Kirsty Edwards/ PROJECT MANAGER / PROBUILD CONSTRUCTIONS  / 
CREATING SPACES

story / Interview / July 31, 2020

We aren’t building buildings. It’s relationships that build buildings. We don’t physically do the work on site, but we need to have the relationships with our key resources and it’s those relationships that build our buildings. It’s creating amazing buildings and spaces that can change and inspire people that are using them. We can get caught up in the ‘my job’s bigger than yours’ mentality. It’s not just ‘I can build the biggest tower’, it’s creating spaces that change how people feel in a space. It can change how they interact with others in spaces.

I’ve moved to Sydney in the start of February. Perth is very quiet at the moment. Twelve months before I moved, I could see projects were finishing up and, I was thinking about what was next. The construction manager here kept saying ‘when are you moving across?’  I wanted to pursue opportunities to go back east.

When I was a kid I wanted to be the Prime Minister of Australia first off, but that changed after Mum and Dad took me to Parliament House. I realised politicians didn’t have much of a heart at the time. I readjusted what my desires were for my lifelong ambitions and decided I wanted to be an architect.

I had a careers teacher at high-school who said, ‘Nup, you’ll never be an architect.’ And maybe she was right?! Because eventually I realised that architecture wasn’t for me.  I completed a diploma of building design and technology at RMIT and it was there I started working in an architectural practice. From there I did architecture and construction management at Deakin.

Working in an architectural practice, I was working for a man who had been a lecturer of mine. And he was very hesitant to send me out on site. It probably wasn’t the most female friendly environment to be sending a young woman onto site back in the days of strippers on a Friday afternoon. He definitely wouldn’t send me out to site by myself.

Early on I thought that I might as well get some construction experience. I interviewed with a large builder, and the guy that I sat down with was one of their construction managers at the time, said ‘why would you want to work on site, you’re a female? This is a man’s domain.’ That interview didn’t really go far past there! I was shocked that someone had actually said that to me in an interview. I kept working in architectural practices, but I felt that this wasn’t my vibe. I didn’t see myself designing and drawing for the rest of my time.

When I interviewed at Probuild, I said I wanted to be a design manager and they took me on as a coordinator. On the next job, I was thrown into the design management role. I enjoyed it. But I missed the site a lot. We got to the end of the job and there was an assistant project manager role that came up. I said I missed site and I wanted to throw my hand up for it. I went onto ABC MAP, Melbourne  as an assistant design manager, was promoted to assistant project manager and then I got the opportunity to run the second stage of the project as project manager.

I was thinking I wanted to be a design manager, because everyone tells the girls they are going to be design managers and the boys go on to be project managers. But I think I loved site. I did want to prove it to myself a little bit.

How do I put this in the most diplomatic way? I came to a point a couple times in Perth where I figured I needed to find a better way to deal with things. I had some people were a bit junior to me, but the same age or a bit older, but sort of expected that they would be the ones to get my role. And when I came across, a female, from Melbourne, it was a bit like ‘what’s this?’ The situation and the personalities were really difficult to deal with. I was at the point of ready to throw it in and I thought, no, I’m not going to let this get the better of me.

I ended up getting a career coach. And that really helped me develop from an emotional intelligence point of view and just overall my skill set – I’ve become a whole lot more aware of myself and how I of how I was interacting with people.

There are two female PMs in the Probuild business nationally in site based roles. We are still very much the minority. I’ve noticed in the industry that retaining women after 32 is still a big challenge for us. Coming to the end of the project that I’m working on at the moment, there are times when it’s clear to me why it’s hard to retain females… there have been five handovers in my area this year and the energy you need to get to that point is enormous. I’ve was thinking …really…is this what I want to be doing?

A big part of a long career in construction is flexibility. But there’s always going to be different levels of flexibility that you need at different stages of your life. That you need or that you want. I don’t have children at the moment, but the level of flexibility I want now is going to be different when I have children. But at the same time, now I want flexibility so I don’t burn myself out. It’s funny, I said to People and Culture recently, that I’m not working as much as I was last year, but no one should be working like I was last year. I’m still working long hours now, but they feel manageable.  The ranges of stress are relative.

