , that really bring women together and give them a strong voice and sort of platform to show what they can do, and give younger people coming through good strong role models within the sector. Just that opportunity, whether it’s to find mentors, sponsors, those sort of things. I think that’s a real positive for any industry, but particularly construction.
Catie:
To that vein, on the question of “are women often asked to man up or suck up, or get on with it” are you seeing that? Do you feel that still? I mean, it sounds like maybe there was a little bit of that initially in your career, and things are changing. Do you feel like that’s an accurate statement, or not what you’re experiencing? I liked that question. It was very direct.
Kate:
Yeah. I don’t hear as much of that language as I used to, but my sense would be, and I’m thinking as I’m talking here, that it’s there, but it’s not said. I think that’s probably even a bit more scary. I think people are more aware of their language, and the influence that can have, but I wonder about the subconscious bias around people expecting people to “man up” but not quite sure how to actually articulate that, would be my perspective on that.
Jo:
Yeah, I would agree. I mean, I probably heard it out in fields, but probably more a male to a male, or a female to a female, potentially. But I don’t think I’ve seen it more cross gender from that perspective, but I totally agree with Kate that it’s probably more in their head rather than verbalized. Potentially, with that, but I can’t say for sure on it.
Kayte:
Well we would certainly see the male to male making those sort of comments, but I think, maybe off on a bit of a tangent, what I’ve experienced when I’ve been on a work site would be if I’m out with a male colleague and you’ve got somebody coming up to talk to us, and they talk directly to him. It’s like, I’m actually here, too. I’m part of the group.
Jo:
Yeah.
Kayte:
Yeah. I think I haven’t really been exposed to that in other areas that I’ve worked in, and again, but previously social work’s very female dominated, so that’s quite different again. It’s quite different again, but it’s quite interesting when all of a sudden you’re standing there going, “But I’m here.” Yeah. I haven’t actually had those sort of comments made to me, but certainly been, yeah. Conversation-
Catie:
Overlooked.
Kayte:
-I don’t exist. Yeah.
Catie:
Yeah. We talked about that a little bit when we first met, too. I know a question we had that came in is what are your suggestions to a woman that is feeling like she’s being overlooked? I think Kate from WSP, you had a good example of attention being directed to someone else in the room. What ideas and recommendations do you have for women that are experiencing that?
Kate:
Yeah. I think talk about it, firstly. You might not feel comfortable in the place where you are at the time, but talk to your colleagues and see what they think. I asked the question when I’ve that, particularly with my male colleagues, they often didn’t realize, and they know they should have. Some of them. Some, maybe not so much. There is that acknowledgement. I think that bringing everyone into the room, so the asking people what their opinion of something, or how do you see it from where you are. Really value what you will bring to that. What’s your experience? I think some of those styles.
Kate:
I guess, you know, it’s taken me a while to get there, but there is such power in calling it out. Just talk about it, and be ready for some uncomfortable silences. That definitely happens, but the more we do it, if we don’t speak, then who will? I think I’d really encourage everyone. Something that keeps me going is the shadow that we cast as female leaders in the business that other people look at. Men and women look up to us around how we behave, and what we comment on, and what we think about, and how we make things inclusive, and how we bring diversity of thought to a conversation. Give everyone a voice.
Catie:
Yeah, I think something too, when I think personally about my own confidence, right? When I first started in my career, was very low in terms of speaking out, for advocating for myself. That might be another thing. I mean, I don’t know how you all have felt in your careers about how that’s changed over the duration, but I’m sure young women coming in struggle with how do I speak up without feeling like there could be some type of negative opinion of you? You could get cast in a very stereotypical role as a female because you’re speaking up, so I’m curious if you’ve had any insight on that, either.
Jo:
I guess for me, I’ve been lucky that I have had female managers in my work career. I think that’s been really good for me, to see how they have interacted with other people, that I can learn from that as well. I think as well, other places I’ve worked in have been good in educating staff.
Jo:
It’s not just about the gender, but cultural, as well. About what people say, and the impact that it can have on people. And exactly as Kate said, it’s calling out people and saying to them, you know, this is how it made me feel. Not bringing emotions into it, or anything like that. It’s more just educating people that their words have an impact on you, and it can make you feel however it made you feel. It’s exactly that.
