Nicole Stoddart Managing Director – Construction Services, Australia New Zealand / AECOM  / 
drive your own career bus

story / Interview / October 2, 2017

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!

 

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