A chat with Victoria Dixon / Project Coordinator Multiplex and Diversity Champion  / 

story / Event / January 28, 2020

We met recently with Victoria Dixon, go-getter and champion of diversity to hear about Queers in Property and the visibility of queer people in the industry. Before we go much further however, we have to share that Queers in Property (QIPs) are having their next event on Feb 6, 2020 and we are here for it! So, we hope the Gazella tribe also get on board and get involved. Gazella are all about a supportive network – and surrounding yourself with legends (especially outside your direct work team) can get you through the good and bad. We will see you there!

Now, on to the good stuff…

Tell us a little bit about Queers in Property? How did it start and what is its mission?

Queers in Property (QIPs) was formed by Ben Rowe and Meg Patten from Riverlee and Rossco Karabeles from The Property Agency last year.

QIPs came about due to the low levels of visibility and exposure of queer people in the property and construction sectors, often exacerbated by the heteronormative attitudes and privilege, which are so prominent within these industries. Our mission is to create an independent network that brings visibility and empowerment to the LGBTIQ+ people through networking, events and professional support.

The construction industry is slowly becoming more diverse, and this diversity is overwhelmingly having a positive impact on the industry, but under-represented groups still find it hard to find their own voice. Can you speak a little about representation in the industry?

Whilst the industry is slowly becoming more diverse, we still face a major issue of inclusion and retention of these diverse groups. The construction industry is not known for being a socially progressive industry, which is one of the major hurdles to attracting and supporting minority groups. The industry does not provide an equal playing field for all. According to The National Association of Women in Construction, in 2017, women accounted for 3% of construction trades workers across Australia, while making up 51% of the non-construction workforce. We expect the percentage of same-sex attracted women to be even less!

Visibility is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to representation. The industries weakness is that we lack representation of our community and workforce in senior management and middle management roles. On sites there is generally a lack of initiative to address inequality, it’s not rare to face sexist and racist comments on the daily. When people feel safe and represented they are more likely to feel like their authentic selves, which is a win win for the company and individual.

What are some of the current issues facing the LGBTQIA community in the industry? Including inclusion, diversity and visibility? How can we cultivate change?

The property and construction industry can feel very intimidating and unsafe to someone who is not a straight identifying male or female. In a recent study undertaken by RMIT, LBGTIQ+ employees who are not out within the workplace are twice as likely to feel down and 45% less likely to be satisfied with their job. When it comes to LGBTIQ inclusion, companies need to go further than policy, as it is the company culture that counts. Unless a workplace creates an environment where people feel like they can be true authentic self without hiding facets of themselves, LGBTIQ individuals and other minority groups will remain invisible.

Cultivating change can be done through visibility, empowerment and support. Seeing leaders openly out and proud gives others the view that it’s okay. Even if the management team are not LGBTIQ identifying, it’s important they act openly as allies. Simple things such as lanyards, stickers, training and workshops, helps to bring about education and awareness. Sometimes it’s as basic as using the word partner rather than girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife.

QIP are having an event shortly. Tell us a little bit about that and how we can get involved?

This is super exciting! For our next Queers in Property event we’re celebrating queer identifying women and exploring the lack or representation they face in our industry with a League of Legendary Lesbians. The event will be a panel of lesbian’s leaders discussing the issues they face being a double minority and how we can empower one another through stories, inclusivity and visibility.

The event is on the 6th February at Armitage Jones on Little Bourke St and will be held from 6pm. Some of the speakers include Olivia Christie – Director of Armitage Jones, Sam Peart – Sustainability Manager for Advisory Services at Development Victoria and Jude Tsai – Director of Slattery….and myself!

Meg Patten, QIP Co-Founder and Chairperson stated the following:

I always thought being queer in this industry was my biggest weakness, but now I’ve realised it’s my biggest strength because it’s empowered me.

How can young people in the industry find empowerment as they enter what is largely a homogenous labour force? Are there any tips you have for finding like-minded people or promoting diversity?

There is empowerment in difference – different upbringing, different train of thought, different background. There are so many lessons to be learnt from cultivating difference. USE YOUR POWER OF BEING DIFFERENT.

If you are someone who naturally puts themselves out there and strives for change, you will attract and create relationships with people who have similar train of thought. When things get tough we often retreat, leaving us invisible, guarded, less trusting and sometimes cynical. Maintain the courage to not retreat from the circumstances you are in, because when we push and break boundaries it’s a challenge that the next person may not have to face.

For myself, being a part of QIPs was about looking beyond self-centred pursuits and towards what I might be able to bring into someone else’s life. I realised by being afraid and invisible I wasn’t helping anyone, not even myself. Empowerment is all about supporting and providing opportunity for one another.

Are industry leaders and companies doing enough to promote diversity, or do you think it needs a more ‘ground-up’ approach with people themselves becoming more aware about diversity and inclusion? Or is it a mix?! Thoughts?

When CEO’s and Senior Management can articulate a compelling vision, commitment and accept accountability for change then we will officially start the journey of promoting real diversity and inclusion. Whilst the ground up approach is continuing to put a lot of pressure on companies to change their attitudes and behaviours, senior leadership still holds the power in many of these companies and unfortunately that’s where the real change happens.

Despite the strength of the argument for diversity and inclusion, industry leaders seem to lack the knowledge, awareness and drive in supporting an inclusive workplace. The industry needs stronger leadership and true commitment from the top for any cultural shifts to occur. We need to unite and start addressing the issue of diversity together, setting minimum requirements of workplace demographics and demonstrating on-going efforts towards supporting diversity. The Australian Government have been the wake-up call that many construction industries need, placing huge importance on social procurement initiatives to secure works. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a smart business decision.

Any final comments on your own journey and experience and what you would like to see in the near future, and perhaps over the longer term?

Personally, I would love to see construction companies come together and make industry commitments to a more diversified and inclusive industry. There is too much unconscious bias in construction, which is really holding us back from welcoming and allowing diverse groups to thrive.

If you have comments, thoughts, or anything add…remember you can always comment below. We love to hear from you (even though it sometimes takes us a while to getting back to people – soz – love job!) And if you have a group, a network or an event we should know about – contact us on social media (@gazella_blog).

We thank Victoria for being open and honest. It is humbling, as always, to hear people’s different experience of the industry and every story we post here at Gazella we hope create some awareness of people’s different experience. I mean, that’s literally our mission!

We and can’t wait to hear more about QIPs over 2020. And wish Victoria all the best. J&D xx


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