Jo:
Having that confidence to be able to do that, and if not directly, then talking to your manager if you feel comfortable about that, or talking to someone in HR. That conversation can be had, because it may not just be an issue with you. It could be across the board, as well, with other people that that person’s words may also have affect as well.
Jo:
Like I said, I’ve been lucky enough to have female managers myself. But it does take a lot of confidence to be able to call people out with what they’ve said. And for some people, they may not realize. Other people do, but for some people, they may not realize what they’re saying, what effect it can have.
Catie:
A good question that we got on here was someone said, “As a middle aged white male, what’s one thing I could do to improve engagement of female colleagues in my team?” Maybe if we even took it further of, how do you approach something like that with a boss or a manager? Do you lean on a mentor? I don’t know if you guys have any thoughts on how you would go about approaching. Like, something happens, now how do you bring it up, and how do you then … what are the next steps that you would take?
Kayte:
Well I think even looking at it a little bit differently, but looking at it from a positive about how a man can assist a female in that workplace. If you have a colleague, and you’re like, “She has some real strengths and interests in this area,” you’re in a meeting, invite her to have her say instead of being talked over in the meeting, or little things like that. Inviting her to a meeting that you think that might actually give her the opportunity to be seen and heard, and have a voice. I think there are positive things that we can do, as well as sort of looking at, well how do you do the call outs for the not so good behavior?

Catie:
How do you get that to happen, though? Do you think it’s training of managers that needs to happen? Right? To get them to understand the different perspective? How do you even make someone aware that this is an issue we’re facing as an organization, and we need to have some change?
Kayte:
Yeah. And unfortunately, I think that is the females in the room that need to bring that up, and sort of bring it to their attention. Again, you can have some really, coming back to your managers. Who are your managers? I mean, I’m at the moment, I actually have a male as a manager. I have to say I’ve been very lucky with the opportunities that he will put forward, or that he will suggest. You know? “Well, why don’t you try this,” or, “You do that.”
Kayte:
But I do understand that that’s obviously not everyone out there. I think it’s just that slow plugging away about what you have to offer, and that reinforcing of I’m not just here because of this, but I can bring these other things along, as well. And having that confidence to have the voice to let people know what you actually are able and capable of doing.
Kate:
I’d say to the, what was it? What was, who asked the question?
Kayte:
Male?
Catie:
What could a white male, as a manager, do to improve engagement of female colleagues on my team?
Kate:
Awesome. Talk to the women in your business. Really understand what they care about, why they’re here, what motivates them. Tell them that they can be the boss of your business one day. That they have the skills and the knowledge and the expertise. Maybe not now, but they can get it. They can lead this place. They can have the highest position in this business, and that matters. Even if they’re not interested, there will be other women that are, and that message gets out there. So, tell them that they can be the leaders, be the Chief Executive Officer, be the Prime Minister, whatever that might be, really. Tell them they can be whatever they would like to be. I think one of the biggest things that helped me in my career was I truly had a sponsor.
Kayte:
Yeah.
Kate:
He didn’t tell me about the things I was doing well, he told everyone else.
Kayte:
Yeah.
Kate:
And he told them all the time, and he told them in front of me, and other people. I was really embarrassed to start with. I was like, “Oh my god.” I was like, “What is going on here? I don’t understand.” Then I was like … you know, and it wasn’t mentoring. It was sponsorship. It was really speaking out loud, and putting me up for opportunities, and things like that, and I think that’s any sponsorship pieces that you can do, sure take people to meetings, but also say, “This is our leader Joanne, and she is going to lead this piece of work, and make you have the most amazing project you’ve ever seen.”
Kayte:
Yeah.
Catie:
Do you think that has to be a male?
Kate:
No.
Catie:
So maybe switching gears just a little bit. When you mentioned the promotion part, I think that’s a good segue. We’ve gotten some questions about, “Do we think women are still being overlooked for promotions?” “Is there equality there, when it comes to promoting women?” Maybe not even just promoting within a role, but even to leadership positions. What are you guys seeing?
Jo:
I mean, I would like to think that the right person is promoted to the right role that has been applied for. I guess it’s sort of … there’s definitely still an inequality, as far as number of men to women. You look at primary school teachers, 80% of primary school teachers are female. Probably, and I’m not quoting numbers, I’m making them up, but probably about 90% of principals are males. There’s definitely an inequality of how many, but then I don’t know the statistics around how many women actually put their hand up to do that role.
