In her own words
I started in the transport space, with my university thesis on the optimisation of road maintenance and my first job was as a traffic engineer. Then I worked across a wide breadth of infrastructure projects involving toll roads, metro and light rail, and a lot of property development, including high rise CBD towers, shopping centres and what is now called place-making.
I also worked for the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) doing planning and scheduling for all the venues for the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics Games which was a wonderful experience. It was the perfect organisation because it had been stood up overnight, it had a really clear purpose and defined timeframe, and everyone was there for the right reason.
Until I came into government I had worked predominantly with men, and I must admit it was a positive change being surrounded by so many women. It is refreshing and has a comfortableness about it. I think we tend to accept things as the norm, and it is only when you get into a more diverse environment you suddenly realise - perhaps that is not normal!
I really love this industry, its been so good to me, and I have developed many fabulous relationships and friendships through it.
You also get to leave a meaningful legacy through your work. The design lives of our projects are generally 100 years – we are making a tangible mark, and with this comes big responsibility.
I hope more people from more diverse backgrounds become part of the industry and get the joy I get working within it.
Better for everyone
Our workforce needs to be representative of our customer base, the community and end users and all the science, statistics and research demonstrate more diverse environments deliver better results, increased profitably, and improved work environments. With the skills shortages we are experiencing it is even more important that we are maximising the full potential of the workforce and providing different choices for people. It’s also about offering a culture that makes our industry attractive to build your career within.
Some of the current issues in the industry - long work hours, stressful and very combative environments – are not good for anyone regardless of gender and it is certainly not an environment where the next generation will want to work. There has been a very last century culture in the industry because of its contractual environment, which has been quite combative and adversarial. We must be better behaved than we have been historically, particularly when we are delivering infrastructure for communities. The way we deliver projects needs to be with the whole community in mind.
The investment is there. People want what we deliver in terms of great places, property, and infrastructure but now we must attract people who want to work and stay in this industry and address what is often a quite transient workforce in construction. I think there are a whole lot of perceptions that are not accurate, and these are the barriers to entry to our industry. Many people think it is a place where everyone wears high vis, work on site, and it’s all men. Another myth is that the industry slashes and burns and leaves a trail of environmental destruction, which is not the case. Infrastructure delivers better outcomes for people, often leaves shared paths, more parks, open space and remediated areas, and now we are turning our attention to reducing the carbon impact of what we are designing and delivering on the way through. We need to celebrate what we deliver as an industry to attract people and ensure it is a good place to work culturally so they stay.
The minute mile
When planning for places and infrastructure it is all about the end outcomes for the community. While guided by compliance and standards, we need to go beyond these and consider what else can be delivered with the investment being made. That’s all about the legacy of skills, jobs training, social outcomes as well as the participation of groups who may not normally participate including women, Indigenous people, youth, those at the end of their careers, and refugees. Given you have a significant level of spend you must use it wisely and look at what else can be achieved in a project’s delivery journey. Choice is another key consideration, particularly in transport. If we are delivering a surface road, we always provide a shared path alongside it for pedestrians and cyclists to give people options beyond getting into a vehicle.
There needs to be a few carrots and sticks to give change in our industry a bit of a hurry up. The Industry Skills Legacy Program now mandated across NSW projects is an example of providing a starting point, and we are seeing a lot of our contractors and projects delivering well beyond the program’s targets. It’s like the minute mile. When one person ran it, it was proven it could be done and then everyone did it. Sometimes we need carrots and sticks to show what is possible, it becomes embedded in business as usual, and we move on.
It is the same in the environmental and sustainability space. We have a new initiative around sustainable infrastructure in procurement (SIIP) to promote the circular economy and achieve sustainability outcomes for all our infrastructure projects. Again you need to prove what can be done, and then it can happen across the broader industry. By government putting a stake in the ground, it gives industry a licence to do the same and acknowledges what government values. There are pockets of industry doing exceptional things and we must shine a light on this work and implement it at scale.