Walking around the RMIT Design Hub interior (for the first time), I’ll admit that it’s a beautiful building to look at. All that calming circular patternation. Though the talk around the traps is that it appears to suffer, as many of the current spate of University grand gestures do, by not being terribly functional.
I’m here to attend the graduate exhibition for the various design disciplines. My long time friend Sarah has completed her undergrad in Architecture. I know what the slog is like. The burn out is real. I’d go out on a limb to say that the demands of any course with design studio, can test even the hardiest of students.
Sarah doesn’t know I’m writing this (she has given her blessing since). But I’m writing it, because I think Sarah is a perfect example of perseverance and the kind of quiet strength women often have. But more importantly she represents something I hold very dear:
I first met Sarah about…here’s a real guestimate… maybe eight years ago. She was a student at my dance school, a few groups below me. After a few years Sarah moved into the senior group, where I was her teacher. I had moved to St Kilda by then and was commuting down to the Peninsula for teaching. Sarah’s family moved to Parkdale, so I used to give her a lift home and we spent many hours getting to know each other beyond our dance school social life.
People ask me why I teach dance. I mean, it’s not like I need a second job?! I never wanted to be a ‘teacher’, which is why I never pursued a career in professional dance after school. Teaching full time (often where one ends up after a career in dance ends), did not interest me at all.
But I love teaching for the fun of it. I love teaching the tweens and the teens. And it’s because I love that I get a special place in their life and can hopefully be a good role model for them. Your dance teacher, (anyone who has danced, will get this), occupies a special pedestal. They are your second mother, confidant, best friend and mentor, rolled into one. And I love being that.
I know that may sound like I have a massive ego, or that I love the attention. But it’s not that at all. I know that as a dance teacher I occupy a very special position and that I have the ability to guide my students. To pass on the lessons taught to me about organisation, discipline, teamwork, self expectation, motivation and focus. I know I get to help them when shit gets too tough at school. I get to counsel them on Uni preferences. I know I get to be there when they are going through body changes and hormonal changes and the phase we all go through where we hate our bodies and think we are fat, even when we are actually as fit as elite athletes.
So, I was so excited when Sarah decided to do architecture. No one else at dancing had gone into anything similar before. But I also knew what she was in for and the burn out I experienced.
Not to go into any details, because they are irrelevant, but Sarah had a pretty shaky start to adulthood. Life was for a time, very hectic for her. She had some poor health. Some family challenges. She moved out of home, which is always a hurdle. And after first year. She needed a break. She took a year out.
I was working at the Monash University Residential Project at the time. We were desperate for some work experience/cadets. My workload was getting ridiculous. My project manager asked me if I knew anyone, who could at least read drawings. Sarah jumped into my brain and a week later she was helping me with precast tracking and design coordination.
It’s funny, I had known her as a thirteen year old, tiny little ballerina. She had followed in my footsteps into architecture (I’m not taking all the credit for that), and now she was walking around site with me, helping me with structure (or, as I like to call it, stepping into the darkside).
But I knew that she had guts, determination, focus and she was just as organised as me, because I’d seen her manage hours and hours of ballet training with school and exams, with the added bonus of her professional level ballet exams in the mix.
Turns out the construction game wasn’t for her. But during that year out I saw Sarah go from giving up on architecture, to questioning whether architecture was for her, to figuring out that it was something she loved and that she was going back. I don’t know how much of that was due to me and my influence. But I like to think that I had her back and that helped. I like to think that she had also grown up, watching me struggle through architecture (I was often crying at the dance studio or surrounded by study notes, which I would bring to dancing with me), and that helped her with some perspective – that it isn’t an easy course!
Sarah, it turns out, was shortlisted for an award on Friday night. She has tuned into this focused and mature architectural undergrad. Far better than I ever was. I’ve seen her highs and her lows. But I also know that I’ve been able to help.
Sometimes we interview people and they say that their parents were a big influence on them. Don’t get me wrong, my parents have been a big influence on me, but sometimes it takes someone outside of the home to challenge you and provide you with that role model position. I don’t know why, but people in those special roles of coach, teacher, mentor can be a shining light. They are positions of power and crucial (I think) to the development of children, into well rounded adults.
I wanted to write this for two reasons. Firstly I think it’s important to help your children find these adults in their life and encourage them to see these people as a resource. Secondly, I think that we need to recognise when we may be in that role for other people’s kids and take it as an opportunity to empower young girls. To show them what they are capable of. To be a friend, but also remember that they are a kid and you are an adult and therefore both an authority figure and hold a lot of influence.
Young girls, become women. And we want them to see what they can be. It’s one of my favourite lines; If you can see it. You can dream it. And you can be it.
And send your kids to ballet!
Out of High School I went into RMIT Applied Design. Moving from small town to RMIT was a big leap. If I’m honest the talent wasn’t there. I wasn’t going to be commercially viable as a designer. I also hated working on things that didn’t have an end product. I wanted to see something finished and working. At the end of the year I actively sought a new path and found I could cut a deal with RMIT and get some work experience then starting Construction Management the following year.
At University, I put my resume out there and said I wanted to work, rather than slack around the summer of second year working in my supermarket job. I landed a gig with Cockram. They put me on a project in Clayton, the Monash Health Research Precinct. I was there as a cadet. I continued to work with them until after graduation. Working on site early was brilliant exposure. I still really appreciate the opportunity they gave me when I was greener-than-green.
I’m a Contracts Manager at Kane now. That just means I’m older than a Contracts Administrator! The role is really diverse, which I enjoy. From contract procurement, client liaison, financial control as well as the day to day running of the project- it’s all inclusive and never dull.
I had no idea what I was doing at first, but working for an organisation like Kane you are not cloistered into one area of the project. You are expected to be across most aspects of the project and it gives you a great deal of latitude to explore and learn.
When I joined Kane their average project was fairly small scale and now it has grown into much larger projects. It’s been a great time to be involved in an established company during a period of further growth and expansion. My first job at Kane was the redevelopment of the Grand Hyatt Hotel which included months of demolition and structural remodelling followed by high end fit out. Wedged between Louis Vuitton and Hermes while the hotel remained fully operational, it is still the most challenging job I’ve been involved in.
We had a tough programme and worked 24/7 for around 5 months crane lifting materials onto the job from Collins Street at 4am through an opening in the façade. Looking back at what we achieved there, I still feel a hum of pride and a cold chill walking through the Hotel entrance. Since then I’ve done mental health facilities, tertiary buildings for VU and LTU, infrastructure upgrades and PC2 laboratory work. Each job is always different and new.
I love that I can wear jeans to work! No really, I like the finality of handing something over. Something tangible and real and purposeful. Handover is literally, ‘Here’s your key, here’s your swipe card, call me if something breaks.’ I really like that. I have a romantic notion of when I’m old pointing to buildings I’ve had something to do with.
I like the simplicity of life on site. It’s either there or it’s not. And on a personal level, I like that there’s not a lot of pretense on the job. We are there to work together. I’m here to help you, but we are all interdependent and pushing for the same end goal. You can find yourself having a ‘heated discussion’ and five minutes later all is forgotten and you are chatting about your plans for the weekend.
