By Romilly Madew

Recently, I was honoured to attend the Telstra Business Women’s Awards state finals in NSW, and to win my category of White Pages Community and Government (NSW) after being nominated by a member of the Green Building Council of Australia.

Winning such an award has given me pause to contemplate the role of women in Australia’s property and construction industry, and the leadership our industry has demonstrated over the past 10 years.  Without the industry’s strong support behind the GBCA, I would not have been recognised at the awards ceremony.

There are few people who would argue that we operate in a male-dominated field.  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Year Book 2008), 21 per cent of the nation’s workforce is employed in the property, business and construction sectors, making it the largest sector in Australia.  While the statistics for women in this sector are a little sketchy, an ABS report from 2006 states that just 15-20 per cent of the sector is female.

Anecdotally, we know this to be true.  We’ve all been to board meetings where there is just one woman present.  We’ve all been on construction sites that feature a solo female professional.  As Karen Hapgood (Monash University 2006) found, women represent only 15-20 per cent of engineers in undergraduate education and approximately 10 per cent of the profession in English speaking countries (USA, Canada, UK and Australia).

Despite the obstacles to be overcome, women are succeeding in our industry, and institutions like the Telstra Business Women’s Awards are recognising that success.  In the last three years, women in our industry – especially those involved in sustainable development – have been nationally recognised with Telstra Business Women’s Awards.

Aside from me, this year Vicki Berry from Easycare Landscapes won the Commonwealth Bank Business Owner Award (ACT) for her work as a green-thumbed entrepreneur.  Joanne Metcalf, Business Group Manager for GHD and a firm green building advocate through her work as Vice President for the Property Council of Australia’s ACT Division, won the Hudson Private and Corporate Sector Award (ACT).  Previous winners have also included Rachel Peck, Principal of peckvonhartel, who scored the PricewaterhouseCoopers Young Business Women’s Award (ACT 2008) and Emily Mudge, a Project Engineer with Bovis Lend Lease, who was presented with the Young Business Women’s Award (ACT 2007).

There are many outstanding women who have paved the way for other women in the sustainability field, including Maria Atkinson (Lend Lease), Caroline Pidcock (Pidcock Architects), Sue Holliday (Strategies for Change), Siobhan Toohill (Stockland), Petie Walker (Leighton Contractors), Tina Tang and Gabrielle Kuiper (Investa Property Group), Caroline Noller (GPT), Carolyn Parker (Kador Group), Jane Montgomery Hribar (APCC), Melinda Dodson (National President of the Australian Institute of Architects) and Kaye Herald (RICS). More excitingly, there are many more working their way through the ranks such as Cate Collins (Lend Lease), Anita Mitchell (Jones, Lang la Salle), Shauna Coffey (Mirvac) and Bridget Fea (Defined Developments).

We have succeeded both because of and in spite of our specialised area of green building, and as I noted in my acceptance speech “in the industry that builds glass ceilings and is known to be very male dominated, not only did I climb through the glass ceiling but was helped up the ladder by many male role models and mentors.”

I hope the award I received illustrates to other women in our sector that we do work in a leading industry making a global difference on a daily basis.

Women need to ensure they are working for those organisations in our industry that support women and have a strong focus on green building and sustainability.

A great resource for women in our industry is NAWIC, National Association of Women in Construction, https://www.nawic.org.

Romilly Madew is chief executive of  Green Building Council of Australia