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Galvanised and unified - IWD 2020

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For International Women’s Day 2020, HOUSING chats with two professionals about their experiences in the building industry, highlighting their success as women in a man’s world.

Laura Valic


You might have earmarked this Sunday 8 March as your ‘sleep-in and do-bare-minimum’ day for the weekend, but for many women (and men for that matter) it will be a day of marching, gathering, networking, speaking, reflecting and reminding us all that gender inequality is real, pervasive and worth overcoming.

For more than 100 years International Women’s Day (IWD) has celebrated the achievements and contributions of women to all levels of social and economic development, while calling out inequality and drawing attention to gender parity.

This year as March 8 rolls around the theme ‘EachforEqual’ will be the global war cry; a clear statement that as individuals we can collectively make a positive difference to women everywhere – in our homes, communities and workplaces – if we ‘actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements’.

Cathy Inglis AM has been challenging stereotypes during her 25-year career within the building industry, consciously or not. After studying materials science with a specialisation in ceramics, she became the technical and mining manager for Austral Bricks (part of Brickworks Building Products) – the first female to hold a managerial position. 

And while she ‘knew nothing about building’, she did know about bricks and brickmaking. At times though her job title alone wasn’t enough to stop the strange looks and the assumptions she wasn’t capable of resolving technical problems. ‘In the early days it was often quite a struggle, with lots of challenges,’ Cathy recalls. ‘When I first started I would often go out to a site and the builder would look at me and say, “Who are you? I don’t want to see you, I want to see your boss”.’

Working in a completely male-dominated business meant she had to develop a thick skin. ‘I knew that if I got offended every time someone swore I wouldn’t last, you had to be prepared to deal with that,’ she says. ‘In the early days and on building sites there was often a culture of bullying, but I don’t see that now. I rarely come across that bias of being challenged [simply] because you’re female. There are females spread out in all sorts of areas of the building industry now.’

Cathy Inglis AM, general manager of technical and innovation, Brickworks Building Products and HIA Board Member was awarded Member of the Order (AM) in the Australia Day Honours List.

Today, Cathy has risen through the ranks and is the general manager of technical and innovation for Brickworks Building Products. She is one of several females who form the senior executive, a reflection of changing times and the business’ goal of actively encouraging female leadership and diversity more broadly. Cathy was recently awarded a Member of the Order (AM) in the Australia Day Honours List for her significant service to the building industry.

‘I’m still surprised by that one,’ she laughs. ‘But it’s an honour, [especially] because the nomination comes from your peers in the industry. I’ve contributed on a lot of code committees, developing standards, sat on HIA technical committees, and then I was the first female to be HIA President for NSW.

Chantal Kisten, national operations and HR manager, Steel-Line Garage Doors is the 2019 HIA Professional Woman of the Year

Where Chantal Kisten works, the number of female employees is growing too. She joined Steel-Line Garage Doors in 2009 from a similar industry in South Africa and today holds the position of national operations and HR manager. Currently, 29 of the 40 people in Steel-Line’s head office are female, with a total of 92 female employees across the business. 

Chantal says Steel-Line is conscious of promoting more women to the manufacturing side of the business. 

‘In the past when we recruited for these roles we typically received a lot more male candidates than females. But quite pleasing to report, in the last 6-12 months the female response to warehousing roles, for example, has been really good. The successful candidates are working out really well, which is a good case study and encouragement for future opportunities for women in this industry.’ 

Chantal feels her own experience working in the building industry has been positive but acknowledges there are still obstacles to overcome. ‘It’s difficult for women to navigate the industry and even now I find as a woman you’re constantly being tried and tested,’ she says. ‘But if women accept these challenges and forge through, I believe they will be successful in their endeavours.’

Chantal herself was encouraged to step out of her comfort zone and push forward to the next level in her career – not from a female mentor but a male leader. She currently mentors several younger females herself at her workplace now and says she has found her visible success is encouraging them for their own futures.

‘They see it as a possibility for them now because within this business there are females exposed to executive roles, and they can look at that as something to aspire to,’ she says. ‘I’ve even had a few female colleagues comment and say “I want to be like you, I’d like to be in these senior roles”, so it’s definitely having a positive influence.’

When Chantal was presented with the 2019 HIA Professional Woman of the Year award she says the accolade was an opportunity to have her voice heard. She believes awards programs for celebrating women in business, and other networking opportunities, are pivotal in making women’s contributions so much more apparent to the general community and broader industry.

‘These initiatives, such as IWD, HIA Building Women and the HIA Recognition of Women in Building & Construction Awards held every year is a stepping stone in the right direction,’ she says. ‘What HIA is doing to have these platforms and programs for women to be a part of and recognition by way of these awards is invaluable.

‘We’ve come such a long way in recognising women in the workplace. A day set aside to celebrate our social, economic, cultural and political achievements is so important, to voice that women are not just employees in organisations and not just a male counterpart but they’re actually making a difference with their talents.’ 

Chantal adds that everyone should recognise that they can influence change and try to do so.

‘A single person definitely can’t change things but many people with a single goal can and it’s important that people are being encouraged in that way.’ 

So, perhaps you may consider sleeping in a little less on 8 March, and joining the crowds to further the cause for the women in your life, lending your voice to the momentum for change. 

Let's all be #EachforEqual #IWD2020

Cathy Inglis on achieving your career goals

Cathy Inglis is an advocate for coaching younger females in the workplace, and has mentored several over the years. She says it’s surprising how much they appreciate it.

‘They see you as an example of what they can achieve themselves, [that you can] overcome struggles and they realise it’s possible for them to do the same, and achieve what they want out of their career,’ she says. ‘Sometimes women just have to be a bit braver and stand up and say “I can do that, give me that opportunity”. That’s probably one of the biggest things – you’ve got to be able to ask and it’s not something females are generally good at. We tend to question our ability, thinking because we don’t know everything we’re not suited for the task. But [jumping in] is how you learn and grow.’

Cathy says she has a network of women who she met at a women’s executive program four years ago, and the group of five regularly get together to catch up and support each other’s professional aspirations. ‘It’s amazing how much you can learn from one another, and how much braver you can be – if your friends say “Yes, you’ve got to do that, stick up your hand”. It’s a great thing to be able to have that support.

‘That’s one of the great things about HIA Building Women, that opportunity to network. Often, it’s just having someone you can talk to. What I find when I talk to other women, even if they’re not in the building industry, they’ve gone through the same struggles.

‘To know you’re not the only one going through those issues, and to talk about good ways to deal with them is great. HIA Building Women is a great initiative and will probably help bring more females into the industry.’ 

Cathy is the general manager of technical and innovation for Brickworks Building Products and a member of the HIA Board.

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