Celebrating the Wonderful Women in Infrastructure

In my last post I mentioned that one of the topics I wanted to talk about was about women in sustainability or women in infrastructure more broadly.

Well, the lovely folks at ISCA gave me a good reason to get my backside into gear and commit my thoughts to page (well, screen more accurately!) by asking me to participate in an article for International Women’s Day (#pressforprogress) along with some other wonderful women in the industry including 2017 IS Individual Leadership award finalists Reanna Harper and Liz Root and four of ISCA’s female board members – Sarah Marshall, Leisel Moorhead, Monique Cornish and Dorte Eklund.

I’ve broken my part of the article out below but I strongly encourage you to check out the full article here:

https://isca.org.au/component/content/article?id=1103

Nicole Neal – Cardno, APAC Environment & Sustainability Director – IS Individual Leadership Award Winner 

NN2

What is your greatest triumph in your career – what are you most proud of, and what motivates you?

That’s a big question, so many things that can read as a triumph in my opinion! Moving to Australia on my own in 2006 knowing not a soul, helping to start Arup’s Sustainability team in Melbourne, working on my own as a freelance gun for hire for a period, working sustainability into the common parlance and organizational strategy of a major construction firm, achieving Signatory status to the UN Global Compact with said construction firm, taking on a Director role in Cardno at the end of last year. Pretty pleased with all of those things! Of course, being honoured as the recipient of the ISCA Individual Leadership Award last year was very, very special indeed, and it was the cherry on the cake in terms of a lot of hard work and persistence put in over not just the last year, but for a number of years.

I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve managed to stick to my guns with regards to sustainability and helping others across the construction and infrastructure delivery industries understand what sustainability is as a first off and then to understand what it means for their business or their particular project. It has taken a lot of perseverance and personal resilience, coming through a number of years of listening to naysayers and hyper-skeptics – but I took that as a real gift, those are the kind of people where you really sharpen your listening and other communication skills and ability to do your job very well as a sustainability professional.

What motivates me is taking on the next challenge. I seem to be a real glutton for punishment and have a perverse attraction to the tough stuff. I love it!

What advice would you give to young women starting their careers in infrastructure?

Do it! Get stuck in and get involved. This is such an exciting time to be working in infrastructure. I love this industry, in terms of its pace, developments in techniques, technologies and approaches, the ability to contribute to something significant to society and the communities we live in and the solid friendships that are forged.

Take time to build relationships and build your network. And I don’t mean go out pressing the flesh and collecting business cards. I mean talk to your colleagues, peers, clients and professional acquaintances like the human beings that they are. Trust is a very important thing, and the foundation of trust is built in knowing who you’re working with. We all move around in different parts of the industry these days, so one day you may be working side by side as colleagues, but in the future someone may be a client or contractor or supplier. So that’s important from a business development and connectivity point of view, but more importantly than that these people (and I stress people – male and female) become important people in your life, as friends, touchstones, mentors and guides.

How has the industry changed since you first started?

A whole lot has changed since I started my career in the UK in around about 2002. For a start-out there weren’t really such roles as “Sustainability Managers” nor sustainability professionals really, and especially not in the infrastructure space. It was really in its infancy at that time in the UK. Then when I moved to Australia in 2006 I thought I’d gone back in time sustainability-wise! In last five years the understanding and perception of sustainability in infrastructure has really begun to move in a very positive direction however – there’s much greater understanding, a much greater awareness for the need for consideration of sustainability in all its facets in the development, delivery and operation of infrastructure.

With respect to females in the infrastructure industry and how things have changed I’d say on the positive side that I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with relatively enlightened individuals and teams and I’ve only had, by and large, encouraging and constructive experiences as a female in a largely male-dominated industry. But on the not so positive side, it still is that – male-dominated. Not that I’ve got anything against men, believe me far from it! And I’d say it’s not the fault, or rather not the entire fault of industry, but rather how and what we’re teaching young people in schools, homes and communities about the possibilities for their career paths and other pursuits. There’s no real reason why infrastructure design, development, delivery and operation should be gendered in any particular direction – we all use this infrastructure in our daily lives.

This year’s international Women’s Day theme is #PressforProgress – what does that mean to you?

I don’t necessarily like to make a “thing” of being a woman in infrastructure really, and never have done. It’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned, and to press for progress should mean that we get to the point where everyone sees it as an irrelevance as to what gender someone identifies as in a professional sphere. I don’t see that the roll of nature’s dice re the chromosomes and soggy bag of hormones I was fortunate to receive make the blind bit of difference as to how I or other females perform in the world of infrastructure! So I’ve never really been one for separating out that fact. Having said that though I’ve always been one to challenge stereotypes in my humorous fashion, showing up ridiculously antediluvian sentiments for what they are with respect to what women should or should not be doing.

In pressing for progress I’m also always up for challenging unconscious (and of course conscious) bias too, as I feel this one on a regular basis personally. Alongside the particular chromosomal mix I’ve been gifted in life, I’ve apparently (or so I’ve been told) been blessed with genes that make me appear younger than my actual age. The triple whammy of female, young-looking, and ready for a challenge! Many have been the times where I’ve challenged unconscious bias with respect to being a person of the female gender who happens to look relatively young, and I find this in life generally and not only in my work life. Oh how I love those conversations and challenging assumptions being made based on one’s appearance!! (See point above re enjoying the challenge!)

On a more serious note, pressing for progress for me means being able to be a point of reference for women looking to move into or develop their careers in infrastructure-related disciplines, particularly as one of the most senior females in Cardno, continuing to challenge and call out those unconscious biases and stereotypes, and being in a position fortunate enough able to support and mentor both males and females alike in that space.  On a more personal note pressing for progress also means being a role model for my four nieces as they grow up and helping them to see and understand what they’re capable of.

Do you have any other quotes or comments?

Listen a lot, and listen to the naysayers in particular. They’re teaching you something. It’s just in a perverse, slightly prickly, and uncomfortable lesson of sorts. Trust me though, it’s more helpful that you realise at the time.

But in balance with that listening never, ever be afraid to ask a question or pipe up. And in the words of my mother, don’t follow anyone else’s steps – you do what you think is right.

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