Jo:
Was there an inequality of that, or were there the same amount of people. I think it’s more just the confidence, and probably what from Kate was saying, of having that confidence of saying that I can do this. I am right for that role. I do have the support of my colleagues, the people around me, my family, et cetera, to do that role. I think a lot of women don’t have that confidence, or don’t feel that they should be able to do that, or can do that as well. Again, I think that’s probably just a generation change over the time that will get better. And as Kate said, as we see more females in more leadership roles, those younger women and older women as well, can say, actually, yeah. I can do this. There is that opportunity for me to be able to do that.
Kate:
I’d say that there’s definitely a lack of promotion of women, and that’s physically into higher roles, but just generally promoting them as people. I think some of the ways to improve that, we did a bit of research around realizing that women were performing at a high role, but they hadn’t been recognized at it, so their pay was seen as equal, because their title would say Senior Engineer, but they’re actually performing at Principal Engineer, so the pay wasn’t equal, because they hadn’t actually. That was partly because they were busy working, and didn’t think they would try for a promotion, or they didn’t have other people encouraging them to do it.
Kate:
I think definitely need to tap women on the shoulder, and tell them to apply. Tell them to go for the promotion, even if they don’t think they’ll get it this time. I think that reminding around that when another female or male sees a woman going for a promotion, they’re like, “Oh, wow. Maybe I could have a go, too.” It’s again, that shadow that you cast, and that influence that you can have. Yeah. There are definitely not enough women in our industry being promoted for the skills that they have, and partly because of a bit of lack of awareness in roles and the confidence to do so.
Catie:
Do you think any of it is attributed to women wanting to start a family? We have had quite a few questions come in about how do women juggle work-life balance, how are they perceived when they come back into the industry if they took time off for having a child. Any perspective on if those things are related, or no, you don’t know that that’s playing a big role in women not going for those roles? Then maybe we could just switch up and talk about that, to more of the work-life balance stuff. I’m just curious because it has come up a lot, if we think that that could play a role in the roles women are in, right now, is if they’re hesitant because of their desire to start a family, for example.
Jo:
Yeah. I mean, look. Personally I can’t speak on that. I don’t have children, but for other colleagues that I’ve had, I’ve worked with a Chief Financial Officer who had two children. You know, extremely successful in her career. Like for any male or female, she had a lot of support from her family, and she achieved her goal of what she wanted to do. I don’t think it should stop women, being able to do what they want to do, by having a family. It’s obviously a consideration for them, but it shouldn’t stop them from doing what they’re doing.
Jo:
For anyone, for having any career, it’s about having that support, and that channel through. It’s also that desire, and that want to do that role, and to get to that point where they want to. That’s, from my people that I’ve worked with, in the industry, of what they’ve come across. I’ve shared with the ladies before, my cousin, she’s doing fly in fly out at the moment. She’s an Environmental Officer. I was at a family gathering, and it was mentioned. My mom, she said, “Oh, well who’s looking after the children?” And my auntie very quickly turned around and said, “Her husband.”
Jo:
That was a straight generation thing from my mom, because my cousin had gone FIFO. I don’t think she would have asked if her husband was doing FIFO. But for a lot of people, that’s just a natural reaction of, “Who’s looking after the children?” for that perspective. Again, they obviously have a plan, and they had that support within their family, of making sure that the children are still cared for but still being able to achieve their career goal of what they want to do.
Catie:
A very blunt, different way of putting it. Do you think women, when managers are looking at who they want to promote, do you think they say, “Oh, I think that person might be at a time in their life where they might be thinking about starting a family, so this isn’t the right time for them.” Do you think that happens? Have you seen that happen?
Jo:
I think there’s very much an unconscious bias that does occur. Definitely. I know when I did FIFO, I was in my late twenties, and I distinctly remember having a conversation with a male HR manager. On my CV, I never put anything about my age, my marital status, nothing. He said to me, he said, “Oh, well you know, if you’re doing FIFO, it’s nine days on, five days off.” And I said, “Yes, I understand that.” “So you’ll be away from your family, you’ll be away from your friends for a period of time.” “Yes, I understand that.” And in my head, I’m going, “Go on, ask me. Ask me. Ask me.” And he reworded it about ten times, basically wanting to say to me, “Do you have family, do you have a partner that you’ll be away from, and you’ll be okay with it?”
