International Women's Day 2020 Honest conversations

Written by Ruby Saber

We're celebrating International Women's Day 2020 by encouraging conversations around equality - particularly for women in construction. This week we asked both men and women in our office about their views and experiences surrounding gender equality in the construction industry.

Read on as Diana Parisi – Director of Compliance and Corporate Services, Alan Al-Rafaei – Construction Director NSW, Briarne Jance – Project Coordinator, and Matt Barrasso – Project Coordinator have honest conversations about the past, present, and future of our industry.

International Womens Day 2020 construction

The construction industry is traditionally male-dominated. What do you think this means for women in the industry?

Matt: There’s no doubt the construction industry is traditionally very male-dominated and with that comes certain preconceptions. It’s something we need to continue to raise awareness on within the industry. The first step is to give everyone an equal opportunity.

Diana: An example would be from a recruitment perspective. When I’m recruiting, I’m looking for an exceptional candidate to join Schiavello. I look at who is right for the role – I never base my decision on gender. It is always based on their competencies or skills, and who is the right fit for the business.

The construction industry is traditionally very male-dominated, but I love the way we’re expanding our thinking and how we’re opening up more opportunities for women to participate.

- Diana Parisi

Alan: There’s certainly been a lot of changes in the market over the last 10 years or so – there’s also been a lot of changes in the way we view the market from a gender equality perspective. Much of the conversations we’re having around equality is not only helping us on a professional level but also on a personal one. That’s not to say we’ve reached a completely gender-equal environment, there’s still a way to go.

What are your thoughts or personal experiences on gender equality on a construction site?

Briarne: A really important part [in reaching equality] is acknowledging that other people don’t always feel the same way that you do. I will walk into a construction site, and I can’t tell you – bless their souls – how many times people ask me ‘are you lost?’ I’m standing there going ‘no, this is my project. I’m paying your bills, and I’m organising your [construction] programme,’ and bless you for thinking otherwise, but why is the automatic assumption that I don’t know what I’m doing? You know, I think that’s just something that takes a little bit of thinking outside your perspective to really understand that these things you say can have an impact on others.

I will walk into a construction site, and I can’t tell you – bless their souls – how many times people ask me ‘are you lost?

- Briarne Jance

Briarne: Most people don’t mean it in a malicious way, but it’s very important to stand back and really think about what we do without thinking. They may have undertones to other people that we don’t necessarily see.

Alan: It’s also what some people are used to. Traditionally speaking, if you’re a man on site it [automatically] means you’ve got construction experience – but I feel like it’s changing now. Much of the conversations we’re now having around gender equality are also helping us on a personal level. I grew up with all boys and it wasn’t until I had my daughter that my perspective has changed a lot. I can now see the world through my daughter’s eyes and what I’d like the world to look like for her in 10-15 years time.  It’s extremely important to keep having these conversations, to keep progressing, moving forward, and making sure that we know these aren’t just words we’re saying but also that they’re things we actually put to practice.

Briarne: We can ensure our industry continues to evolve to be a more equal one by supporting the women who are already here. It comes down to everyday core values, and it comes down to actually thinking about the conversations you’re having. We need to make sure that we’re acknowledging that women in this industry do go through things that are different.

How do the messages of International Women’s Day impact your personal and professional lives?

Matt: From a personal perspective, my sister is a good example of this. She has career aspirations, however sometimes she hits roadblocks, which puts her mind in doubt in achieving this. We’ve been having conversations around how her focus should be on achieving the goal, instead of not being able to move forward based on people’s opinions.

Briarne: It’s great you’re having these conversations with your sister – these conversations definitely need to be happening both in our personal and professional lives. As much as I want to say ‘oh no, I don’t feel any different [from the men in the construction industry],’ there are days when I feel different, and there are days when it’s really intimidating to get over that feeling. To be honest, I have some of the most wonderful subcontractors 99.99% of the time, but then you get those little comments every now and then. You notice them and as much as you brush them off it’s frustrating at the same time.

Matt: There’s so many ways to break down these barriers – some of them are so simple yet can have a powerful impact. For example, if someone is expressing their opinion or putting their ideas on the table, sometimes all you have to do is just acknowledge them. A simple ‘that’s a great idea,’ can have such an impact on someone, which encourages them to be more confident in contributing their ideas.

I grew up with all boys and it wasn’t until I had my daughter that my perspective has changed a lot.

- Alan Al-Rafaei

As a leader, how do you forge gender equality in the workplace?

Diana: I think whenever people put up barriers, there’s potentially an element of fear. I think part of how we can break down those barriers is to take people on a journey with us. I’d try to allow the person to recognise the value in what we’re doing and potentially open them up to broader thinking.

Alan: I agree with Diana. I think it’s also to do with facilitating education both ways. Education from us as leading businesses to our people, but it’s also a chance for them to come back to us. Workplaces should be having face-to-face conversations asking women in the industry about the challenges they’re facing without any prejudice, and just really listening and understanding. We need to continue to work together as a business to make life easier for everyone.

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