Girls to the front: A story of success in a male-dominated industry

Girls to the front: A story of success in a male-dominated industry

Published 8th March 2018 by Lizzi Byrne, Consultant – Davidson Projects & Operations

I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career in male-dominated industries to have always felt equal and to have had the same opportunities as my male counterparts. There is, however, a strong dialect in today’s workplaces surrounding diversity equality.

With no better time than the upcoming celebration of International Women’s Day, I met with a renowned and dominant player in the construction industry to discuss this topic.

I was first made aware of Sheree Taylor, the Business and Market Development Manager for BlueScope Steel, at an industry influencers lunch held by Master Builders Queensland.

I was so impressed hearing not only of her the success in the industry, but also the way she has overcome some pretty confronting industry issues throughout her career. I wanted to know more and I was sure that others would also find her story inspiring and helpful.

Sheree began working for BlueScope Steel 12 years ago and has remained with the business because of her belief in the importance of Australian manufacturing and supporting local jobs. She has moved states in that time, progressed her career and has a wonderful young family that keeps her more than busy. She’s worked with people who have seen her mature from a yet-to-graduate new kid on the block to an industry influencer, working on the front line of the business.

When Sheree first started out with BlueScope Steel, she was working in a hands-on role in the factory where there were no female toilets – only male toilets. She had to bring this to the attention of management. Their initial solution? Put a lock on the door. Well, at least they listened.

With time, things like that have drastically changed. Let’s remember, that was 12 years ago.

Sheree mentions that she has always felt the support of BlueScope Steel to listen to her points and make improvements according to the ever-changing needs of their employees. If she had started a job in a corporate, female-dominated industry, you can bet that there would have been separate male and females toilets.

Interestingly, I recall hearing a similar story at a women’s day breakfast a few years ago, where there were also no female toilets in the underground coal mines many years ago. It’s something so simple and obvious but was never thought of, or more to the point – never needed.

If it wasn’t for women like Sheree being confident enough in their worth to point out the somewhat obvious issue, nothing would change. You can be a pioneer or influencer in your market with even the smallest of conversations. They all matter and these are the conversations that have got us to the point we are today, with huge diversity targets to be achieved by 2020, both nation and industry-wide.

Paul O’Malley, the previous CEO of BlueScope Steel, said something to Sheree many years ago, which she now believes has had a huge impact on her working in the industry and achieving all that she has.

“No matter what the target for diversity, inclusion and fairness has been, it still has to be about capability.”

That single word ‘capability’ has shaped Sheree’s focus on her personal life and her career.

When Sheree first started out in her career, she always thought she was determined to continue to ‘climb the ladder’ and thought that climbing the ladder was the key to success. That word ‘capability’ has changed this view of hers, recognising that capability and success don’t always mean climbing the ladder.

What it does mean is that you are developing, improving, learning, creating value for your company in your area of expertise and that you are acknowledged for your contributions.

“You don’t have to be a CEO to be successful; you do need to weigh up what you want in both your career and your life and define what success means to you personally. Write down your goals and don’t be afraid to chase them and celebrate when you achieve them,” Sheree explains.

During Sheree’s career, she has birthed 2 children and has been fully supported both times by strong company policies on maternity leave and return to work strategies.

“Support needs to be given not only to the person going on maternity leave,” Sheree said, “but also to their boss, who may be new to this situation and are unsure of the policies or how to handle the news and future planning.”

Sheree has had both male and female mentors over time but she has always kept a good mix of those that are similar to her as well as those that challenge her thoughts and views.

“Mentors help you go through changes in your life and career and give you perspective outside your workplace,” Sheree explains.

She adds “Don’t be afraid to contact someone in the market and ask for some of their time, and even to be your mentor. People are always happy and flattered to be contacted about this.”

Sheree’s role models are those that stand up for what they believe in, respect themselves and fight for it. Someone who does not criticize others and who is gracefully assertive.

“Being supported and celebrated, surrounded by people who know you well, who love you and challenge you,” Sheree says of her greatest influences – her family.

International Women’s Day means a celebration of something she is proud to be part of.

Sheree admires how an event like International Women’s Day creates solidarity, pushes for progress and calls for inclusion and is something she is proud to be part of. “The feeling that everyone wants to work together for a different future,” she says.

By believing in your own capability and challenging the status quo means that together, women can #pressforprogress.

So here’s to all the girls, because we are capable!

Lizzi Byrne is a Consultant, Projects & Operations at Davidson.