Jo:
I never gave him any inkling. I just said, “Yes. I understand what the roster is, and I’m okay with it.” But yeah, I definitely think there will be, whether it’s conscious or unconscious bias, for a female that they potentially think that, how much are we going to invest in this person if they’re then just going to go and have one, two, three children, and not return? That’s not fair on that person, and that shouldn’t even be a conversation with that person. If that person has applied for that job or that role, they either are comfortable with that, and know what they want to do. It shouldn’t be up to the person who’s actually talking to them about it. In my opinion, anyway.
Kate:
Just wanted to say, it’s definitely a factor, because it’s life. It’s humanity, you know? Yes, that gets to be in a world that grows and brings more people into it. Some work we’ve done is around acknowledging that work-life balance, we all have it. The concept of family now, that’s changed a lot since we started our careers and our lives. Work-life balance might mean caring for your elderly parents, or your disabled neighbor, or your community, or your children, or your grandchildren. We have a lot more men and women that are taking parental leave, so things have changed.
Kate:
We wrote some work around the concept of long leave. So, that might be to have children. It might be because you’re sick. It might be because you’re volunteering in Cambodia. Probably not happening a lot at the moment, but for example, and then putting some processes, skills, and knowledge around if you have a member of your team that is doing any of those things, what are the conversations you have with them before they go on leave, during the leave, and then after. That’s from the person that’s taking the leave, as well as their manager as well.

Kate:
Kind of bringing it more into that it does affect everybody. I think one of the benefits of the last year that we’ve had, and the concept of working remotely and flexibly, it’s going to help with people that have different work-life balances, and women that are primary carers for their children. I think that will help. I think we can broaden the conversation, but it is definitely there. It definitely affects decisions.
Kayte:
I was just going to say, I think it’s quite organizationally based, as well, depending on where you’re working. Because I’ve certainly worked for organizations that are, if you want that next level, that role is full-time. Not negotiable, it’s full-time. Now, in social work, female dominated obviously, a lot of women are the primary carers, whether that be parents, children, whatever. Full-time is not actually going to work for somebody who has a newborn, or who doesn’t actually want to be going back to our family friendly workplace that lets you only work full-time. I think a lot of organizations have come a long way, but a lot still has quite a way to go. I’m certainly the supporter of parental leave being more broad than just the female carer, yeah.
Catie:
Yeah. I love that progressive idea. We got a lot of questions about how this COVID changed the need for flexibility, but I also think, maybe if you can talk about that maybe a little bit, but also how that plays into recruitment. I do want to talk about recruiting young women into the industry, but then also how you keep women in the industry.
Catie:
I think that there’s probably some overlap there, and the benefits, and the progressive nature of those benefits like you were talking about, Kate. So I think maybe if you could elaborate. Not just you, Kate, but anyone. Elaborate a little bit on how you think COVID has changed the perception of the need for everyone, not just women. Right? In terms of flexibility. And then how does that play into recruiting in the industry.
Kate:
Yeah, well, we’ve all had to adapt, haven’t we? Be agile. Lots of words around that. Look, as I said earlier, it’s definitely the ability to understand that you can work from anywhere. Even I know some people that have worked FIFO that no longer need to, so that actually, it saves time and money and got to weight out the downsides as well, which means you don’t see people as much, you don’t have that true interaction around the creativity that being together and eyeballing each other can bring.
Kate:
I think from a retention point of view, and that’s something that I really like to focus on. I alluded to it a bit earlier, but talking to the women that you have in the business about what they care about, how did COVID affect them, is it good or bad? What would you like to do next? What else can we do to support you in your careers and your opportunities?
Kate:
The other thing, this wasn’t my idea, someone else spoke about it. Not a lot of … there are more women that have, for example, engineering degrees, that don’t stay in the industry. But they’re out there. They’ve got the degree. They’re educated already, we don’t need to go into the schools to get them, or university. They’ve already got it, but they’ve chosen to leave. Maybe now with what’s happened with COVID, and more flexible, and less FIFO, and whatever, that they might be willing to actually go, “Ah, things have changed. I reckon that space might be better for me now.”
