Construction dynamo Alison Mirams to address Property Council of Australia's Hunter luncheon in Newcastle

Focus: "The best advice I got form a mentor was 'Choose your attitude'. It's a very powerful phrase," says Alison Mirams.

Focus: "The best advice I got form a mentor was 'Choose your attitude'. It's a very powerful phrase," says Alison Mirams.

What will you tell the September 14 Property Council of Australia’s “Women in Property” Hunter lunch?

I’ll be sharing my career story and providing some advice for women forging careers in the property and construction sectors.

 Why did you study a graduate diploma in Urban Estate Management then a Bachelor of Business, Construction Economics?

My grandfather worked in building as a quantity surveyor; he died before I was born. When my father was growing up, my grandfather always discussed his work and took Dad to see buildings under construction. They discussed different construction techniques, tower cranes and architecture. My father raised my sister and I with the same discussions, sparking my interest. I studied Quantity Surveying, my sister studied Civil Engineering.

During 16 years at Multiplex, what were your roles?

While I gained a lot of knowledge at university, my understanding of construction increased exponentially when I started working with Multiplex. Working on construction sites was amazing. As a contracts administrator, I handled the finances on the projects I was assigned, from working out the cost to build, tendering all the trade works, calculating the cost to complete, writing and issuing all the contracts and approving all monthly invoices. Essentially, I made sure the project delivered a profit. I worked my way up from contracts administrator to contracts manager, commercial manager and regional commercial manager. I was promoted to a NSW director at the young age of 32. I was the only female director in the Australian business.

Did you seek mentors?

I’ve been lucky to have both mentors and sponsors who have supported me. There is a difference between them – a mentor is like a long-term coach you go to for advice, a sponsor will usually be a person of influence within your organisation or sector who will actively recommend you for roles and advocate for you to develop your career. I had an internal sponsor at Multiplex who grew me from a contract administrator to a director. In my current role, I have three mentors who I reach out to for their different skillsets and advice.

 You were then GM of Lendlease, managing annual turnover of $2b+ with more than 600 staff and 19 projects at once. What was the toughest part of the job on a personal level?  

I began my role at Lendlease after returning from maternity leave. One of the key challenges was making sure I had the balance right – performing at work without missing out on time with my young son. I was very strict about leaving on time – and still am! The highlight of working in construction is always seeing the joy on the faces of people using a newly completed building. It is such a satisfying feeling.

 You’re now CEO of Roberts Pizzarotti, a new boutique tier one construction company ...

I was appointed at the inception of the company, handed a blank piece of paper and asked to create the best company we could. We have a vision to be the catalyst for positive change in  construction and everything we have done to date has reflected that – whether it’s our approach to technology, health and wellbeing, design or the supply chain. I’ve had the benefit of building my dream team from the ground up.

  Construction is blokey. Have you felt intimidated?

Never. In fact, I have always felt supported in my roles when I was working on construction sites. Part of it comes down to choosing your attitude and deciding not to take offence where none was intended.

  You’ve been in the sector for 20 years plus. Are there more women now?

Yes, but female representation is still woeful. Our sector is only slightly in front of mining when it comes to number of women in the workforce. I believe the issue with diversity in construction doesn’t stem from the demand side. Most companies are seeking to hire and support candidates who are underrepresented in the workforce – even if we aren’t doing it as effectively as we could be. To make a dent in participation rates, we need to encourage more women to consider construction and engineering courses when they are looking at career pathways, particularly in high school.

There are more women in construction now, but female representation is still woeful.

Alison Mirams

Advice to women considering entering the sector?

It’s a great sector to work in. Women bring a different way of thinking. You can take many pathways via University, TAFE or apprenticeships.  If you are a school leaver and interested in uni, look for courses in construction management, engineering or architecture and seek out cadet level opportunities to increase your understanding of the sector as you study. Roberts Pizzarotti funds a scholarship for women enrolling in the Bachelor of Construction Management and Property degree at UNSW Sydney.

  Women juggle family and work and bear the “mother load”. Is construction family-friendly?

This is certainly one of our areas of focus at Roberts Pizzarotti. We are building a technology platform which allows more flexible working and reduces unnecessary paperwork and processes. We aren’t doing this just for women. We need to create an environment which is good for all working parents, including dads.