Nicole Trumbull / State Director / WT Partnership  / 
Quiet Little Mice

story / Interview / March 6, 2022

We started this interview with Nicole, congratulating her on her recent promotion to Director. There may have been some expletives to express our admiration, but we’ve edited them out for our readers. Here we start…

Every now and then, still, I see my new title written, and I think ‘…yeah…cool…that’s me….’ I started at WT Partnership nineteen years ago this year. It is my only professional construction job. I never intended to be a quantity surveyor. As part of my degree I had to do part time work and I was very close friends with the managing director at the time’s daughter. So I had a chat with him, and he was very convincing and really sold QS-ing, because it was really dry and boring at Uni, but I thought I’d give it a go, and now I’m finally a Director of the same company I started at as a cadet.

Talking to one of the girls in the office the other day, I feel like that weird age group where when we started it was very very heavily male dominated, much more so than now. And it was so acceptable to be really non-PC. Guys would have photos of girls up in the office, at their desk and that was ok. The day-to-day male banter that you heard was often sexist. I grew up with that. I think now, as a result, even though some of it is offensive, I’m also used to it and can be too accepting of it. The younger age group are much better at calling it out, but we are the ones who should. I am trying to better at that.

My biggest challenge was really around when I had kids. Everything kind of just went on hold. And that was really frustrating. My kids are one and a half years apart so for around 3-4 years everything just kind of stopped, while I went into this holding pattern. And I get it when you’re on mat leave and return part-time, it’s very disjointed. I was pushed in a lot of different directions during that time. I went from being heavily involved in residential, to coming back and being seconded into a retailer to manage a team, then after my second child I came back and was asked to take on aged care. So I didn’t have the connections from the previous work I had done. I was dealing with new clients and having to learn a slightly different skill-set each time. It was tough, but now I think it’s a great thing. I have all these really diverse skills and connections across all those industries. But at the time it was really challenging.

I really struggled with the perception that part time working mothers should not progress in their career. Although I wasn’t working full time, I was managing a team the same way any full time employee would and the same number of projects. While simultaneously learning a whole set of new skills through becoming a parent. There seems to be this idea that the most efficient or best performing workers are physically present in the office 5 days a week. But I don’t believe that is based on any actual data, in fact, I think there is a fair bit of research to the contrary.

So my current pet project is trying to change the mentality around flexible working. Of course it affects everyone, but the lack of flexibility in when and where you work has a significant impact on working mothers in particular. And I say mother’s rather than parents, because most of the time the child rearing responsibilities do fall to the mum. But really, it impacts father’s just as much. I have benefited from being in a relationship where we equally share our parenting responsibilities and both our jobs are equally important.

Looking back over the years we have lost a lot of women that leave at that child-having age. Whether it means they don’t go back to work at all, or they chose to go elsewhere after having kids and I think that it’s really one of those times in life where you stop – like a lot of people are doing with Covid now – and reassess what they want out of life, their careers and everything else and that’s what happens when you have a child.

One of the things I really pushed for was a paid parental leave policy. Which we didn’t have when I had kids, which we do now which I think is great. It makes a really big difference. It really encourages people to come back to work. And the influence is huge – more women will return to work when they have paid parental leave.

We both worked part time when our kids were little and we take it in turns to stay home with the kids if they are sick. We talked about this stuff before we had kids, and without it I would likely not be a director. And more importantly my kids would not have the same amazing relationship with their father that they do now.

I definitely pushed for the promotion and in every review I had I asked about the next step – associate, then associate director, then director. I thought I’d be happy being a director, but now I’ve realized that maybe this isn’t the end and maybe I want more. I want to keep learning and to keep pushing myself so my next goal is to be an executive director. And I said that to our Board yesterday. I’ve always expressed where I want to be. And they’ve never said to me ‘that’s unrealistic’.

As a QS we work on a huge number of projects. We see the costs across so many jobs, across the whole market, whereas builders or PM’s or Architects are focused on a handful of projects. At any time, I can have between 10 and 20 projects. And in our office there are constant cost plans, BQ’s and tenders. So we constantly have market data coming in, which is why we can do what we do.