Kate:
I think there’s a whole untapped resource there, and I encourage anyone on here that they know that has a qualification in construction, engineering, science, et cetera, that aren’t maybe using that as their primary career at the moment, whether they might think there’s a different opportunity now.
Jo:
Yeah. I agree with that. When I was at Laing O’Rourke, there was a couple of female engineers who had had children. When they returned, because it was very strong in FIFO, it was, oh, they just worked in the tender area. So they’d work on tenders because it was Monday to Friday for them. But I think you’re absolutely right, and I know, again, Laing O’Rourke was doing this in that they were looking at how to centralize roles in the city rather than having to be FIFO.
Jo:
It was the question. Okay, do you, as a commercial personnel, need to physically be on site? Could you just go up once a month for a couple of days? Do you actually? And as you said, great saving of cost to the company, but also retaining people, because a lot of people were leaving because they didn’t want to do three weeks on and one week off. That wasn’t what they wanted to do. It was also about having that flexibility.
Jo:
For us here at InEight, obviously with COVID a lot of us do work from home. I’ve got one of my team members who’s just had her fourth child, and she’s going to be coming back from maternity leave this year, but a big thing for her was having that flexibility. She needs to drop the kids off, pick them up. So she will work early, and she will work late at night.
Jo:
I just keep saying to her, “There is absolutely no question that you are doing your job. You are working probably more, much more, than what you need to.” But she sort of felt like she had to make up that time, and I said, you know, that’s the whole idea of it, is being able to be flexible to work from home. To be able to do what you can do, still have your job, but still be able to spend time with your family.
Jo:
I think that’s been a real game changer for a lot of people, is having organizations who traditionally have just said, “Nope. No one works from home. Everyone has to be in the office. Everyone has to be on site.” It’s being forced on them to actually revisit how they have their business running. I think it’s actually been a really good thing.
Catie:
Yeah, and I’m sure as someone that’s considering a career, if you’re seeing women that have families and that’s something you’re interested in, or just flexibility. Kate, you talked about traveling, but you see lots of different unique ways to handle different scenarios.
Catie:
It becomes more appealing, right? You don’t worry about, okay, well I could do that for a short period of time, but now then I have to go find something else to do to meet the other goals that I have. Then, like you said Kate, then do you ever get them back? Do they ever come back into the industry? I think that’s great.
Catie:
Do you think … someone asked earlier, and I liked the question, and there’s so many I haven’t been able to get to them. It said, “Do women like to be honest and upfront more than men?” Is there any cultural differences there? And I also wondered does that play a part into anyone wanting to be interested in the industry, as well? The perception of the physically and mentally, and just the challenging and maybe a rougher environment. How do you think that plays into the interest of entering construction and engineering?
Jo:
I mean, I think construction is a very intimidating industry. I do remember the first time I went FIFO, and walking into the mess to get my dinner. It was just, I had my head down. I would just gravitate to the other female on the site, as almost like a security thing, of just going and get my dinner, eating it really quickly, and then just going away. I don’t know how that can change, but it can be quite intimidating for a female. Because you are a very minority on the actual site.
Jo:
I think as far as expressing ourselves, I don’t think women do express or voice their opinion as much as they should. And should feel comfortable in doing. There are some women who are very comfortable in doing that, and that’s great, but if you are in a room and you have females in there, and there’s a heated conversation or whatever, you will, I have noticed anyway, that females will tend to sort of sit back a bit, and maybe interject every now and then. But I guess it comes down to confidence again.
Jo:
I see a change in that, but yeah, I think there’s still a bit of hesitation from that perspective. I don’t know if the others have experienced that at all.
Kayte:
Well I think sometimes when a woman comes across as confident, we’re more likely to have it labeled as something else as opposed to, “Wow, she’s confident. Look at her talking up.” It’s, “Ugh, she’s aggressive today.” I think that it comes across quite differently, and we still need to be careful in the way in which we articulate things. Unfortunately yeah, it’s not quite still the level playing field.
Kate:
I think one of the-
Kate:
-tools we’ve actively tried around that, and I kind of mentioned it earlier, around creating a space where people ask other people their opinion. Everyone in the room has a voice, whatever it might be, so I think that other people in the room helping, both men and women. There’s an age in power position too, isn’t it? Often you have a very senior person in the business, both men and women might not feel so other people in the business encouraging, asking their opinion. I’ve definitely seen a shift in that, if we can get some of those questions, certainly, and then that becomes part of your culture. I think that helps.
