BREAKING DOWN WALLS

11-05-2016

Sam Sheppard shifts our thinking of women in non-traditional trades.

“Women are a valuable commodity to our Industry … they need to be heard, they need to be seen, they need to see each other.”

Starting a business and placing a deposit on her first home at the age of seventeen, there is no doubt Sam Sheppard had a go-get and no-barriers attitude from the very beginning. With over twenty-five years of experience in the Building and Construction Industry, Sam has emerged as an inspirational role model and advocate for women.

Founding director of Buildmore Building Solutions Group, Sam has been honoured for her entrepreneurial success by being inducted into The Australian Businesswomen’s Network’s Hall of Fame.

In 2009 Sam headed up the Women in Building initiative, which produced Australia’s first sustainable home, built only by women who came from a variety of sectors in the building Industry.

Sam’s career ventures have left a mark on the Industry, not only for their successes in building and construction, but the way in which they have highlighted the need for women to be valued, celebrated and supported. She continues to share her experiences as a woman, business owner, and tradeswoman in the hope of encouraging and enlightening other women. Sam gives us a look into what needs to be done.

Non-traditional industries and indeed employers, recognise that if they need to tap into the most promising talent pool of skilled or in-training workers; it’s a no brainer- they need to attract more women.

The only way they are going to achieve this, is to shift their thinking. Women have different motivations to those of men, different capacity, different priorities and in many cases different responsibilities and obligations to meet.

It’s hard enough to attract women to non-traditional industries, but the big clincher is being able to engage them, to include them, for them to feel they are part of the team and offer a valuable contribution to team efforts. Women need to be heard, they need to be seen, they need to see each other, so they don’t fall into a sense of isolation.

It’s a harsh reality that times get tough for any or most of us at some point or another. But when the proverbial hits the fan, who can women turn to? Are they part of a support network, do they feel they can share their worries with their workmates, superiors or employer, without serious concerns about the understanding or support they may or may not receive?

Or will they just throw their hands up and say, “well with this crap going on in my life and I don’t know who to turn to at work, it’s all too much trouble, I may as well travel an easier path.

And this is where; if women are to feel included, important, even supported, or if they know there is someone they can turn to for encouragement or support in tough times, they will try their best to do what it takes to get through and emerge stronger, more empowered and taking great pride what their job has helped them achieve.

It’s one thing to attract women, but we must include them, engage them, connect them with industry specific support networks and reduce attrition rates by ensuring they have the right access to support or guidance in tough times.

Women love creativity, they love being part of something bigger than themselves, they value being a contributor and feeling that their effort is recognised as, as important as the next person.

Women are ambitious and are just as likely to learn their trade and go out to establish their own business. And women love to be connected, they enjoy encouragement from others and feel a sense of accomplishment from couching or mentoring younger or newer aspiring women in similar fields. Their ambition often drives them to join and participate in Industry specific networks and committees.

Women are a valuable commodity to any Industry. When we talk about non-traditional industries, we need to talk a slightly different language. A language that inspires students and women to want to explore the various vocations available to them, to be given opportunities that expose them to experiential activities such as ‘try a trade days’ or work (on the job) experience, where they can develop a deeper interest in their chosen vocation. 

The language must connect, appeal to and resonate with women and their aspirations- like the old saying ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got’ rings true. 

If the combined Government /Industry /Employer /Training Org’s /Associations desire is to attract, engage and retain women in non traditional industries, there’s a lot of behind the scenes collaborative activity (note I didn’t say talk) that must go on, to generate a sustainable industry model, that genuinely has the capacity to maximize a vibrant and broadly based, diverse & skilled talent pool. 

Thankfully there’s a lot of talk going on, if we could just hustle a bit more activity….

Sam Sheppard OAM