I enjoy people management the most. I like working with people and teaching them along the way. The biggest challenge is when you have under-performers and provide them with that feedback. It’s always hard giving negative feedback to people and it’s definitely something I’ve had to do more and more as I’ve become more senior. I’ve had to fire people in the past couple years as well, which isn’t fun. I had one guy burst into tears and another get really angry as he couldn’t believe it was happening to him. So it’s been really challenging.

I don’t think I would change anything I have done, but I suppose I also never believed that I couldn’t do something, just because other people hadn’t. When I started I never noticed that we didn’t have any female directors, and I don’t know if we even had female associates at the time. I suppose that was a good thing, because I never saw that as an issue. For me, it was just my expectation that if I did well, I would be promoted. And thankfully that is the way it went for me. But I know for other people they need to kind of see it, to believe it can happen. I would say to people in that respect, that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It frustrates me when people think that.

I had it said to me not long ago, by a woman, that I shouldn’t expect to be a director because I’m a female in the construction industry. How totally absurd. How can you think that in this day and age that a woman can’t do something just because she is a woman? I couldn’t get my head around that, and she had daughters too. I would never want to limit my daughter and say ‘you can’t do that, you’re a girl.’ I think there are a lot of old-school ideas about roles of men and women, both professionally and personally. It’s reflected in the number of women in leadership positions as well as the number of women who take on the role as a primary caregiver.

I still fall into this trap too, I do most of the cooking, the shopping, the cleaning and I organize all of my kids activities. I also refuse to even try and use a lawnmower, I won’t cook on a BBQ and if our internet goes down that is definitely my husband’s issue to deal with. But I think we have the big stuff right. Both of our careers are important and both of us are there for our kids.

Homeschooling hasn’t been fun. It’s been pretty full on. Most days the kids are pretty good, but they always have their days when they are sick of it too and then everyone just ends up yelling at each other. They are 6 and 8, so prep and grade 2. My daughter is in grade 2, quite independent, we just set her up and she’s pretty good at doing her stuff. But my son is a 6 year old and incapable of doing anything himself without having his hand held. My mum took them for the day when we had the earthquake. And everything was shaking in my house and I called my mum and said ‘did you feel that?’ and she said, ‘feel what?’ and then she sent me a photo of Lachie. The kids had pulled her couch apart and were jumping all over it. What earthquake – this is my house right now! That’s what a six year old boy is. An earthquake…every day.

*At this stage Nicole showed us the photo her mum sent…see below!*

I watch really crap TV. That has been my go to through covid. I online shop, putting stuff in my cart and not buying it. I took up running for a bit but I haven’t run for a while. Every day I think I should run today? Then I came up with reasons why I shouldn’t run – even today I thought I should run but I was like, well I have to chat to the Gazella girls so I can’t…

I want it to be profound, but currently it’s all ‘stop doing that’ and ‘stop hitting your brother’ or ‘quiet, mum’s in a meeting’….. But I do tell my kids; ‘You can do it’. At the moment it is in the context of going across monkey bars for the first time, or getting themselves dressed. And when I think back to my own childhood my parents always encouraged me to challenge myself and pushed me to do my best. I think that’s the key to success – self belief.

My mum is a lifesaver when it comes to helping with the kids. But she also puts ridiculous things in my daughter’s head. I was sitting in the car with my daughter a while ago and the news was on and they were talking about one of the biggest diamonds in the world being sold and what it sold for. And I said to Ash, ‘did you hear how much that diamond just sold for?’, and her response was ‘that wife must be very happy.’ And I just sighed…she could have just bought it for herself. Seriously.

 

We had a blast chatting to Nicole – she’s witty, down-to-earth, a great story-teller and an absolute boss! We loved her perspective on the narrative of women and their career progression whilst having kids, as it’s a preoccupation for many women who are at the cusp of staying in or leaving the industry. We also loved her realism about doing life through Covid! It’s key to have women like Nicole through our industry, showing for those who need it, that women can make it to the top. We hope you loved this piece as much as we did. We wish Nicole and her fam the best for a less disruptive 2022! J, N & D! X

 

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