The first person that raised the ‘chick issue’ was my father. When I went home and said I was starting a new course he said ‘Why are you not doing this design thing that you do? I own every texta in Melbourne, why would you not continue with that?’ When I explained I wanted to go into Construction he was genuinely worried that I would undertake a 4 year course and wouldn’t find work at the end. For his generation I’m sure that was most likely the case and a very real concern. While I knew I would be in the minority I was confident there would be a job for me. In a nice round about my Dad, a truck driver, worked on the bulk excavation at the Grand Hyatt when it was first built.
Vanessa Goulding made a good point; you can be equally loved and loathed. Half the blokes on site will love you and half of them will hate your guts at different times. Sometimes in the same day. That makes you develop a pretty thick skin. Site is sometimes a world away from the corporate office environment some of my friends work in. That is, I think, one of its charms. The people you work with onsite become your family for a time and you can find yourself wanting to look after them and they you.
My mother always told me ‘Do what makes you happy.’ She was always a huge supporter of me and my older sister in anything we wanted to do. We both work in traditionally male dominated industries. My sister is in Sport and me in Building and I think my Mum is quietly stoked by that. I’ve always had women around me that worked. My Grandmother always had a job and later in her working life volunteered. My mum always had a full time job, ran two kids, a house and a business at one point. She used to get up with my Dad at 5:00am, see him off to work and then she would iron our clothes. I’d get up for school and be like ‘What are you doing?’ She’d say ‘When else am I going to iron?’ She’s that woman. I hate ironing- avoid it at all costs- but I think the hard work bit might have rubbed off.
Ainsley is such a breathe of fresh air. We caught her in Richmond at a cute little wine bar. Where we waxed lyrical on our experiences in the construction game. Ainsley may have chosen an un-traditional path, but she has found her niche and has become a place to call her own in the Industry. What we love about Ainsley is that she is both highly considered in her approach and yet easy going and down to earth. We wish her all the best in her endeavours and we hope you enjoy reading about her life on site. Thanks Ainsley for your time and wishing you all the best, J & D!
I trained in architecture. I graduated in 1991. There was no work in New Zealand. So I did various things to make money, all connected to architecture in some way. Perhaps I might have become a practising architect if I had graduated into a better economic climate? Architecture and construction is so cyclical, you need a complex view of what a career might be.
I went to an architecture school that had a very wide-ranging curriculum. Being a practitioner was one option, but the school also opened up the idea that you might graduate and go into other areas. This also relates to the statistics of the high number of women leaving the profession. It is one thing for women to leave because they feeling pushed out, it is quite another to leave because you see more opportunity to use your skills elsewhere. That’s growth. Architecture has quite a narrow view of itself – I think it would benefit from a richer perception of what being active in architecture could look like.
I curated and designed an exhibition with a friend of mine, Sharon Jansen, in 1996. And part of that we found lots of photographs of post-war architecture, which I was really fascinated by. So I applied for the National Library Research Fellowship to look at these photos in more detail. This led to a book, Looking for the Local: Architecture and the New Zealand Modern, which I co-wrote with my partner, Paul Walker.
My partner is an academic, and we came to Australia for his job at the University of Melbourne. I was looking for work and I saw Architecture Media advertising for an editorial assistant and I knew they published Architecture Australia. I had just finished our book. I went along, and they said ‘You’re kind of over qualified for an editorial assistant’ but I got the job. Six months later my boss took over as editor of Architecture Australia and I became his assistant. A couple of years later, I was made editor.
I was there for ten years. And had two kids while I was editor of Architecture Australia. I could work part-time and flexibly because I had a fantastic assistant editor, Katelin Butler. I was made editor the day before I told them I was pregnant with my first child. To his credit my boss said it wouldn’t have made any difference, which I have always really appreciated.
I didn’t know much about making magazines when I started, or about Australia, but I knew a fair bit about architecture. I think one of the reasons I left is that I started to feel too embedded in Australian architecture. It was all too cosy. I needed something fresh and the magazine needed something fresh too. At the same time I became involved in a large research project led by Dr Naomi Stead and funded by the Australian Research Council, looking at women in the profession.
My generation had graduated in a time where it felt like roughly half the graduates were women. (Maybe it was around 40%). We were pretty well versed in feminism and we thought it was going to be fine for us. Young graduates still feel like that. But we looked around decades later and thought ‘What happened?’
So we set up this research project. People kept asking what we were doing, so we thought we’d set up a website to tell them. And I was an editor without a magazine, so I got carried away. In addition to essays from my academic colleagues I started commissioning content from many others.
I started by asking a whole lot of people from the profession to reflect on the research we had done to date. It became a way of building quite a large community. We also knew if we wanted to have an impact we had to find a way to spread the work beyond academic publications, and generate new grassroots demand for change.
Gill Matthewson, my colleague, did fantastic statistical work on women’s participation in the profession. That gave people the ability to locate themselves in the profession. The realised they were not alone. Previously if people were having problems, they tended to think ‘It’s just me,’ or, if they had never experienced any issues they thought, ‘I’m fine, there is no problem, what are you talking about?’ Statistics are really important because they point to general trends and the experience of the group. Of course your own experience might not match the story told by the statistics, but that can help generate empathy and understanding.
You don’t get into architectural publishing intentionally. You stumble in. There are no career paths. There are not that many editors in the country. Every one of us has a slightly different background, and every one of us has had a pretty organic career. I’ve never known where I was going. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I do think if you are focused on a particular path, you might not see the opportunities on the side, which might be more interesting.
Parlour started out as a communication platform for the research. We became a formal advocacy group in 2015 when we set up as an incorporated association. (People thought it was an organisation a long time before it was). It’s about giving the research life and impact out there in the world. But is also about drawing the knowledge of others in too.
We developed the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice as one way to activate the research, and give people the tools to make change in their own workplace. There are eleven topics – there’s one on negotiation, one on pay equity, one on career breaks, and so on. Each explains what the issue is, why it matters and what ‘you’ can do about it. It’s addressed to architectural practices, to employees and to professional bodies. Each party have different types of issues, and different types of agency, and if you can understand these different perspectives, you’re more likely to get somewhere. They’ve been remarkably successful. Particularly in the US!
Another project we’ve done is WikiD, which is writing women in the built environment into Wikipedia. This is a collaboration with Architexx in New York and colleagues in Berlin. We’ve written guides and run workshops. We have also set up the Parlour Seasonal Salons, which came about partly because women were commenting that they know their own generation, but they don’t know older or younger women. So the Salons are informal, convivial events that encourage people to build networks across generations. Each one starts with a public conversation between two women, which have been fantastic. The only rule is that everyone who comes has to talk to one person they don’t already know.
We started the formal organisation through crowd funding, and with initial support from the Australian Institute of Architects, but now we have a number of key sponsors – AWS supports our event programs, and a number of universities support the organisation as a whole. When we started, the core members of that research project were relatively well known. All well regarded as academics and as writers. So that helped with getting people bothered to listen. If you look like you’re grown up and you don’t look like a bunch of daggy people in the corner, it makes a big difference.
