Blokey days fade as women build a role in construction

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Construction industry leaders Peita de Boer, left, and Kim Raysmith… “Our awards help give women in the industry a push,” says Peita. Photo: Holly Treadaway

Construction is the third biggest industry in Australia but has a female participation of less than 12 per cent. KATE MEIKLE meets two people championing and promoting women in the local construction industry. 

PEITA de Boer transitioned to being a female in 2017 and admits that during her early career she didn’t experience the confidence challenges that she now sees in women around her. 

Peita and Kim Raysmith are the incoming joint presidents of the ACT chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and hope to convince young women that a career in construction is a worthwhile, supportive and rewarding path and certainly not the blokey culture of the past. 

With a skills shortage in the industry, Peita says construction companies are desperate for increased participation by women.

Peita is a director and operations manager at the construction company, Manteena Security, delivering complex security related projects and project management consultancy in Australia and overseas. 

She says, like many others, it was easy as a male for her to push her feelings aside.

“But in 2016 I hit a wall and it was unsustainable for me to continue on [as a male],” she says.

“I transitioned the next year and decided to tell everyone I knew, personally.

“It was an incredible experience as I was vulnerable and sharing something that was deeply personal to me. I found my colleagues and team very supportive and instantly opened up about their own lives to me. 

“It was that process of me sharing that allowed me to know the people I work with on a deeper level. And as a senior manager I became a more effective leader. 

“I did feel a reluctance because I thought that the industry wasn’t ready to be diverse and have a director of a construction company being transgender. But I was so wrong.

“In November, 2017, after transitioning, I walked through the doors at Manteena as Peita. It was a humbling and fulfilling experience and I felt totally supported by my industry.

“I love construction and being on site where the action is, chatting to the team and being part of an exciting project. 

“As long as you are confident and prepared to be vulnerable you can do anything – people like authentic people. I am more authentic now with my colleagues, my kids and family.”

Likewise for Kim Raysmith, who says: “It’s no longer the industry it was with the negative perceptions from the 1980s. It’s not a blokey world anymore and men [in the industry] are also supporting us. 

“Women do feel more supported when we have a village and a sense of belonging. 

“Canberra is also a great place to progress fast in your career in construction.” 

Kim is originally from Perth and admits it took time to adjust to Canberra. Five years ago she was working out of a site shed for a Sydney-based company, managing three construction sites as a project manager in Canberra and felt isolated. 

“I had two small children, I had suffered from postnatal depression and felt I had lost my connections,” says Kim, who now works at global construction company Turner and Townsend as the associate director and regional manager for the ACT

By joining NAWIC, Kim says the committee connected her with other women, creating friendships, broadening her networks and giving her purpose to help support others in her industry. 

Through events, awards, scholarships and programs, NAWIC aims to support women at every stage throughout their career, from school students to senior leaders. 

Its annual awards for excellence, to be held on September 20, are a public forum for women in the industry to be championed and celebrated. Kim and Peita say that the awards give women confidence, pride and recognition. 

“Men and women are different and women tend to think that we aren’t good enough. Our awards help give women in the industry a push,” says Peita. 

“The NAWIC awards give recognition and a boost of confidence to women and help drive them forward. It’s amazing, they can do anything.

“There are societal and self barriers that women face, but if you remove the self barrier by believing in yourself you are halfway there.” 

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Kate Meikle
Kate Meikle is a staff reporter for "CityNews"

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