Driving change in the construction industry

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You don’t have to be the company CEO to drive change in the construction industry.

That’s the message from this year’s Crystal Vision winner, Raquel Rubalcaba, who recently took out the top honour at the annual National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) NSW Chapter Awards for Excellence.

A senior project manager and trained engineer, Raquel was recognised for her work implementing an industry-leading 26-week paid parental leave and flexible working policy at Laing O’Rourke.  The policy combines paid parental leave with a keep-in-touch program, return to work coaching and flexible work options for all employees.

“We do work in male-dominated industry – but I think change is occurring as more organisations acknowledge the strength in diversity,” Raquel says.

“My passion is to applaud diversity in all its forms and to work collaboratively with my teams to get the best out of a broad range of skill sets,” she says.

“Really, it’s about encouraging people to be who they are,” she explains.

Recent global research points to a positive relationship between women in leadership roles and financial performance.  McKinsey, for instance, has found organisations with the most gender diversity outperform those with the least, while Dow Jones argues that a start-up’s odds of achieving success increases with more female executives at senior levels.

Despite this, just 11 per cent of workers in the construction industry are female – and this figure has remained static for a decade.

NAWIC’s discussion paper, ‘What women want in a construction career’, found that encouraging flexibility, embracing diversity and investing in attraction programs are the three most important steps that companies can take to increase the number of women in the construction workforce.

Having “lived and breathed” the quest to achieve work/life balance herself – juggling motherhood and high-pressure projects – Raquel understands the challenges women face.  “Being an engineer or a project manager is intense and demanding work – and you need to be able to put in the hours.  Finding the right balance can be tough.”

Raquel acknowledges that “while there have been lots of conversations about quotas and selection criteria, until we recognise that women do want to raise families, we’ll continue to have the problem of women leaving the industry and then struggling to re-enter the workforce.  This is particularly challenging in the construction industry, due to the nature of the working hours and operational functions.”

Dismantling the cultural barriers to women’s participation – such as inflexible workplaces and lack of female role models – takes time, but evidence shows that organisations that encourage diversity, support mentoring programs and promote female-friendly networking opportunities reap the benefits.

Laing O’Rourke established its diversity council in August 2013 with representation from across all arms of the business, and Raquel says that there has been a measurable impact on the business.  The paid parental leave policy is case in point.  “Within weeks of it being introduced, two people on my own team were taking advantage of the new policy.”

“I think it’s important for people to understand that your level within the organisation doesn’t matter as much as your determination to make a difference.  Small steps do add up to large changes.  Don’t sit back and wait for people more senior to do it – drive the change yourself.”


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