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