What gets me up in the morning? Being part of a team, seeing my team members grow and helping to progress their career trajectory. I’ve been supported in my journey and being a part of someone else’s journey is extremely important to me.

I see a lot of value in mentoring and it’s something I do both formally and informally.  Both guys and girls, who have fallen into the circle. But watching them flourish in their career is extremely rewarding. I think that as important as making and creating amazing spaces is, seeing people achieve their goals and succeeding is so rewarding.

I’ve had formal mentors through NAWIC and the Property Council, but to be honest those haven’t worked as well for me. It’s been the informal ones through my formative years who have been the most valuable and I still go to. In the last year I’ve picked up another one. He approached me and said ‘I’d like to be your mentor’ and I’m down with that. He’s external of the business. It’s an unbiased look on how to do things. It’s just as important to seek that out.

I think it is important that females are in the boardroom, making decisions that other females in the industry and issue impacting retention are addressed. We also need female influence on how a business is strategically developing. That to me is fundamental and that takes into account some of the basics as to what the industry will look like in 2, 5, 10 years’ time.

It’s important that we show women that you can succeed and it’s not just going to be a male dominated industry. It’s also critical that we don’t just convey that message at university level. It has to happen in schools. Getting out there and educating young females about construction. That it’s not just digging in dirt and coming home with messy boots.

Communication, trust and honesty are three key items. You need to have trust in your team. Your team needs to have trust in you. Your Client needs to have trust in you. All of that comes down to communication, but also the honesty in your communication. If you don’t have honesty, then everything else is going to fail. You lose people’s trust if you aren’t being honest.

I’d like to say that you don’t, but as a female, you still need to work harder to prove yourself, no matter what. As females coming up in a business or within the industry, you have to keep working hard for it. I’m not sure that is the inspirational quote that you need, but I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

For me, I want to find out, who I am without that badge of a project manager, leading a team. I want to look inwards and find out what the next part of journey looks like. I’ve done some pretty big projects and some good roles. I still want to do that obviously, but I want to peel back the layers and see who I am without the craziness, without a team of 30 odd guys and girls, without being accountable to a business and without delivering a project to a client. Who are you without all of that? You put everything into what you do and you don’t realise that until you step back and take a look.

I’m working a little in new business, which COVID-19 has thrown some spanners in the works there. It comes back to that question of who am I without my boots on and building. New business is definitely different paced. It started really good, but with COVID-19, I had just started to work out the new team and forming relationships and what makes people tick and all that has dissipated as people have gone to work from home. So that’s definitely been interesting. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the industry.

For my younger self – trust your gut and back yourself. Most of the time I will back myself now, but it has taken a lot of questioning of myself. Your instinct is always right when it comes to your professional life or your personal life. But, if you want it. Go for it. It’s that simple. Be prepared to work hard for it. Don’t let anyone dance on that little fire in your belly.

I go to the gym and workout. It’s my hour where I don’t look at my emails, try to turn off, and focus on myself working out. I like to chill out, go to the beach, and get some fresh air. Go for a bush-walk. Recharge the batteries.

My mother always told me to go for it and don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t.

 

We’ve been following Kirsty’s career for many moons and we thought it was high time we caught up to interview her! Hampered by being in different states and COVID to boot, we did the interview over two sessions, but are super happy to finally bring it to our readers. In a space where female PMs in site based roles are still a rarity, it is inspiring to see women like Kirsty forging their own paths in the tier 1 space. Pushing that glass ceiling ahead of the women entering the industry and moving up the ranks. Kirsty is down-to-earth, considered and introspective, cutting the old stereotypes and reinventing the mold of what a PM should be. And it has been wonderful not only to be able to celebrate her achievements here, but to also share with you her opinions on mentoring, coaching, and seeking out opportunities. We wish Kirsty all the best for the second half of 2020 (the year that must not be named). J & D xx

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