Jo:
Yeah, and I think it does come to the organization. And exactly that, Kate, is the culture of that organization. We’re obviously only speaking from our own experiences, and what our organizations that we’ve worked for, what programs they might have put in place, et cetera. But I think it is very much a cultural thing from an organization, for sure.
Catie:
How do you think the women … I think it’s common for women to be perceived as being pitted against each other. How do you think that plays a role in the industry? Do you see that as much? Or do you feel like women usually stick together? Jo, you said that a little bit when you were talking about eating, that you would gravitate towards women. Maybe talk about the importance of women being pro-women, and the impact that can have in keeping women in the industry, encouraging women to join the industry. Maybe just some of your thoughts on that?
Jo:
Yeah. I mean, like I said, I’ve been really lucky in my working career. I’ve had two female managers that I have totally respected, and looked up to, and have been a great role model for me going forward. I haven’t really had experience where I’ve had other females pitted against each other. I think, in my experience, females in management, I guess more lean towards each other more as a mentor or someone to talk to about, or get their opinions on things. And others have gravitated towards the male mentor person to talk to. Probably to get that male perspective on a situation. Maybe they’re seeing it different, or whatever. From my experience, I’ve only had positive ones from females, but I’ve never seen them sort of pitted against each other. I don’t know if Kate or Kayte has seen that at all?
Kate:
Maybe some of my colleagues on the call might be thinking of some other ones, but not so much. I mean, I think there’s so few of us. We kind of, you know, we need each other. Sometimes when there’s an opportunity, or people know that they need some diversity in the room, there’s so few of us to call on. well, you know, is it you or is it me type of thing. So maybe things have changed a bit, again, through our careers in that space. Yeah. That hasn’t been my experience. I haven’t heard other people speak to me about it, either.
Kayte:
And look, I have to say I haven’t experienced that either. In my time in the construction industry, I have to say, have met the most amazing supportive group of women who are constantly reaching out to. Whether it be some sort of networking thing, whether it’s informal drinks or having a chat about a particular issue, or whatever it might be. It’s been much more sort of collaborative and working together, as opposed to competing. And yeah, pushing against one another. I’ve actually found, ironically, coming from social work, I’ve found construction a much more supportive environment. It’s been very impressive in that area.
Jo:
That’s good.
Catie:
A question came in about now that COVID has changed a lot about remote work, how have you been able to keep your seat at the table? Or, how are you making sure your voice is heard when you are remote and things are virtual?
Jo:
For me as well, I have actually, because I’ve always worked remote. In my company, we don’t have a physical office in Perth, so I’ve always worked remotely. I was actually saying to my colleagues in December, I’ve actually found COVID being a much better thing for me because all of us are like this.
Kate:
Yeah.
Jo:
Where we all connect up. Whereas previously, there would be ten people in a meeting room in Melbourne, and I’ll be connecting up remotely, and I’ll be like, “Um, hello?” Because they were all chatting, and I’m trying to get my voice heard. Just recently I’ve been promoted to the manager of the team, and I’m remote. I would actually like to continue our meetings being that even if they are all back at the office in Melbourne, they still connect up from their computer so that we all connect up exactly like this and it’s a much even playing field in that way. That’s how I’ve had experience with it, anyway.
Catie:
I think that’s a great tip, right? That someone could say, “Hey, I’m remote. Can everyone share their video?” It seems like that was definitely not what we did a year ago, but now everyone has gotten very comfortable in front of the camera.
Jo:
Exactly.
Kate:
And I think that there’s something about it … I was just going to say, there’s something about that when we’re here, we’re all taking up a similar amount of space, I guess, on the screen. You know? Those things around who’s sitting where in the room, some of those unconscious things, aren’t. So I think I would agree, I think it’s actually been a bit better.

Kate:
We had an interesting observation where we, having been remote for such a long time, we all got back together recently as a leadership team, and after a while I was going, “Oh, why isn’t everyone kind of participating?” I think it’s because we’ve all got so used to speaking like this. That concept of looking to other people to get eye contact to bring them into the conversation, we needed to actively, actually make that change. I think that there’s something there about realizing that difference of potentially going back to more meeting in person, as well.
