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In the residential building industry, women are operating in leadership roles in a very male-dominated industry. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, only 14.1 per cent of board chairs are women, with little change over the past six years. ‘Among management tiers, women are more likely to hold lower level line management roles than senior leadership positions,’ says its 2021 report. However, on a positive note, its data demonstrates that gender diversity in leadership is not just a matter of fairness but a commercial imperative.
Just ask HIA’s current national vice-president, Debbie Johnson. ‘Without exception, the men I know – and I know a few! – wholeheartedly embrace the prospect of bringing more women into the building industry.’
She’s been in the business for the past 35-plus years, and sees a more positive outlook for women working in the industry. ‘From an industry perspective, things are changing,’ she says. ‘Increasingly, women are looking at the residential building industry for trade and career opportunities. Young women today know this is a great opportunity.’
To support women in our industry, HIA Building Women is an expanding and effective network. Here are two HIA Building Women members, Victoria’s Natalie King and Tasmania’s Leana Mitchell, whose achievements have taken this industry to a new level.
Name: Natalie King
Company: AHB Group/Sherridon Homes (Vic)
Position: General manager Sherridon Homes Regional Victoria
Q: Before taking on this role , you completed extensive degrees and worked overseas as a business analyst. Have these skills given you more insight as a general manager now?
Prior to working in the construction industry, I worked as a business analyst and strategist for a number of companies. This took me to interesting places, working in fascinating industries. I worked in FMCG in Europe/Netherlands, banking and payments in London and Europe, as well as telecommunications in Asia and Macau. There are commonalities in the challenges each industry faces and a set of principles and tools to use in approaching these challenges. The past 20 years have been all about the changing channels to market and the emergence and maturing of the e-commerce era. It’s been fascinating to be part of the transformation of the housing industry – and other industries.
Q: As a female leader in AHB Group and Sherridon Homes, you must be conscious of promoting and developing the principles of female equality?
Gender equality is an ongoing challenge and presents itself in a number of ways. It’s not just the lack of women represented in senior management, but the pay gap in what may be considered a traditionally female role within the industry. The more we can do as an industry to support females or under-represented groups, the better off we will all be. We have a huge skills shortage and an underutilised segment of our community.
Since joining AHB Group, I’ve been impressed at how committed to gender equality and cultural diversity both onsite and within our offices they are. It’s fantastic to be part of an organisation committed to rewarding talented and committed people.
Q: Any innovative ways that have helped women improve their career?
In the past, I have mentored young women both formally and informally – just having a sounding board helps young women develop. Mentoring is listening, guiding and demonstrating acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It’s not easy to walk the tight-rope but we all have to strive to be a little better in our behaviour and situational biases every day.
Q: Are there any challenges in your role?
I have dealt with a huge variety of situations. Bullying, harassment, being excluded from events meetings and functions because of gender – just not being part of the decision-making ‘boys’ club’. I have also dealt with some of the most inspirational men and women who support great people and great ideas, regardless of gender. We need to seek out those people and those organisations who are progressive because they will be the winners in the end.
Q: Have you been involved with HIA Building Women?
I have been involved in HIA Building Women in the past and fully support their vision and networking events.
Q: Are there any inspirational women you look up to?
Fiona Nield, HIA’s Victorian executive director, is an outstanding leader, collaborator and a huge asset to the HIA. In addition, I recently joined the Building Regulations Advisory Committee with chair Yvonne von Hartel, who’s an impressive leader in the industry. I’m equally impressed with some of the women in AHB – our purchasing manager, admin manager and site managers make our industry a little better every day. I hope I can inspire my teenage daughters to know the world is not constrained by what other people think you should or shouldn’t be – the early signs are pretty promising!
Q: Any exciting projects coming up this year?
We have heaps of exciting projects coming up. We have a new brand launching – watch this space! We’re expanding our geographical spread and some fantastic new designs coming out.
Name: Leana Mitchell
Company: New Trend Homes Tasmania
Position: Co-ownerQ: How did New Trend Homes start? My husband Scott and I started New Trend Homes when our children were one and three. We planned to start our business a few years later but an opportunity presented itself and we took it. We’ve been in business for eight years now and focus on quality over quantity. We build four-to-six custom homes a year and then work on our own projects. I’m a literacy and numeracy coach at a local primary school and work part-time as the business manager for New Trend Homes. I’m behind the scenes most of the time – looking after our clients, staff wellbeing, all things MYOB, superannuation, apprentice training, scheduling, advertising and social media.
Q: What parts of the job do you find satisfying?
Handing over the keys to a new home for a family is my favourite part of the job. The opportunities for making memories in a space you’ve helped bring to life is rewarding. Watching apprentices develop and improve over four years is also rewarding. They become a bit like family over the years.
Q: You won the HIA Tasmanian Business Partner of the Year in 2018 and 2020. What’s the value of applying for an award like this?
It’s great to network and meet amazing people along the way. It was great to be acknowledged for our hard work.
Q: Any exciting projects coming u this year?
We are actually in the final stages of building our own new home which has been very exciting. We have two stunning custom builds at Hawley Beach which are under construction at the moment, followed by our next development called X3 Hawley Beach.