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 place for 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. 


Becoming “The Place Where Everyone Wants to Work”


SHAPE is an Australian construction industry success story with lessons for us all. Shape grew from roots as an office fit out specialist to become a go-to supplier for fit outs across  a wide variety of commercial sectors. Shape’s portfolio of over $740m in projects annually is delivered by a leadership team equally committed to being “The Place Where Everyone Wants to Work”. If that statement is read as the team’s overarching goal, Shape’s high-level Diversity and Reconciliation Action Plan provides direction on how the team hopes to get there. In the 6-point plan, commitments are made to foster inclusivity for all, notably for women, indigenous and Torres islander people, including unconscious bias training and embedding workplace flexibility in its policy. In addition to this, Shape commits to advancement of women into management roles and a continual focus on pay equality for all. Taken as a business case study in strategic diversification, Shape is an example of how a diverse workforce can become a key component of finding excellence excel across a diverse range of commercial sectors. 


Choosing To Challenge – Gender Action Plan


This International Women’s Day, Shape published its 9 point Gender Action Plan. The plan, when read alongside the IWD 2021 theme #choosetochallenge, is a perfect example to construction companies seeking to create a more inclusive workplace for all by choosing to challenge ourselves where we have historically failed as an industry. The nine points of the plan include underlined commitments to fair pay, formalising flexible working and generous parental leave entitlements. The gender action plan reiterates the equitable policies of its Diversity and Reconciliation plan, moving beyond basic policy making towards Shape’s most characteristic actions in the name of Gender Equity. 


Looking Beyond Recruitment Towards Retention


Perhaps the greatest lesson of Shape’s leadership lies in point 4 of its Gender Action Plan which promises “Individual career plans” for its employees. In committing to this, the firm commits to the advancement of its current roster into management roles. Other points in the action plan include mandatory discrimination, harassment and unconscious bias training and training tailored towards women on how to build confidence and to overcome common barriers that women may face. Shape acknowledges that its leaders of the future already work within the company – many of whom, thanks to the inclusive culture it is cultivating, are women. The firm is creating an environment where everyone is actively encouraged to plan for a long, fulfilling and equitable career with the company. 


Shape’s strategy is a lesson in sustainability for us all. Shape has shifted its focus from the short term, simply hiring a more diverse workforce, to ensure that diversity and inclusivity are embedded in the cultural DNA of the employees that grow to be the future leaders of the organisation. 


Recognising Shape’s Achievements


Much of Shape’s leadership focuses on publicly committing to progressive policies and objectives. Its efforts have not been ineffective.  In an industry where just 18.3% of employees are women, Shape’s female participation rate is 26% and rising. With a culture of internal advancement, that number is sure to grow as the women cadets and project coordinators who account for 40% of positions in junior levels advance through the company. Not only are Shape’s equity rates some of the better numbers in the industry, the firm is gaining attention for the quality of its work winning two NAWIC South Australia chapter awards in 2020 for its work with one Graduate of the Year award and another “Crystal Vision Award for Excellence” awarded to the firm of furthering the interests of women in construction. 

Franklin Smith is a construction recruitment agency committed to placing the most specialised candidates in the most specialist roles in Australia. Franklin Smith works with companies who share our vision in demanding more from the construction industry. We are drawn towards Shape’s strategy, which we view as sustainable in the long term. It is a two-pronged approach with a focus on equality in its recruitment, but it is its efforts towards retention where the example is really set. After recruiting as diverse a roster of talent as possible, particularly in lower level and graduate positions, a genuinely progressive culture and environment where transparent career plans are the norm and internal advancement is a reality beyond mere lip service, Shape’s model for Gender Equity is a sustainable one that will remain the example for many years to come. 

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