It’s a long project. People have been working on gender equity in architecture from before we were alive, and they’ll likely others be working on it once we are gone. Building on the work and of others, and making the pathways for those who come after are both really important.
The barriers to senior leadership are multiple and intertwined. It’s the idea of what a leader looks like, it’s also about the way people are perceived; (women are seen as bossy, men are seen as strong). All that crap. The tendency we all have to surround ourselves with people like us and men appointing their own image. But it’s also about career pathways that allow women to have steep climbs, then a plateau, because, like it or not, most women are still the primary caregivers.
I think the thing that shocked me out of our research is the extent to which people feel having children has impacted their careers. It’s horrible, to hear about people who were going along, really successfully, then find themselves being treated really unacceptably.
My children are 13 and 10, both girls. Actually when I get really frustrated and think I want to do something else, I look at them and I think, ‘I can’t! I’ve got to keep going.’ They are really good little feminists – they had no choice. One commented the other day, ‘Mum we wrote a story at school and I managed to convince everyone that the hero of the story should be a girl in armour, not a boy.’
When the figures came out on the pay gap for architecture and construction a few years, it was in early January on my birthday. I was reading through the data trying to figure it all out, because it didn’t seem right, and my girls were saying, ‘Mum why are you working?’ Trying to explain the pay gap to a five year old is very bizarre – she just went, ‘What do you mean? That’s ridiculous? I know, from now on boys should be paid less!’
My mother always told me I could do whatever I wanted. She was very interested in science at school and had to fight to be allowed to do it. She put her career on hold to have kids. But both my parents were always very clear that I could do anything and could certainly go into non-traditional areas. When I was at high school and thinking about what to study, I said ‘Oh, maybe I could do Interior Design,’ Mum said, ‘Or you could be an architect.’ It wasn’t a comment on the relative merits of each discipline, but more that I shouldn’t shy away from areas that were seen as the province of men.
My older daughter is an extremely talented drawer and she says ‘Can I be an artist?’ and I say ‘Well, you’ll likely be a waitress as well, but of course you can.’ Do what you want to do, but be strategic, realise that you’re in a structural system that you have to negotiate. I think that whole liberal thing of ‘Follow your passion’ is kind of bullshit as well. It erases structural circumstances that have such an influence on people’s careers, for good and ill.
Justine Clark was such a pleasure to interview. Not only was Danielle fan-girling massively (you can’t study Architecture and not know who Justine Clark is!), but Justine has such a wealth of knowledge and information, from which she paints such succinct and brilliant views on women and architecture. Meeting one evening (some time ago now) at City Wine Shop, we spent a great deal of time marveling at the work Justine and her colleagues at Parlour have done, to bring to the fore the systemic issues still facing women in the profession. They have created a community and hub where women can really engage with the profession and a dialogue that addresses both creative and professional life. What an initiative! We also had the pleasure of photographing Justine with her daughter in the State Library. I mean have you seen a cooler t-shirt? We can’t thank Justine enough for giving up her valuable time to speak with us. And we wish her (and Parlour) all the best in making the built environment a better place.
I am a Chartered civil engineer and Fellow of the Australian and British Institutes of Engineers. I graduated from RMIT many years ago and have worked in the construction industry since that time, predominantly with Tier one contractors, including Leighton Contractors (now CPB) in Melbourne and Queensland, McConnell Dowell in the Philippines and Thailand, Laing O’Rourke in the UK and John Holland here in Melbourne. More recently, I have made the move to AECOM to establish a construction services offering across Australia and New Zealand (ANZ).
The vision to build a construction services business across Asia Pacific is an extension to AECOM’s $US 7 billion construction business across America and Europe. We launched the ANZ business in October 2015 and have been growing ever since, strengthening our project management service and recruiting new talent from the construction industry to broaden our offering. Partnering this with some of the most amazing and varied technical experts across the globe, we have a unique value proposition for our clients. We are working towards our vision to design, build, finance and operate projects in the future – I am really enjoying this challenge.
I recently obtained my CB-U builder’s licence. This was identified as business critical. It was a challenging interview process. The examiner appeared to have preconceived ideas as to my suitability (or otherwise) but following a rigorous testing of competencies, I think the examiner was (pleasantly) surprised as to my competency level and recommended approval for the license. This is one of the building blocks towards undertaking Principal Contractor work in Victoria.
When enrolling in engineering at Uni, I thought I wanted to be a designer. It was not until I did work experience on the South-East Arterial project that I found my passion for construction. I remember cruising around in a 4WD with one of the Superintendents singing country and western songs and feeling I’d found my calling.
During that time, I worked with a site supervisor who I reacquainted with when I joined John Holland many years later. He still remembered me?! – not for having me wear white gumboots (he had decorated with flowers) in the middle of the creek to measure invert levels, but for the fact that I used to ask a lot of questions. He remembered me being very interested in what he had to say. I remember thinking at the time that he was ‘The Oracle’. He was reflecting that ‘The grads these days don’t bother asking him questions – they just google it.’ There is much more to asking the question than the answer – it’s so much about building relationships and a support network that is always there when you need it.
Gone are the days of shouting on site, but in my early days I had many challenging confrontations with site foreman. I learned quickly that they shout louder than I and that I’d never win by volume – I had to just be smarter and introduce reverse psychology to get some wins on the board. It changed the dynamic and it worked.
Gender diversity – AECOM has 38% of women on our ANZ executive team. I am proud to say we have driven a 42% increase in women in leadership positions within the last 18 months. At AECOM, we encourage and practice flexible working. We have removed working hours from contracts to give people the freedom to work within time frames that suit their lifestyles. We have also taken direct action by investing $1m over the past two years to reduce the gender pay gap. Yes, there is still more work to do but we are making great progress.
I’ve hit the glass ceiling a few times and found it difficult to break through. It is wonderful to now work for AECOM where I am witnessing great imagination in creating new and exciting opportunities, rather than being pigeon-holed in roles for particular skill sets. Don’t be afraid to challenge your leaders if you find yourself becoming stagnated and if nothing changes then be prepared to change lanes and explore new opportunities. Work is such a large part of your life (in terms of time commitment) – it’s important you are doing a job that excites you and makes you happy. It’s up to you – nobody has more of a vested interest to drive your career – we all need to take control and drive our own career bus.
Choose culture over money every time. Choose a culture you like and projects that you are interested in and everything else should fall into place. Also, be sure to build a network of sponsors and mentors to rely on inside and outside the organisation.
I am passionate about learning. I am always reading or studying something – currently I’m completing a certificate in Applied Finance and I recently completed the Australian Institute of Company Directors Course. We should always be thinking about building skills to be prepared for opportunities as they arise. I like to encourage women and girls into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). STEM opens up so many fascinating opportunities and career paths.
We don’t do stereotypes in our house. Roles are blurred – we all pitch in to make things work. We encourage our children to be independent and try to be gender agnostic – they are willing to take on anything regardless of stereotypes. At this moment, my husband does the heavy lifting in terms of looking after our young children– this was not a decision we took lightly but it makes sense for us right now. We remain flexible to change this if the need or desire arises. I couldn’t do my role without my family’s support. Family is the most important part of life – we often need to make compromises to achieve the optimum level of happiness for the family at any given time. It’s a fine balance for sure.
