Teagan Dowler Founder of The BCW and Author of ‘Rules of the Game’  / 
Our Oyster

story / Interview / May 29, 2017

I’m in my early thirties. Which means I’m in the generation of kids who were told they could do anything. The world was our oyster. That feminism has done its job and there were no limitations based on gender. On reflection, potentially because of this messaging, I came out of University feeling pumped and ready to take on the world. I was ready to make my mark and create change. However, when I got into the industry I got a bit of a shock. It was different then I had envisaged, something didn’t seem right – it was like a sudden slap in the face.

Initially I thought it was me. I thought I was failing or not cut out for the construction industry. Yes, it was tough, like all work can be, but there was something else at play which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At the time, I was working in HR and because of this I had lots of other women, predominantly young engineers and graduates, coming in to see me for a chat. After a while their conversations would open up and they would start talking about the challenges they were experiencing.

These included the standard things such as the workload and challenging deadlines, but also included other peculiar happenings such as ‘the construction supervisor won’t let me do x-y-z, whilst he’s letting the male engineers…’ or ‘The crew has started this rumour about me and I’m coping comments when I walk past the crib rooms…’. After hearing a number of these issues it dawned on me that, ‘Hang on, perhaps it’s not me that is struggling, maybe something is inherently wrong with our industry culture?’ I then realised, that if I was experiencing this, and others I knew were experiencing it, chances were other women in different locations were also experiencing similar challenges.

The concept of the book, was born out of this early realisation that women do encounter gender specific challenges in the masculine industries of construction, engineering and resources. I realised we needed to share our experiences, to tell the truth, and not brush it under the carpet. To let women everywhere know that they are not alone if they’re experiencing these challenges. To provide real-world advice and recommendations on how to navigate them, and most importantly to direct the efforts of organisations to the realities of their cultures so that targeted diversity and inclusion initiatives can have a meaningful impact.

My background isn’t a technical background. However, funnily enough all through school, that’s what I did study – Science and Maths. Once I got to University, I started to go down the more humanistic side of science and completed a Bachelor of Psychology. At the time I didn’t want to be a straight up psychologist and began to get interested in the world of business. I decided that a Masters in Human Resource Management would be a happy balance between the two worlds – people and organisational strategy.

For the past decade I’ve worked in Human Resources, Organisational Development, Leadership Coaching, Strategy and Change consulting, predominantly in construction, engineering, and mining. I’ve been lucky enough to complete this work in a range of environments including underground coal mines, open cut coal mines, major civil construction, steel processing and iron ore mining. Most of my career has been spent in site environments, wearing hi-vis clothing, steel cap boots and working to build relationships of influence with men who are generally much older than me.

I’m fascinated by people. I love understanding human behaviour and figuring out the motivations behind why people do what they do. This passion drives most of my work with frontline leaders and managers in my coaching role. I work with leaders to lift their personal leadership performance, build effective team dynamics and establish their strategy across a range of areas from business performance, safety, productivity and diversity and inclusion.

My role title could best be described as a Strategy, Organisational Capability and Leadership Coach. It’s a long title and it’s a hard one to describe, but it’s the closest I’ve come to putting a title on what I do. Sometimes I wish I could say I’m an engineer, a doctor, or a teacher as people know what that is. My role can change from day to day and include running team alignment sessions, delivering training programs, developing strategy, working one-on-one with leaders, writing blogs or articles, delivering keynotes at conferences, advocating for greater diversity and inclusion or jumping a plane to fly to a client site. Luckily I like the variety!

Building rapport is important for professional success. Since my job requires the ability to influence people who are generally very different to me, I’ve had to learn quickly how to be flexible in my approach. This doesn’t mean changing who I am, but rather, adjusting my approach to build strong relationships of trust and influence. Working on developing my emotional intelligence, coaching and questioning skills has been a great asset in enabling me to adapt to different situations and people. I now work with leaders to teach them these very skills to help them achieve more in their careers and chase their professional and personal goals.

I think we can best progress the conversation of women within the industry through honesty. It’s about being truthful about all aspects of what it means to be a woman working in a traditionally masculine environment – in all it’s good and not-so-good aspects. We need to have honest conversations around the experiences of women in the industry so that we can create meaningful change, not just for women, but for the industry as a whole.

The diversity and inclusion conversation should go beyond the binary gender conversation of just male and female, and start to focus on the more holistic conversation of creating workplaces and cultures where all people can come to work and be their authentic self. Only when we achieve this will we truly tap into the unbridled potential of a diverse workforce and allow difference to lead to creativity and innovation.

The biggest barrier to change, and hence, to achieving diversity and inclusion is the fear of change. The prospect of diversity and inclusion can be threatening for some people because it brings in the element of difference and the unknown. As humans we’re geared towards maintaining the status quo because we know we can cope with the current state of affairs. When we bring in a new element, like people who are different to us, or a change in strategy or culture, it can be uncomfortable for some people. We need to realise this when we implement strategies to improve diversity and inclusion, and support our people through the emotions of change.

Organisations can achieve greater diversity and inclusion through a number of different ways. However, there are three steps which I recommend all organisations implement to help achieve their diversity and inclusion goals. Firstly, it is important to understand the experiences of your people across different, locations, levels and roles. Conduct focus groups, take employee perception surveys, or chat one on one with key employees to start getting a barometer of what your company culture looks. Use the results from these surveys to feed into your diversity and inclusion strategy with initiatives that target specific areas of concern or focus. Secondly, focus on educating your leaders to understand the value of diversity and inclusion and support them to lead diverse groups. Many leaders are apprehensive or unsure whether they need to approach a diverse work team in a different manner than how they’ve previously engaged their homogenous team. Lastly, organisations should look around their industry and beyond to identify best practice initiatives other organisations are implementing in the diversity and inclusion space. I have personally found that most organisations are happy to share their diversity and inclusion journey because they too are learning and feeling their way in this new area.

The best advice my mother ever gave me was that life will only give us what we can handle. This has been an important mantra for me in times of difficulty and has helped me to keep a balanced perspective when things get tough. Yes, there are hard times, and yes they can suck, but keeping this advice in mind enables me to approach the challenges with a curiosity and an openness to the lessons which I’m meant to learn. Even in the hardest of times there is something which will help us grow, to become stronger, courageous or perhaps more compassionate or vulnerable. Look at everything in life as a way to learn, because life is interesting. And if you ever think you’ve learnt it all, well frankly, I think you’ve missed the point. So go out there a be a sponge!

 

We were awestruck when we first found out that Teagan had accepted an interview with us. During our Skype, we connected over our interests in the diversity and inclusion conversation. Teagan was immediately relatable. Young, bright and passionate, she saw some real inherent problems within the industry and she decided to do something about it. Teagan embodies such a bold strength. You can tell she has fierce confidence and is not afraid of hard work. We could all use a role model like her. Thank you so much for letting us share your story Teagan. We are only too fortunate to be surrounded by a spirit such as yours! 

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