Catie:
I want to be cognizant of the time. We’ve got about 15 minutes left, and I think there are a couple of things I wanted to make sure we talked about. Maybe do you have any … if you were looking at your younger self, any feedback or suggestions? Tips for someone that’s interested in going into the industry? What do you wish you would have done then, before you started your career?
Jo:
I think for me, I would have liked it way back at school being presented with different options of what industry I could go into that, as a girl, and studying, and it’s great to see that STEM programs are more prominent now in high schools and things like that, that girls are taught you can do science, you can do maths, et cetera.
Jo:
I think, from my perspective, going way back then as a career, saying, “If you want to be an electrician, be an electrician.” If you want to be a plumber, be a plumber. Or an engineer, or whatever. But none of those options, I guess, were really traditionally presented to me as a child. I think way back then, and that’s where I see generation it’s going to get better.
Jo:
Having those, to a girl, and saying, “You can’t,” exactly as Kate said, “You can do what you want to do.” And have that confidence not to say, “Oh you’re a girl, so you can’t do that.” It’s you can do whatever it is that you want. That’s what I would have liked better growing up, is saying that it’s an open book. You can do whatever you like.
Kate:
I think for me, looking back, I wish I’d asked for more help. I think I tried to solve a lot of things myself, which is a little bit my nature. I’ve had to learn to do more, so I think I’d really … I might have spoken to maybe my friends and family, but not so much my colleagues. I think that really reaching out to people that are there, and you find your people. It might not be the first person you speak to, but I think that really … asking for help, I think really, I would have been one of the people that’s early on in my career, “Don’t treat me any differently, men and women we’re the same, it’s fine, nothing to see here.”
Kate:
But what I realize later is that we do bring different things to the table, and we do often have a different way of thinking, a different view, a broader view, a different upbringing, et cetera. It is different, so I have changed my view in that perspective. I think my younger self, if I had thought that earlier, I think I would have learned more about my own value, and that it took other people to say to me, “Part of your strength, Kate, is that you bring a different point of view. And your courage is out there, and you do think differently,” and sometimes we go, oh wow, all right. Okay.
Kate:
That’s different, and that’s a value. I didn’t see it as a value earlier on, and I would kind of over prove myself, I would say, where I’d get all this data and statistics and evidence and so it was kind of once I presented it, no one could say no. Whereas I hadn’t really gone enough with my instincts around let’s talk about it, ask for help, and put your point of view out. It’s worth it, and it’s got value.
Catie:
That’s great.
Kayte:
I’m thinking back to when I started. I don’t think things like mentoring or networking or any of those things were a thing. I can’t even remember when I first heard of them, but I think starting out early in your career, if you do get into some of those things and do find your sort of support people, I think that’s really important, and very valuable for people starting out.
Kayte:
And yeah, something I probably should have … you know. If I’d known about, would have been great 25 years ago. But you probably did it in an informal way anyway, it just didn’t have a label back then. But yeah, getting out and learning and showing what you can do, too.
Catie:
That really set up the next question. Great. Do you have suggestions for someone that wants a mentor, isn’t really sure how to establish that kind of relationship? We talked, I think everyone agrees that it definitely adds value, to have mentorship, sponsorship. But how does someone go about establishing that?
Kate:
I can definitely start with the organization that you work for, and go and have a look. I would definitely say that people have said to me, oh, they didn’t even realize that it was there. I think you’ll kind of realize. If it isn’t in your industry, in your business, then in your industry, whether that’s Engineers Australia, or Women In Construction. A wide variety, there’s so many different ways to do that now. If you see someone that you would love to hear more about, then hit them up. I don’t know many women, in particular, that would say no to another woman who wants to talk to them about a career in our industry.
Kate:
I think reach out. Be brave, and do that, and that can be men or women. I wouldn’t hesitate. I definitely hesitated when I was younger, but again, that’s probably another lesson I wish I had done more there. I think the other thing is to change your mentors, as well. At different. Not always easy, but to really think about, “Well, now I really want to learn some leadership skills,” “Now I really want to learn some client interaction skills,” “Now I want to learn about making money.” Whatever those are, then you different mentors for different things.
Kate:
Yeah. I think actively saying, “I would like you to be my mentor because.” I think the other thing is, is saying what you can give to your mentors, as well. I love all the people that I’m mentor for, because I get so much out of it. I think that, also thinking about how you can help them, as well.
