Why this construction company is attracting women into its ranks

Traditionally seen as a tough, male environment, one company is attempting to diversify

Why this construction company is attracting women into its ranks

The construction industry isn’t exactly known for being a place where women feel invited in. One company is trying to change that image. Kapitol Group, founded by two ex-Multiplex directors, four years ago, has seen considerable growth.

Alice Hanna, People and Culture manager at Kapitol, has worked in male-dominated industries for her entire career. She is convinced that a big reason for the company’s expansion is their progressive approach to gender diversity.

“One reason we are such a great place to work is that we are driven to break the mould. Kapitol embraces diversity of people, not to tick a box or pressure from shareholders, but because it’s the right thing to do,” says Hanna.

“There is huge money in construction and females are missing out on those opportunities and that’s not fair; we want to make it a level playing field. But you can’t just give women the opportunities, we also have to make it a great and safe environment so they feel welcome.”

In a workforce numbering 150, Kapitol’s female employees represent 22% - way above the ABS industry standard of 13% in construction.

Kapitol plans on increasing this further through its current female graduate intake which sits at 40%, its regular engagement with girls’ schools as part of their careers’ in construction program, and their partnership with Empowered Women in Trades (EWIT). 

Built in flexibility

So what is Kapitol doing to make women want to work there?

Central to the company vision for is its ‘10 in 14’ program for site teams. Implemented in 2020, the initiative aims to provide staff with greater work-life balance by working a rotating six-day, four-day fortnight. This scheme was further refined in 2022 with all of Kapitol’s site staff now only working Monday to Friday, with the exception of Site Managers and Site Supervisors who have remained working 10 in 14, with support on Saturdays from site temp staff.

By reaching out to women to join the workforce and establishing family-friendly policies to accommodate them, Kapitol has improved the work-life balance more for male construction workers as well.

“At our last staff function, one of our employee’s wives came up to me to thank Kapitol Group for the fact that her husband is now able to go to their kids’ sports events which he hasn’t done for years due to his six-day work week,” says Hanna.

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“It’s paid off for us at Kapitol as when we survey our staff, we have high levels of employee satisfaction, with feedback confirming that 96% of employees feel proud to work here,” says Hanna. It also brought them the accolade of being voted as the 2022 Best Place to Work in Australia for 100 plus employees and has brought Hanna a nomination for Australian HR Manager of the Year at the Australian HR Awards 2022 to be held in Sydney in September.

Walking the walk

Kapitol Directors David Caputo and Andrew Deveson have placed a big focus on investing in the professional development of their team. Their aim is to create ‘leaders’ rather than ‘managers’, and staff training includes close mentoring, and running regular workshops on topics such as emotional intelligence, visions and values, and process and efficiency.

Rachel Cairnes is a working mum of two and a contractor with 20 years of industry experience. She says working for Kapitol Group has had a profound impact on her career and her family life. The flexibility, support and ability to spend time with her family has allowed her to flourish in her career in construction and also as a mother.

“I do believe we are trying to walk the walk and not just talk the talk and that we are making work-life balance better,” says Cairnes.

Despite this example of flexibility that has opened doors for women at Kapitol, there is still a long way to go in achieving gender equality in the construction industry.

According to the advocacy and education group the National Association of Women in Construction, women’s participation is decreasing not increasing. Kristine Scheul, national chairperson, says that issues of pay inequality, feeling safe, being respected in the workforce and having the ability to advance careers while maintaining flexibility to manage roles outside the workplace, are all preventing young women from choosing construction as a career – or staying in it once they get a job.

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Hanna says it’s a shame as “innovation comes from diversity of thought” and talented women have much to offer the industry, if the industry accommodates them. Relationships are key to this, she says.

At Kapitol, the line managers trust that if someone has to leave early, they will get the work done either at home or the following day. There is no micromanaging. Instead, there’s a sense of ownership and trust.

Rachel Cairnes says: “When you have kids you constantly feel guilty that you’re not pulling your weight or that there’s a microscope on you or that can’t perform to the level of your peers who don’t have carer responsibilities,” she says. “At Kapitol, I feel comfortable working here and when I have to do something with the kids during work hours, I’m never made to feel guilty.”

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