From hard hat to evening gown – one day, of course, when we further evolve it could become derigeur to wear both together, juxtaposing fashion and safety in a leap, metaphorically at least, from traditional stereotypes.

Bonding and conversation flowed at the 2014 National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) NSW Chapter Awards for Excellence. Unlike a previous NSW NAWIC Awards evening I went to, several years ago, where each table had to make a memorable edifice from a variety of Lego pieces, this event did not need any accoutrements. The celebration packed them in at the Star Event Centre, with many large firms and corporates represented.

NSW Chapter President, Sarah Hogan, noted that the awards program encourages leadership, risk-taking and establishing networks. “The awards also highlight the qualities that women in our industry need to succeed – qualities such as teamwork and tenacity, collaboration and creativity.”

And many acceptance speeches made a big point of thanking the team. I also remember hearing mention of other important aspects of the industry such as “zero tolerance for complacency”, “strong leadership”, "challenge of collaboration”, “procurement savings” and “making complex design understandable”.

Winner of the prestigious Laing O'Rourke Crystal Vision Award, Raquel Rubalcaba, Senior Project Manager at Laing O’Rourke (purely coincidence), implemented a cutting-edge, industry-leading, 26-week paid parental leave and flexible working policy there. This includes a keep-in-touch program, return-to-work coaching and flexible work options for all employees. 

The changes in her organisation will support the careers of women in the construction sector, Hogan said. “The judges were impressed by Raquel’s passion and drive to contribute to the industry in which she has been involved for 24 years. We salute Raquel as a role model for other women in the industry.”

The awards also covered team innovation, scholarship for future leaders, university and trade scholarships, refurbishment and fitouts, sustainability innovation in design, businesswoman of the year, project management and projects development.

Click here for the full list.

In similar, but not identical, vein, a joint initiative of several engineering alumni of the University of Technology Sydney aims to build career confidence in women studying construction, engineering and information technology. Its name, One of the Guys, is meant to be tongue in cheek, according to the women behind the program, which was launched in August. 

While supporting the initiative NAWIC CEO Laurice Temple says she has reservations about the name. 

“The challenge of this initiative, as I see it, will be to clearly convey the irony. Not everyone understands irony when they read/see/hear it. The last thing we all want is for that to happen and for someone to think they have to actually be ‘one of the guys’, which has been the pressure many women have felt for many years in the industry.”

Judging by the NSW chapter’s awards (and a foretaste of the ones to come in other states), the way to go surely is to be one of the gals. 

Deborah Singerman is a Sydney-based journalist and editor, specialising in architecture and design, including city, community, society, economy, sustainability and culture.