Nicole is a fantastic leader, so it’s safe to say that we were thrilled to get an interview with her. She has worked in the trenches, all the way through the ranks to Managing Director, which gives her this brilliant insight into the Industry and it’s challenges. Nicole is forthright, real and speaks with a great passion for construction and building a business. She sees the value in ongoing education and encouraging women to find fantastic and exciting career paths within the built environment and beyond. We hope you have enjoyed her insight and the difference that leaders like Nicole are making in the Industry. We wish Nicole the best for the rest of 2017 and beyond!
I grew up in Wangaratta. My parents have a blueberry farm up there. I moved down to Melbourne to go to Victoria University. I really didn’t know what to do in high school. I always really liked art and I could see myself going into Architecture, but I didn’t get into Architecture, so I ended up in this course called Architectural Engineering. When I heard it was something about designing lighting and air conditioning systems, I thought – maybe not for me! I transferred into civil engineering, because I heard there were good job opportunities.
When I started there was about 200 students, but in the end maybe 80 or 90. There certainly weren’t a lot of females. It’s a difficult course. Maybe a lot of people thought it wasn’t for them? It’s hard to know. In reality, the job is spending eight hours a day on computer, designing. I didn’t know that when I was at university. It wasn’t obvious what skills I would be using day to day. They didn’t teach us relevant AutoCAD, land development or 3D modelling software. The range of subjects were very theory based and big on teamwork.
I went and did an AutoCAD course through NMIT. When I started work experience, I could see that AutoCAD was a necessity and I was going to be using it. I wanted to improve my skills so that I would feel ready for work.
I found University hard. Having to do so much reading, I’m not a theory based person. Practical tasks help me learn. For me there were many setbacks throughout university. There were many hours spent sitting through dry content lectures and I had to repeat a few subjects. Being such a determined person it has taught me to be resilient. When I had these setbacks I just reset my focus on the bigger picture of reaching the goal of finishing University. On reflection it has taught me the importance of maintaining focus on the goal.
A requirement of my degree was to do twelve weeks work experience. I did a month at Wangaratta Council in their engineering department. Then I did two week with Lycopodium in their Perth office. I went to Perth because I was so keen to get experience in a large company. I also did work experience with Oxley & Company to gain exposure to a small business.
When I was looking to finish my work experience, a really fantastic opportunity popped up, through someone I had known through the Yarrawonga Yacht Club. I had been a sailing member there for many years. A Club member had a working relationship with Spiire at their Shepparton office and he put me in contact with them. I was in Shepparton for six months and then made the decision to move to Melbourne. My partner was down here, who I had met at Uni. I’ve now been at Spiire’s Melbourne office for over a year.
My best advise to students is to go and get as much experience as you possibly can. Even in first year University. I did lots of volunteer work. Go to any engineering, or relevant business and offer even just to sit in and see what they do, so that you know it’s for you. You’ll see what you need – like I saw I needed AutoCAD training and go do those extra little things on the side, because that kind of things really help.
At Spiire, we do greenfield land development predominantly. I’m part of the Woodlea team, a really big subdivision of some seven or eight thousand housing lots in Rockbank near Melton, where I work on design. After six months in drafting, I moved on to learn water design, followed by learning how to design the drainage, through AutoCAD and 12D (which is a 3D modelling software). Recently, I’ve learnt how to undertake the sewer design and I’m now starting to learn road design on another project. I feel like in the last year I’ve learnt so much. Having access to lots of people around me who I can constantly ask questions of, or ask for help, has facilitated my learning.
Coming out of Uni, working 8:30am till 5:00pm was a big challenge! Having what felt like no ‘me-time’ was hard. For me, living in the city is still challenging. I’d like to move to Spiire’s Geelong office. Being in a big office and being quite a shy person, was also a challenge. But Spiire’s really good in that they organise so many social events, including YEILD events (Young Engineers in Land Developments), which is great for networking and a good way to get to know the other graduates I’m working with.
I’m a very particular person. I’m very pedantic with my plans. I like everything perfect. For people who are looking to do high end detailed design, want a challenge, and are looking for a fast pace job and a busy dynamic environment, it’s definitely a good industry. I’m constantly thinking, it’s very stimulating and it keeps me interested.
I’m very big on sustainability. At work, with our coffee machine, we use around 70 1L plastic milk bottles each week which is set increase. That’s just less than 4000 milk bottles a year going into landfill. Through a bit of effort, preparing a presentation and going through the environmental management framework, we’ve now switched to cardboard cartons. They were cheaper (which was a bonus)! There was a bit of resistance moving away from plastic, but putting a plastic bottle into the recycle bin, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be recycled, most still go to landfill. People don’t know that. It’s worth making the change.
In the future, I’d also like to start my own business. Outside of work I make furniture, so I want to get a furniture business going using recycled materials. I’ve never used Instagram before, so I need to find out how it works and start using it for my passion project. I made my TV cabinet. The pressed tin in the back is part of the ceiling of my parent’s house and the timber is old decking timber. I love restoring old things. My kitchen chairs are from the 1950s. I got them at a garage sale for $3 each. They were in really bad condition, so I fixed them all up. When I launch my furniture business, I’m going to focus on using recycled timber and other recycled materials.
I absolutely love animals. The best part of my day is getting home to my dog and taking her for a really long walk. Pets are fantastic! I go to the gym in my lunch break. It helps release a lot of energy. I come out with a clearer head at the end of the session. I’m an efficient person. I like to get to work on time, focus on the work, go to the gym, focus on work, and then leave on time. I don’t like the culture of staying back late.
My mother always told me, try your hardest. Do as best as you can.
Camilla is fresh and energetic. We met her one night at Flagstaff gardens to chat work, hobbies and all things #gradlife. Camilla has a real drive for educating herself and getting involved in things to further expand her knowledge. We were introduced to her through Spiire’s Instagram where we saw that she was the first female and one of the youngest at Spiire to have gone through the Water design Assurance Scheme exam. Young vibrant people tend to catch our eye. Sometimes we love to bring you stories of directors and CEOs, but equally important are the stories of people like Camilla. Entering the industry and making a name for themselves! We wish Camilla all the best. We’re sure she is one to watch. D&J
How hard could it be? I mean really. You do this as your 9 to 5. Weave through Council. Coordinate with Consultants. Negotiate upside down with Subcontractors. Beg neighbours for forgiveness. I mean really, (yes, I see you eyebrows raised, screaming ‘nooooo’)… How hard could it be?
So eventually, I take the plunge. And here it is my friends, I’m going to share with you why you shouldn’t be contemplating starting your renovation.
1. Council. It starts off right here. At this point, you’re full of hope. Your Architect has coordinated every man and his dog, to put together drawings from sketches that are now a reality. It’s going to be great. Thinking WAY off into the future you’re certain that this project is going to be the start of your aspiring dream, that is, to be eventually working on high end residential projects. Your retirement plan. BOOM! Ok getting a little bit off tangent…
2. Let’s not get carried away. You submit your town planning drawings and wait four months before council decides to look at them. Yes, that’s not a big deal. I mean, who cares? You’re only going to get every man and his dog complaining about how you’re ‘RUINING the streetscape’ objecting to your ‘TWO STOREY MONSTER!’
