Empowering women in construction
When Fatima Mirzad, Master Builders Solutions NSW Specification Consultant, began her career in the construction industry 17 years ago, it was a very daunting industry for a young, female chemical engineer to enter. “When I graduated there weren’t many girls or women in construction” she explains. “In my first job as a site engineer, I used to go to petrochemical sites or construction sites and they were all men- it was really difficult to prove yourself as a female professional engineer.”
While most of her friends from university took design jobs in offices after graduating, Fatima had no interest in following suit, so forged her own path. “I had so much passion towards concrete and construction, I wanted to be on site. I experienced very difficult times but I’m happy that I did it. It gave me the type of personality that I can easily get along with anyone now.”
As she gained more experience, Fatima says she grew ‘thick skin’ and stopped feeling like she constantly had to prove herself. Although her gender was no longer front of mind, Fatima says being the only female in a workplace could still present uncertainty- even if it wasn’t her own. “Before starting the job as a sales person at BASF my manager asked to have a coffee catch up and said ‘the boys are very excited about you starting but also feel nervous because they’ve never had a female sales rep in the office,” Fatima recalls. “I said ‘don’t worry about it, it’s the easiest thing for me’. Fatima laugh as she retells this story and says she appreciated the honestly and willingness to talk about the change, so that she could help dispel myths that having a female would mean more rules or that she’d be offended by every joke. Today, she works with a team of nine (all males) in NSW Sales office and says, “we have a great relationship, we all get along like friends.”
When the opportunity came up to represent BASF as a Women in Construction Ambassador at Sydney Build Exo, Fatima was thrilled to accept the invitation. “Because I had a really difficult time when I started as a woman in construction, I wanted to share my experience and see how we can better support young people who have interest, talent and skills to be active, but because of all these difficulties, don’t step in to the market.”
Fatima says the two-day event was a fantastic opportunity to network, listen to inspiring speaker and learn more about practical ways to support equality and diversity in the industry. When sharing her key take-aways, Fatima says she believes the best way companies can progress gender equity in construction is to provide mentoring (to both men and women), provide flexible working options, be aware of unconscious bias in recruiting and create a culture that calls out gender stereotyping.
Overall, Fatima says the event was a huge success and that she is extremely proud to be involved. “To be honest, since I started my career in construction 17 years ago, I haven’t felt so much acceptance and pride. BASF is a really big, global company, so being a representative from BASF was really an honour.”