Laurice Temple was recently appointed chief executive officer of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), and a senior executive with more than 25 years international experience in executive and project management roles.

Architecture & Design spoke to Temple about what she hopes to achieve at NAWIC, how she dealt with a lack of support from an employer and when you need to question if you’re working for the right employer.

You’ve recently been appointed CEO of NAWIC. What does the role mean to you?

This role is one that fits perfectly to my passions, technical expertise and relationships/networks around the industry. I am a senior executive leader with an engineering/project management background and have worked all around the world on large infrastructure projects. Anyone who has met me knows that I am passionate about attracting and retaining women in the industry, with a slight bias to my love of project management and engineering.

Working in construction – which is a generic term that includes a number of industries and roles – can be challenging and, as such, it’s important to have organisations like NAWIC that work on attracting and retaining women in the industry. My role is about ensuring NAWIC continues to addsvalue not only our members, but also our sponsors and industry as a whole. With the changing economic trends, both here as well as globally, coupled with the pressure to drive more effective and efficient projects and tackling the diversity challenges we have in this country, this role will not be ‘business as usual’.

What are you hoping to achieve in the role?

It is a challenging and exciting time for our industry and NAWIC is committed to improving the industry through the advancement of women. The NAWIC board, headed by Chair Jane Bateson, and state presidents are all highly supportive of me in the role and are ready to drive positive change – both to the organisation as the industry.

In 2013, NAWIC produced a discussion paper, ‘What women want in a construction career’, which provided recommendations, but noted also: “the biggest barrier to implementing these changes is the resistance to change itself”. I see myself as an industry change agent and, with support of the NAWIC board, aim to drive a cultural change within the industrythat helps organisations be more successful in attracting and retaining women and develop and recognise the leaders of tomorrow. This includes developing new strategies, programmes and frameworks that will help qualified women gain recognised and senior leadership roles in their organisations. This is a very important time in our country, especially in male-dominated industries, to commit to clear and transparent succession planning that include women as senior leaders and key role models. I’m looking forward to being an active part of this change during my tenure as CEO at NAWIC.

How much has changed for women in the construction and building industry in the past five years?

There has been some movement over the last five years. For example, paid maternity/paternity leave, safer work places, more agile working conditions, greater leadership development programs and better succession planning.  It’s clear that the industry wants to drive changes. While this is exciting, not a lot has changed in regards to the number of women in the industry or the number of women in senior leadership roles. Having said that, as I talk to people I am very excited about the future of new possibilities being envisaged by many industry leaders.

How can organisations like NAWIC help women?

NAWIC helps in a variety of ways. We have very tangible benefits such as mentoring and awards programs and fantastic events that enable great networking and the sharing of knowledge, as well as provide support. NAWIC not only recognises leaders through our awards programs, but also provides members with the opportunity to be part of a council, committee and national board structure. This is a form of succession planning for the industry.

We also provide a number of intangible benefits such supporting diversity and new ways of thinking through our various initiatives. Many organisations have started ‘women in _______’ groups in their individual organisations and do not fully understand the greater benefit that NAWIC provides, such as networking opportunities with industry peers, sharing of knowledge and helping women to develop their careers. We have found that our members benefit tremendously by supporting each other, collaborating on problem solving and having conversations about their personal challenges that they do not find they can always do within their own organisations. So NAWIC is helping to retain these women in the industry – even though organisations may not know that!

How has NAWIC helped you personally?

I have moved all over the world to build new projects, including the US, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. Each time I have moved, I have tried to quickly find a place in each community to make it feel like ‘home’. One of the first phone calls I made when I moved to Australia was to NAWIC. My association with NAWIC enabled me to make a large number of contacts who have helped me find personal coaches and mentors and furthered my career by providing opportunities that I may not have otherwise had. Being CEO of NAWIC is a great testament to the power of networking, and how it can open doors to conversations with government, sponsors, organisations and individual leaders who want to make a positive cultural change to the industry.

What has been the greatest challenge for you professionally and how have you overcome it?

I think my greatest challenge has been when I haven’t been supported by my employer about my career aspirations to be a leader in the industry. This has brought fear and resistance to those I worked for and frustrated me. Like so many other leaders, men and women, I have a lot of courage and belief in myself and as such have left the frustrations behind and kept working hard on my goals, even without the support of my employer.  I believe in continuing to develop my own leadership and professional skills and I’m always open to new ideas on how to continuously improve. I have stayed true to that mantra and, as such, people know they can trust me. Sometimes tackling challenges means not going through them but going around them. 

What advice would you give to women in the industry who are having problems due to their gender?

There is a complex and different answer for every circumstance, but the short answer is: if you do feel you are not being given a fair go because of your gender, you may need to consider whether you are working for the right organisation. Today, most organisations are making very specific efforts to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all employees. Some are further along than others, so do you want to work for a vanguard or a laggard?

The bottom line is that construction is a fantastic industry but it can be challenging for women to work in a male-dominated field. I always advise people to never give up. A positive solution to the challenge is always within your grasp.