3. Dear Building Surveyor, I’m disappointed that I have not heard back from yourself or someone in the firm, regarding my renovation at Blah-Blah Street. I have called several times last week and have not had a response at all. Appreciate that this is a very busy time for you, however it would be nice at least if someone could provide some advice in regards to the below? Looking forward to hearing from you. Kind Regards, Justine.
4. To go Owner Builder or Actually Use A Builder Who Pretends To Know What They Are Doing (You do know how to build, right?). Yeah look, sometimes in life you come to a fork in the road. It’s okay not to choose the right one. My choice was between a crazy Serbian with big bushy eyebrows that overhung his eyes… or Me. In my case, I thought going owner builder was the right option. #Regret. The struggle is real when you have no one to blame except yourself. What do you mean I f**@#$ed this!? Insert facepalm emoji here.
5. When Consultants hold out on you because you haven’t paid them. Hi Justine, I’ve checked our bank records and we haven’t received payment for the last invoice. If you could please send me the remittance or payment receipt I’ll forward over the 1507 certification. Feel free to contact me with any queries. Typical.
6. Dear Building Surveyor, I have tried contacting you for the last three weeks and still have not been able to get a response. Following up from the email sent last week, I have sent the Form 3’s to our neighbours through registered mail. The 14 days expires this Thursday. Can we organise for the building permit to be issued by at the start of next week? Regards, Justine.
7. Still waiting.
8. The argument with your Dad when you try to explain to him that construction is what you do for a living. He paces up and down the kitchen ‘Look, wouldn’t it be easier if we go with a builder? I’m not sure you can commit to this. Have you done this before?’ I sigh in frustration, ‘Dad you know I have been working in commercial construction for 9 years now. I’ve been involved in building everything from Residential, Offices to Universities. What is wrong with you?! I can’t believe I am even trying to convince you of this! For goodness sakes I’m thirty!’
9. A casual brunch catch up with friends repeatedly goes something along the lines of this: I feel like it’s been ages since we caught up. How is the renovation going? Where are you up to? My response: Exactly the same place we were the last time we spoke. I’ve been waiting for the building surveyor to issue the building permit for over 3 months now. Fingers crossed, it should be approved within the next twelve months.
10. The last straw. When your Building Surveyor thinks he’s a Structural Engineer. Dear Justine, please provide a revised footing design for the proposed pad footings that are to be installed along the existing party wall. I believe the current dowel design undermines the existing bluestone footings. Um really?! Excuse me Mr Structural Engineer, can you please explain to Mr Building Surveyor why you decided to pull this detail out from your behind, stick it onto your drawings and then give me a 1507? I think he’s a little confused.
Justine, Gazella’s Co-Editor-Extraordinaire, is working as an Owner Builder alongside her brother Laurence (The Protégé), attempting to renovate her dream house in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. Way in over her head, we’ll follow her journey, both ups and downs, while she vents her spleen taking responsibility for her renovation to the next level. This is only the beginning… !
I loved doing wood work at school. Not surprisingly I was the only girl in my wood work class all through high school and college. I enjoyed the challenge of an idea; taking raw material to an end product. So, I decided to leave school at end of year eleven and become a carpenter (much to my family and friends surprise). My friends at the time were completely clueless about anything to do with building, They thought I was becoming a carpet layer!
So, off I went, on my merry way. In my new uniform and my little basic tool kit that my parents bought me. I rolled into my first job as this bright eyed, very naive 17-year-old kid really, with a group of men. Once again being the only female. Some were crude and rude and some were just lovely. It was just this complete transformation. I went from a girl in school thrust into this adult world where people were talking about mortgages, wives, girlfriends and very ‘grown up’ things
I remember the first day I had to attend Tech as a first year apprentice. Back then I was much smaller and skinnier (pre kids!) and I walked into this room and all of these boys (and I say boys as they were all under 20) are sitting at the back of the room, high school style. I figured I had no choice, ‘Just keep walking Sarah,’ as all eyes bore down on me. I went straight to the front of the room. The stares were something I was to become very accustomed too. You get used that very quickly. In the end, it was very ‘Whatever.’ Staring is something that came with the territory.
I started working at a big commercial joinery factory. I told the owner that I really wanted to get off the tools and become more involved in construction management. So he suggested and paid for me to go to study construction management via correspondence. I used to start the day at the office at 7am each morning doing estimating and dabbling in PM work and then finish with Uni. I hated it. I thought it was terrible. Full time working and then trying to study was very hard.
I think the first topic we covered at Uni was ethics in construction and I just found that hilarious! Was I wasting my time with school? I persevered for 18 months and then I met my partner. I moved to Melbourne, deferred Uni and I never went back. I don’t regret it for a moment. I am very happy that I never made it back. From there I moved from role to role and back to Canberra before coming back to Melbourne. Along the way, I have been really lucky to meet all kinds of key influential people on my journey who have seen my value and sought to elevate me to new levels.
I think unfortunately, despite the fact that the numbers of females has increased in the industry, we are still the minority. Do I think that will change? I hope, but I am not confident in the short term. What isn’t made clear to a lot of girls at school, is that the industry is dynamic and there are different pathways that you can take. For example, I have come with a trade background. Those skills are readily and easily transferable to other roles and I don’t think that the industry does enough to promote how they could be used in other areas.
I have a theory that construction, as a whole, is built on egos. You have to have a certain personality to work in the industry. I think everyone’s got a certain ego that they bring to the industry. It’s just about how they all mix and come together.
I love this industry. I don’t think I could work anywhere else. I love the people and I love that every day is different — what you dealt with yesterday is absolutely not what you are going to deal with tomorrow. I think the industry provides a lot of opportunities to think really autonomously and own something that is tangible. It’s not a textbook.
I like the fast pace nature. I love that there is a start and end date and you’ve got to somehow get there. You have got that adrenaline of push, push, push and then you reach a milestone and you just reset the clock and off you go again. You always have another milestone around the corner. If it was too mundane, I would probably go crazy.
Dare I say it, sometimes women in the industry are a hurdle. I don’t think women do enough to support women coming through. In my experience, I have had some really great male mentors, the kind of people who pushed me along the way and who have been my greatest advocates. An external champion. Unfortunately, I have to say more times than not, the women become very protective of their roles.
Work is really just one big journey. You keep adding to your toolkit, bit by bit, along that journey. The difficult times, while they seem terrible, on reflection, they are actually quite character building. It is normal to have peaks and it is normal to feel despondence. Don’t stop dreaming. Don’t stop trying. Keep pushing for change. The industry can be taxing on me mentally, but that’s just part of the journey.
You just have to keep going and don’t forget the friendships you make. That’s the upside. I have met so many great people that I hold dear to me now as great friends, who I met through work. People who I was working stupid hours and solving stupid problems with together, laughing at the absurdity of what we do to get things done or decisions made. Those are the fun things.
