Franklin Smith is committed to playing its part in the pursuit of gender equity in the built environment. Through this mini series of blogs, Gender Equity and the Built Environment, we’re putting a spotlight on the Australian construction companies leading the way in making this an industry inclusive of all genders. By showcasing Gender Equity leaders and exploring the examples they are setting, Franklin Smith hopes that the rest of us become inspired by this leadership and implement some of these changes within our own organisations.
Roberts Co: Australian Owned with an Inspirational Leadership Team
Roberts Co. is a Tier 1 boutique construction company with a global presence. Roberts Co. is led by CEO Alison Mirams and CFO, Kylie Archer, who bring a combined 40+ years of experience to the executive team.
Women occupy key positions throughout the company; 29% of the overall company. This is no small feat in an industry where women make up just 18% of the demographic. In addition to a workbook of projects worth $1 billion, the executive team at Roberts Co. places a leading culture at the heart of what it does, valuing its culture and its output equally.
A Culture Based on “Doing Good, Not Just Making Good”
As a company, Roberts Co. places a focus on innovation, on looking “up and out” and on “constantly moving forward”. As such, the organisation recognises its people are far and away its most important asset in achieving its goals. Roberts Co. employees are “in safe hands – physically, emotionally and mentally – a standard bearer in an industry where poor mental health is overrepresented and companies have been slow to react. All of the company’s values are people-centric – employees are empowered, relationship driven and encouraged to “work smarter” to create value. As such it has built a “dream team”, a spectrum of genders, ages and opinions which it believes to be a necessity, not a luxury.
In creating a cultural environment that stands out from the crowd, female inclusivity could be seen as just one measure of its success. The higher rates of Gender Equity, far above industry standards, speak volumes about the success of its focus on innovation and “doing good”. The lesson for us all could be on shifting focus from simply hiring more of one demographic group. Moreover, creating a culture where everyone belongs cultivates an environment which resembles the real world which in turn will inspire inclusivity.
When a Flower Doesn’t Grow, You Fix the Environment in Which it Grows, Not the Flower
This is the title Roberts Co. CEO Alison Mirams gave to a piece published on International Women’s Day. In it, Alison dissects some of the working practices that have come to define the construction industry. Early mornings, late nights, 6 day weeks are just some of the ”badges of honour” that are not least unhealthy for the employee in question but serve to perpetuate gender stereotypes within the family. By eradicating these long established routines, Roberts Co., with family in mind, is seeking to enable a “balance” in familial duties which allow a typical “breadwinner – housekeeper” dynamic to become a 50/50 support act.
Practicing the company’s own mantra of always looking “up and out” and perhaps even “forward” Alison has also written about some hopes for the future after Covid-19. In this piece are some hopeful predictions of how things could change for the better in the construction industry as a result of Covid-19. Amongst her thoughts are the hope that we embrace working flexibility in the long term, a change that everyone benefits from, but one from which those managing work alongside families benefit exponentially. Alison also hopes that there is greater awareness of the isolation an expectant mother can feel. As CEO she also hopes that a renewed focus on employee health and safety is here to stay. Having seen the influence Alison has on Roberts Co. we can hope her influence is also felt in how the construction industry emerges as a whole from the pandemic. The common thread in Roberts Co. and its CEO’s thinking is that effort should be focused on the systemic, bigger picture inhibitors that can block one’s access to the workplace. From there, inclusion follows organically.
Women in the Built Environment Scholarship
At Franklin Smith we’ve written before about the role education can and will play as we look to improve gender equality in the construction industry. At Roberts Co. in addition to higher-level thinking, the firm is actively working to promote construction as the viable, challenging and rewarding career choice for all that it should be. Through its “Women in the Built Environment” Scholarship, now in its 4th year, Roberts Co. provides financial sponsorship, mentorship and graduate opportunities for one scholarship recipient with the firm. For young people thinking about entering the Construction Management and Property degree program at UNSW, the fact that the initiative exists can provide encouragement to apply for the degree plus affirmation that companies exist who are willing to give opportunities to all in an industry that has a reputation as being out of reach for some.
Through progressive leadership from the top down, there are lessons to be learned from Roberts Co. at all levels of the company. Culturally people-centric, the firm recognises that looking after its people will allow innovation to flourish. Throughout the organisation, there is recognition of the fact that outdated practices must be left behind in order to also leave behind an outdated gender balance. Through its CEO, Roberts Co. advocates a position that some practices accepted as “normal” in the construction industry are no longer women’s issues but are, in fact, people issues. In leading by example in fixing these, the benefits with regards to inclusivity are clear.