DBEI earns ACA nomination for highlighting women in construction

By Ceilidh Higgins

DBEI are honoured to announce that we have been selected as a finalist for the ‘Women in Construction Award’ at the 2020 Australian Construction Awards. This award recognises any company or individual championing equality and driving change within a workplace or on a project. Over the last few years, DBEI and our ANZ committee have been focused upon improving awareness of the lack of women in digital technology and growing the female participation rate at our BILT event. 

We also congratulate our fellow finalists – Archisoul Architects, Blackrhino Creative, Build Sydney, Codicote, Construction Assignments, Fulton Hogan, Lend Lease Development and Sage Civil Australia – for their own great work on improving opportunities for women in our industry. Fingers crossed that after next week’s award night we will have even more great news to share!

Our full story as entered for the awards is below…

Gender equity with design technology is a big issue.  For anyone who has ever attended any event with the words “BIM, digital technology or the future of construction” in the description – this imbalance has been obvious at a first glance for many years, a room full of men and a handful of women.  Back in 2017, BILT ANZ probably reflected many other events, with a female participation rate ranging around 15%.  Within two years, we have both increased the size of our event and increased the rate of female attendance to 21% – in real numbers, this means we now have over double the number of women attending our event!

At DBEI, we believe that gender diversity stands to help improve our industry and our community. We want to improve gender diversity and support change in our wider industry. As well as standing to positively impact financial performance of organisations, a culture of acceptance helps companies to make better decisions.  Gender diversity helps everyone by improving options for flexibility and work life balance, an issue that is also critical within our industry. 

As a community of professionals, BILT is dedicated to improving the way industry works together. We are a unique event ‘by users, for users’ and, in Australia / New Zealand have a very strong community of professionals who gather each year to share information and knowledge. In 2017, when we began this journey, we would typically attract around 400 professionals from the AEC industry, to learn from 90+ speakers over three days about BIM, digital engineering and architecture, and technology in the built environment. Our delegates were predominately male – 85% and our speaker ratio was even worse.  Whilst we realised this was largely a reflection of industry; we were also aware that our own events in Europe and America were achieving higher rates of female participation (closer to 20%) and we wanted to improve.

The first step to change was to create awareness.  Whilst at first glance it’s obvious that our demographic was mostly men, we wanted our community to stop and to think about this – and to think about why.  We decided that our schedule for 2018 would include a panel to discuss gender – and that this panel would be on the main stage, when no other classes would be running. 

The session was titled “Challenging our Industry: Gender Diversity in AEC”.  We were delighted that Justine Clark from Parlour accepted our invitation to moderate this session.  We then invited panellists – Elizabeth Harper, Chief Information Officer at GHD, Todd Battley, CEO of AECOM ANZ and Glenda Caldwell, Senior Lecturer at QUT. Some of the questions explored were:

  • Why is gender diversity important?
  • How does gender diversity benefit everyone?
  • What can an individual be doing to help promote change?

A subsequent article was written a few weeks after the event, but, for the committee the big question was what could we do next? How can we disrupt the status quo and change the event? What options are available to us beyond raising awareness of the issue? 

For the next few months, we pondered ideas from giving away free tickets to seeking out more female speakers. In the meantime, we spoke and wrote about what we were aiming to achieve. We decided that our next step forward would be to offer scholarships to help boost the number of women attending our event.  However, we didn’t want to create a situation which could be seen as unfairly benefiting women and creating a different kind of discrimination.  We had determined that one barrier to women attending our event, was the fact that more women work part-time than men.  Employers are much less likely to send a part-time employee to a three-day conference than a full-time employee.  Our first scholarship offering was three positions, for those working part-time or on maternity/paternity leave. We also approached Todd Battley, who offered his support and AECOM generously sponsored five more scholarships specifically for women

The scholarships program was a key focus of our marketing leading up to the 2019 event.  We continued to talk about the importance of gender diversity and our aim to create more opportunities for women to attend our event.  We were supported in this by Women in BIM, AECOM and through our community on social media. 

By the beginning of the event we knew we had succeeded in creating real meaningful change – with over 600 delegates, 21% of whom were women – the increase in numbers was significant and well beyond the number of scholarships on offer.  We also did a final count of the number of female speakers, co-speakers and panellists – again we had achieved a 13% increase – from 9% to 22%!  Without actively addressing the issue of female speakers, we believe that our focus on gender has contributed to this staggering increase.  Perhaps women feel more comfortable putting their name forward for an event that so clearly demonstrates it values women. 

The decision to address gender diversity and the work that has gone into this has all been undertaken by our committee members who are all professionals working within the construction industry who volunteer their time with BILT and in leading this initiative.

We are so humbled to have been selected as a finalist for this Women in Construction award and thank everyone that has supported and continue to support such a worthwhile cause.

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