I am very lucky that my partner, Craig, is my greatest advocate. He has always encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, telling me I’m fantastic. Telling me to keep moving forward. In the early days, I didn’t see what he saw; the constant pumping up my tyres was too much and I would tell him to just stop. I don’t deal with praise well. I find it very uncomfortable. I am terrible at self-promotion. I am terrible at networking because I hate putting myself out there.
Self-promotion isn’t a bad thing but I’ve always thought that I should be rewarded on my effort and my skills. That’s something that I learnt far too late that; you can work as hard as you like and you can be brilliant at your role and often you’ll just get pigeon holed because someone will think, ‘I don’t have to worry about her she has it covered.’ What you should be doing is getting out there, preaching and singing about your capabilities. All the guys do it and we (as women) just don’t do it nearly enough. And that’s what Craig has taught me, ‘Of course, you’re good enough. You’ve got to back yourself, you have to go and just keep doing it!’ he would say. Some people do it really well, I’ve met a few ladies along the way who do it brilliantly. I’m always in awe, thinking ‘Wow, how do you do that?!’ Maybe one day it’ll be easy for me too.
Just a bit of the feminist coming out in me, (and I’m not a diehard feminist at all), but I always tell my daughter Jazzy she never has to rely on a man, that she can do whatever she wants and to stand on her own two feet. I just want her to know, that she has a place and she has a voice. I think that kids have this great ability to have a voice, be honest and be reflective as children and then something happens and that honesty doesn’t become socially acceptable anymore. That’s really what we should push on with. Having a voice and having that confidence, I don’t want her to lose that. My daughter has a lot of spunk, within limits… but sometimes she’s a complete annoyance, don’t get me wrong!
We met Sarah in Bourke Street during summer, late last year before the ‘crazy’ set in (Justine topping out structure on her project and Danielle’s wedding). Sarah is bold and exceedingly interesting. She has really driven her own path through her career and has constantly evolved her professional profile through that process. She also has a list of brilliant contacts a mile long, becoming one of our greatest sources of talented and interesting individuals (shhh…secrets!), a testament to the kind of person Sarah is; a mentor, a mother, a polished professional and the kind of down to earth person you want, and can, spend hours talking to. Sarah has started a new adventure recently at SEMZ, where we wish her all the best. And it was a pleasure taking her photos with her daughter Jazz (who was busy planning her own glitter business!) J & D x
I studied property at RMIT intending to go into property development. During my last year I worked with Australia Post, within their property real estate division. Through their graduate program I did a bunch of things including leasing, some development management, managing consultants, and project management. I didn’t love the feeling of a big corporate organisation at the time.
My previous boss at Australia Post actually got me a job with Montlaur. He set up the interview then basically said “Time for you to get out of here and do something else!” I moved over to Montlaur seven years ago. I saw it as an opportunity to understand projects from start to finish, still thinking that I wanted to go into a strict development type role, but I ended up really enjoying project management and staying here.
To be quite honest, before starting, I didn’t actually fully understand what it was that a project manager does. It’s a different term in every industry and even within the industry.
I got thrown in the deep end. I went straight to working for NAB on their new headquarters. The structure of our organisation is very good in that way. If they believe you are capable of delivering a project or understanding the client and project requirements, they will basically give you the responsibility to deliver that and maintain a position in the background as more of a sounding board. I was seconded to NAB for three years.
I’ve always had an interest in how businesses are run and in strategy, rather than just going to work everyday and going through the daily grind. My role now is more about overseeing projects, business development, sourcing new work and getting involved in where the business is going, and where we want to get it. It’s interesting because I love getting involved in the detail and understanding what’s going on…so it’s hard to pull back.
I think networking and building working relationships is harder than people credit. Attending industry events, following up leads, speaking and networking with people that you don’t necessarily have a connection with, is difficult. Some people are better at the sales pitch than others. The mental game shift that helped me (hopefully) better myself in this respect, is genuinely believing what you’re ‘selling’.
The thing I love most about the industry is seeing the end product – the tangible nature of project delivery and running it from start to finish. I love the design phase and feel that’s one of the more exciting points in a project. Then seeing how people use the space. All those components that you put so much thought into at the front end… seeing them come to life and working in the way intended – is really exciting. Being able to drive past a project and say that you were involved, is really cool.
Coming out of University I don’t think I thought too much about what it would be like on site. I think it’s pretty incredible. Everything is a lot faster than I imagined. There are a lot more processes, a lot more inputs and background data that goes behind any project. Initially I thought someone completes a design, it goes into construction and that is it! I obviously never thought about the intricacies behind it, the huge amount of consulting, the amount of contractors on site, coordination and the number of people that bring it together. It’s fascinating.
My main piece of advice is to always back yourself. I spent a lot of time stressing out when I was younger, about whether I had understood something correctly, whether I should question advice or speak up in meetings. What I’ve found over the years is that you should always back yourself, because a lot of the time, if you don’t know what’s going on, the ten other people around the room probably don’t either. Be confident.
Think about things in a practical way. I think that is something I’ve struggled with. In my early days, I was taking a lot of direction and not necessarily understanding what the outcomes needed to be. As soon as my brain switched to asking, “Why are we doing this? What do you need that for? Who needs to look at this and why have they requested it”? How can we improve this solution?” I suddenly had an understanding for how project management worked. I think some people get stuck in the trap of just doing things because you are told to, or there is a process to follow.
I deal with testing moments by just being honest. I think as soon as you try to cover up an issue, you expose yourself. My strategy is to figure out what the issue is, resolve it, ideally before going to the client and then be honest about what happened and why it happened. I think that is all you can do.
There are a lot of connotations, particularly in project management that, you should boss people around, you should go into a meeting and expect supremacy. I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t think people want to work with you if you’re renowned for being a bully and you’re creating a negative tone with the wider group. I’m big on collaboration.
The advice I would give to young women would be to not let people intimidate you. I think it’s easy for it to happen and it does fairly regularly, particularly when they see young women at the table and there is an inherent perception that she hasn’t got enough experience to be involved in the discussion. It’s important not to feel intimidated, to value your own input and know you’re there for a purpose. Your opinion is just as good as the next person.
My mum always said ‘Not to believe everything!’ My mum is often sceptical. I would come home from school and tell an optimistic story about something potentially far fetched and, she’d say ‘Oh that’s ridiculous!’. At times, I used to think ‘Shut up, let me believe it!’ but I think it’s been a good thing for my development – certainly given me a sense of realism! Don’t trust or take everything you’re told as gospel.
Just next door to the City Wine Shop, we met Lucy at the Spring Street Grocer for some house made gelati in February earlier this year. We talked industry shop for a little bit comparing notes on clients and projects. This being inevitable given the three of us have all worked together at some point in time. We have the utter most respect for Lucy. Nothing passes her. She is incredibly down to earth and hard working. She’s an inspiration to many with the confidence to quietly command the attention she deserves. Lucy is no doubt onto the next big thing! Watch this space people. We wish you all the best Lucy!
I started architecture straight out of school in 1960 at Melbourne University. We had a mad, wonderful, time. I got married to another student, rather foolishly, after a couple of years. My husband decided he was interested in film, so he gave up architecture and went to work for Channel 9. Then we had baby and went to live in London, which everyone was doing at the time. Nobody does it now. None of my children are the least bit interested in England. We lived in England for 4 years and had more babies.