Catie:
Yeah. Those are great suggestions. I know I always made a point to go introduce myself to a new leader, or a new manager. You just say, “Here’s what I do, and here’s the value I bring,” and then it always would just evolve into me learning about them, and what they did. I think you just can’t be scared to necessarily just go tell someone who you are. It will kind of take its own life at that point.
Jo:
I think women need to empower themselves a lot more. From that perspective of exactly that, of saying, “Okay, this is what I want to do,” and make your own plan if no one else is going to do that for you.
Jo:
You have to have that goal, and you need to have that confidence to go to your manager to say, “Okay. This is what I want to do as my development. This is what I’ve researched, I’ve gone on the internet, I’ve found this, this and this,” or, “Can I approach people? Does HR have a mentoring program? What can I do in order to achieve it?”
Jo:
It’s about having that clear for yourself, and putting a plan together of how you want to achieve it, and what you can then do to get people to help you to achieve it, as well.
Catie:
This was a great little add-on, I think. Any tips on how to get noticed at work other than by doing your job, and doing well at your job?
Jo:
I think that what Kate was saying, having a sponsor. Someone that you feel comfortable with to … and I guess no one, or some people do, but people don’t like to big note themselves about this is what I’ve done and et cetera, but sometimes you have to do that. Again, sometimes your manager doesn’t realize what you’re doing. I guess it’s just calling that out to them. But again, it’s having that conversation with people to say, “Well, this is what I want to achieve. Can you help me achieve that? This is what I have been doing.” I guess just letting people know of what you are doing.
Kate:
I think take some different ideas. Put your hand up to be in the Safety Committee. Put your hand up to do First Aid training. Put your hand up like the Social Committee. Put your hand up to chair a meeting. You know? “I haven’t done that before, I’d really like that opportunity. Could you help me be part of that?” There’s an opportunity in another part of the business that you’ve never worked in before, that you wouldn’t ordinarily think about.

Kate:
“Oh, well maybe I’ll at least speak to them to say I’m interested. What would it take for me to do that?” Or, “I think my skills will give this to that.” To I think be broader, I think, in your thinking, and like a lot of organizations now with their social media platforms, et cetera, that often people are looking for content. Are looking for great stories. So, write your story.
Kate:
Write what you care about. Write your value proposition. Write about your project, and put that up, and make sure that your photo, particularly, is shown, and your name, so that you can see that it comes from you, as well. That would be within your business, but I also say within the industry, as well, I think often looking for that contact.
Jo:
Yeah.
Kayte:
I agree. I was just going to say half of what Kate just said putting your hand up for anything and everything. Like, whatever committee, whatever. If it’s something that you’re passionate about or interested in, show that you can contribute to that area. Yeah.
Catie:
Great. Well, we definitely have tons more questions that we could go through, but we’re about out of time. I apologize for not getting to all of them. I tried. They were great questions, so I appreciate everyone putting those in. Do you guys have any final thoughts you want to share, or anything I didn’t cover that you think would be … what, we’ve got, I think, four minutes left? Do you have anything else you want to cover?
Jo:
I think just talk to your colleagues, male and female, about what you can do. If you think about what you are currently doing, and what you want to do, and how you might achieve it. I think no door should be closed to you, and you should have the confidence to be able to explore those definitely going forward.
Kate:
Just a couple of things for me to finish, and a bit of reiteration what I said earlier. To the women on the audience, tell everyone that you want the most senior role in your business one day, and even if you don’t, the fact that you say it will encourage other women and men to see women at the top of our organizations, because that matters. And to the men in the audience, ask who the next female leader is in your business. Who is she, and when’s she going to get there, and how are you going to help her get there?
Catie:
Great. Kayte, not to put the pressure on. Anything else?
Kayte:
No, I don’t think there’s anything left for me to say. I think just, you know. We’ve talked a lot about not being encouraged from school and those sort of things, so get out and do what you love, and once you get here, make sure you network. Make mentors.
Catie:
Great. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. It was a great conversation, I think we could keep talking for at least another hour if not more. Thank you, and I know we will follow up on the questions, so I appreciate everyone joining, and I hope you all have a great day.
Jo:
Thank you.
Catie:
Thanks.
Kayte:
Thanks.
Kate:
Bye.