People are always surprised when I tell them that the civil construction is a great place or women to forge their careers. I’m used to the reaction, the furrowed brow and mild disbelief.
To be fair, I was pretty much born into the industry. Some of my earliest memories are of watching my diesel mechanic father at work. He worked hard, often with his three young kids by his side. It seemed the most natural thing in the world that I would work in the same industry. Never did I question it.
I have been in male-dominated industries since I was 17. After completing Year 12, I deferred university and picked up a job as a Sales Rep for a small, Australian oil and lubricants company. That was 22 years ago. I was the ONLY female rep in the industry, and I would cold-call men all day, every day in auto workshops, diesel mechanics, saw mills, even mines. It was a hard gig, but I learned so much from the company owners and customers, just the kind of training I needed to enter the civil industry.
It was a sink-or-swim environment. As a woman, some of the things I had to put up with were not nice. Clearly, that a ‘girl’ knew what she was talking about and could sell oil was too much for some of them. But I persisted and did that job for 20 years, moonlighting as a distributor. These days, I’m pleased to say, there are plenty of women killing it in the oil industry.
I’m also pleased to say that that company is now a multi-million litre business with a huge distributor network throughout Australia, New Zealand, PNG, the Pacific islands, Vietnam and the Pacific Rim.
Earlier this year I accepted a mentoring role in the Civil Contractors Federation Women in Civil program. The program does pretty much what it says on the packet, and aims to highlight that Civil is a diverse industry, and that there’s a surprising range of job paths available to women. Not just as Engineers, Project Managers, HR roles, Construction Lawyers, Estimators, and so on, but also as Plant Operators and Site Supervisors—this is the area that excites me.
I’m loving being a mentor to an extremely capable woman. We’ve extracted her from her office, and headed out to inspect sites amid the rumble and roar of machinery and equipment. It’s been great for both of us as we get to know each other.
My mentee is incredibly smart. There’s not much I can teach her, but mentoring isn’t about teaching. More than anything, this is an experience exchange.
I’m no shrinking violet, and one thing I have noticed since we set out on this mentoring ride is that she has quickly found her voice at work. She is now backing herself and making sure that opportunities that she would have previously let slide, land firmly on her desk. She’s visible and vocal—two great ingredients for success in this industry.
Hats off to the Civil Contractors Federation NSW for pushing the Women in Civil program. I’ve been blown-away and inspired by the women we’ve met and heard from at events like the program launch. There are some seriously smart cookies out changing the industry from the inside.
I’m passionate about helping more women navigate their way into careers they never knew existed. I’d like to see more female operators in the seats of machines, more women dreaming of owning their very own machines or even running their own civil companies like mine.
I’d love to work in an industry that doesn’t need a Women in Civil program—an industry teeming with brilliant, capable women at all levels, working alongside men like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Imagine that—no furrowed brows when a woman tells you she works in Civil.
That might be a way off, but until then I’ll keep playing my part in changing perceptions and be a positive role model for those that come behind me.
If you’re curious about anything to do with the civil industry—male or female—hit me up.