I didn’t work during that time, however I am renowned for getting involved in things. When I was pregnant with our first son, I got very involved in painless childbirth, which was a Russian obsession at the time. It was very interesting. I told my doctor, “I want to do this Russian thing where you don’t have any pain killers, you just learn how to control what’s happening.” He said, ‘Oh yes you can do that. Go and see Mrs Frame.” So I went to this fantastic physiotherapist who held classes with a dozen of us who were pregnant at the same time and she taught us the potential for our brain to overcome perceptions of pain. It was possibly the most important thing I have ever learned. The dozen of us got on well and enjoyed ourselves.
So we decided to start the Childbirth Education Association to teach everybody how to have wonderful babies without pain. This is the storey of my life. I just get involved in things! It was terrific. Then we realised there were a number of people who needed to know how to stop having babies and so some energetic people started the Family Planning Association. A great supporter of both enterprises was a radical young professor of O & G at Monash University, Carl Wood, who was busy inventing IVF at the time, and he asked me if I would write a book with him on pregnancy. So we wrote The A to Z of Pregnancy together. It sounds so ordinary now but then you weren’t allowed to send information on contraception through the post and the ABC wouldn’t use the word pregnancy’!
Then my marriage ended. So I went back to architecture, which I hadn’t finished. I just rang up Professor Brian Lewis, and said I wanted to return to finish the course. Brian was divine. He said, ‘Your husband was way too handsome, you should never have married him! Of course, come back.’
When I graduated I worked for Kevin Borland. Kevin was another fabulous mentor. My children were at school at that stage. After a while, I decided I going to have to work on my own. As it was hard fitting in work with kids’ school hours. And so Kevin gave me the job I was working on in Mt Eliza and I started a practice on my own. It’s not amazing, it’s called desperate, really. There you are, you have no money and you have three little kids running around.
I had always been involved in public housing. I grew up in South Melbourne which was very poor at that time, in my grandmother’s boarding house. The Housing Commission came along and demolished streets of houses that my grandmother’s friends lived in, and they put up rows of walk-up flats. I thought, this is extraordinary, this is not how it’s meant to be. They didn’t tell anyone what was happening. I decided public housing was my issue. It was a major reason why I did architecture.
Then a most extraordinary thing happened, a government minister rang me, seemingly quite drunk at about 10:30pm one night and said he had been trying to get onto me because I was interested in public housing. He said: ‘I thought you might like to be on the Housing Commission?’ I think at the time, there were three commissioners and a chairman who was Director of Housing. The Housing Commission was going through a terrible time because of all the land deals and corruption. It was on the front page of the paper every day. My friends said to me “Don’t do it!, They are just getting you as a woman to fob off criticism. They won’t let you do anything.” And I thought ‘Bugger it! Of course I will do it!’ It doesn’t matter what their intent was, it is what you can do in a position.
Then Jeff Kennett came in as the new Minister, aged 32, and wanted to change the world. And we had a fabulous Head of Housing, Roy Gilbert, who was determined to try anything to improve the situation. So we slowly started an extraordinary series of projects with a wonderful woman, Jan Cochrane, who lived in Broadmeadows as a housing commission tenant. She came in to see me and said, ‘Everyone is very poor in Broadmeadows and I want to start a food co op.’ We gave her a house and she set up her co-op. She was, and indeed still is, a star. We then said to her, “Okay, we have endless issues with the high rise and we need help.” So we asked her to come in and work as a tenant liaison. She worked on the basis that one floor would work like a suburban street, so that everyone will act like neighbours on that street. She altered the way those buildings worked.
Around that time we decided to start Women in Architecture. I was probably around 30 at this stage. We all got together and we had a wonderful time. A couple of good practices formed out of the group, and everybody felt supported. Before that, the moment you had children, you tended to step away from practice. Most felt demoralised because you couldn’t get into a firm and say, “I will get in at 9:15 and I need to leave at 3:15.” It wouldn’t have been possible. So women just left architecture.
Women in Architecture went on for about 10 years. We had some of the older women architects who had really had a hard time as part of the group. We approached Allison Harvey, who had been a partner in the biggest hospital practice in the country, to talk to us. During WW2, all the senior architects in the practice had gone to war and Alison was left to run the practice. She decided she had to know how to run it so at the end of each day she caught the tram to RMIT to become an accountant. And she ran that business throughout the War. She built all the hospitals for the Americans in the islands right around the Pacific, and all around Melbourne. She was an extraordinary women. And of course when the blokes came back from the war, she was sent back to her desk and the blokes took over. And because of the time that it was, she never said anything.
We had a Women in Architecture event where we asked Alison Harvey to come along and talk to us. She couldn’t quite see the point of why all the women architects wanted to get together with no boys around. Anyhow, we asked her to talk and she actually dissolved into tears, she wept, when she was talking to us because it was the first time in her life, (she would have been well over 70 at the time) that she talked about what had happened to her. She showed us pictures of all the principals at her firm, all lined up and she was standing next to them, dressed as a man. There is some extraordinary history there.
Some young women architects from around town and I have decided to do an exhibition on ‘Architects as Activists’. I have to admit we haven’t actually done anything yet but we will!
Predominantly now, I am involved in homelessness. I am on the board of Launch Housing. We invent projects. I am now making a film on homelessness with another friend because we think we know how to fix it. You see what smart arses we are! Every state and the federal government spend an awful amount of money keep people homeless. Feeding them, giving them overnight accommodation, keeping them in hotels. All they have to do is supply more housing. It is so much cheaper and kinder to house a complex person and then look after them. And not everyone is complex. Some people just need a house, a place with a key to the door to say it’s theirs. I think the reason it hasn’t happened is because bureaucrats aren’t highly active. It’s easier to dole out the money to the not-for-profit sectors around the country. Whereas, if they actually had their wits about them, the money could be invested more successfully. Building housing gets people employed and housed and leads to a more coherent society
The University of NSW have done very long research project on 14 people who have been jailed multiple times – not for crimes really against society but because of drugs, alcohol, mental illness. This is the story of thousands of homeless people who end up in jail. They are usually in jail, then out of jail, then on the street, then back in jail, because they get fed and it’s easier and a lot safer in jail. So the UNSW got 14 people and tracked them over years at every interaction with a government department and they added up all the costs. A 12 year old indigenous homeless woman who remains homeless at 22 has cost the government $5.5 million. It’s both cruel to her and madness in society’s terms. And that is our key point. She could have been housed properly when she was 12, with her mother, if she had actually had support with medical help and the last 10 years would have been a lot easier for both mother and daughter. The costs are enormous. We just shouldn’t do it.
I was on St Kilda Council many years ago and the CEO was Jude Munro. We became great friends. Jude has now got this great project going; a Pride Building for the LGBTI community. St Kilda Council has given them a fabulous block of land to build on and she has asked me to run an architecture competition. The aim of this building is for a number agencies and groups within of the LGBTI communities to be housed together as a focal point. To have a space. It is such a fabulous site to really act as a key catalyst for the regeneration of Fitzroy Street. We want a remarkable, confident, extroverted building. This will be the first Pride building in Australia.
I think it is important that we teach women architects and project managers how to deal with banks and other investors. I think there are real lessons to be learnt such as introductions to people who will fund projects. Women are not privy to that information easily. I have made this point all my life – about how men stand next to each other at urinals and they are buddies for life. They play golf, they lunch together and they do everything together. It sounds silly but I think it is a really important thing. Blokes feel bloke-y there. They protect each other against the world of women who are outside clammering at the door. In summary, I think male networking starts at the urinal. We need the senior women in banking and development to teach younger women how to meet the people who make decisions. And how to talk to them. And it’s got to advance beyond academia because they generally don’t do it.
I tell my children that you need to give back. In whatever way and whatever stage of life you are, you give back.
What could we possibly say about Dimity, to do her justice. As you can see, her piece is longer than our usual interviews…purely because cutting anything she said was a torturous affair, given her eloquence, spark and the weight of wisdom that hung on her words. It is without a doubt, so humbling to meet someone like Dimity. Someone who really had to go out there to prove herself in what was really a man’s world. Someone who has gone above and beyond anything she has ever set her mind to, in order to contribute to the world she lives in. Someone who could be sitting back and enjoying a well deserved retirement, but who in fact continues to contribute with such a vivacious spirit to the built environment and the arts. We hope you enjoy this piece and we hope it serves as a tribute to this strong and astounding women. We hope we grow up to be like Dimity! J&D x
I studied a combined Arts/Law degree at the University of Sydney. I did archaeology in my arts degree however I’d always wanted to do law. There was just something about it that idea of arguing a case. It seemed glamorous.
I’ve been at Multiplex for over twenty years. I had Cameron, my first son, and when I came back to the law firm I was working at after maternity leave, they thought it’d be much better if I was placed with a client. They were negotiating the Olympic Stadium at the time, so I ended up coming on secondment to Multiplex and I’ve been working here ever since.
Coming from a law firm, I was used to a politically correct law office. My first day in the old Multiplex offices down in The Rocks, my computer doesn’t work. I went to the office next door and the guy’s screensaver was a naked woman! That was 1996, really not that long ago. It was a business that almost didn’t have any women, unless you were a nurse. There was a lot of push back, some had directly said to me ‘I voted against you ladies coming on board’ or ‘We don’t need women’. It took a bit to turn the ship. That was just hard work and showing that we added some value.
The crunch came around when we were building Wembley Stadium. After what happened at Wembley, they decided that they needed to have a lawyer across the Australian business. I was doing the NSW role and I can remember seeing the list of people they were headhunting and I thought ‘I could do that’! I realised that if I wanted to step up, I needed to move into a full time role if I was going to be fighting off senior partners from law firms to get the gig.
I’m a Director of the Multiplex Indian company. India had never been on my horizon in a travel sense, it just didn’t appeal to me because I’d never been. Now, it’s so under my skin. You can use the experiences you have at work, for the other bits in your life. I love traveling and photography and so I’ve been lucky to get some of those experiences and do things I’m really interested in.
Culturally, trying to work out how to make things work in India, is really important. It’s so remote to what we do here. We have a project out of Delhi, where we have a labour camp; a huge piece of land, where we have built accommodation which will eventually house 500 labourers. The workforce are from different areas of India. There’s a big open shed that serves as a kitchen and there are six areas in the kitchen. For example, people from the south might eat meat, but then there’ll be an area from a region which is vegetarian, so they’ll have their own space, and many will have their own cooks.
They are passionate about dance. We are trying to teach them about safety because they look at that issue differently to our Australian workforce. They do love dancing, so we are doing this great safety induction with a dance routine. These workers are coming out of villages and farms and often haven’t seen a building of more than one storey. Tata our Joint Venture partner, goes into the villages and erects a scaffold and then asks those who are interested in working on a building job to go up the scaffold. They check their heart rate, and if they can manage on the scaffold, three stories high then they’re all right and they’ll get picked to come do the work.
My style of business is pretty direct. If I’m in a situation where I have to negotiate a difficult situation, I will look at what the compromise is and how to make it work. I can be direct, but I can also assess the dynamic of the room and look for a compromise position and sell the idea. My style won’t always work but it’s one I’m comfortable with.
What I’m trying to do is manage risk across the business, where everyone is trying to win jobs, so there’s always this tension. It’s very rare that there’s too much feistiness, but sometimes that’s what you need to do to get a reaction.
It’s interesting; for India we did some cultural training and they gave us cultural advice ‘Be direct’. Don’t say ‘Oh, do you think you can do this for me?’, you’ve got to say, ‘Do this, I need it by 2:00pm.’ Australians aren’t good at that. If someone came into the office and said that to you, you’d probably be like ‘Well…’ Whereas in India, the reaction would be ‘But you didn’t tell me to do it.’
I think we have to call bad behaviour. We also have to call the blokey behaviour that just happens because people don’t think about it. There’ll be some really blokey stuff and it’s like ‘Are you serious?’ There’s no place for that. I hate emails which are ‘Dear Gents and Meg’?! For godsakes, don’t do that. ‘Gents’ assumes, there aren’t any women who deserve to be on the email. I have a few things that drive me to distraction and this is one of them. Language is important as it says so much more than the actual words sometimes.
We work pretty hard at a fifty-fifty female/male graduate intake. The succession and talent programme that we have internally, has bias training around it. One session I attended there was a person whose role it was to stop and question project managers and construction managers, where if they gloss over any of the girls they are put to question, ‘Why is that? Are they a bit quieter?’, ‘Has everyone been given the same opportunity?’ It’s a reminder.
The site management path is bloody hard! It’s hard getting up and being on site by 6:30am. I think it takes a toll on everybody, not just women. And if you add in kids, it’s becomes even more demanding. There’s a lot of opportunity out there for us to make flexibility work on Site. I think constant Saturday work is the killer in the industry – missing school sport etc. I think people are happy to work hard during the week, but they don’t want to work every Saturday. So hopefully the flexibility programme we have combats some of that.
I tell my children to be a participator in life. Have a crack at everything. I have two boys. A twenty-one year old, who after working so hard, has finally got into Medicine. And an eighteen year old, who is taking a gap year and has just got back from being a ski instructor in Japan. Be a participator. Don’t be a bystander. Get out there and do it. Be brave.
We were so thrilled when Meg agreed to interview with us. Like – next level excited! She is seriously at the top of her game. One of the senior cohort of Multiplex and truly one of the most inspiring women we know. Someone who has been enthusiastic about female participation throughout her career, someone of influence, who flies the banner for women in leadership roles. She has this uncanny knack of reaching out to all levels of the business that make her such a prime example of support from the top. We need more women like this! Meg is full of wise words but it is her guts and determination that hold us both in our awe of her. Unwavering in what she stands for. Passionate about her work, but also her interests – traveling, photography and having an impact! When we interviewed her, she was off to Iran on a photography tour. It’s exciting, that balance she seems to have achieved between work, challenge and adventure. We thank her for sharing with us and wish her the best for the rest of 2017!