A few good women

Jeff Roberts sits down with Waterfront's only female development employees to discuss the disparity between the numbers of men and women in the Middle East's building industry.

Dubai Waterfront Properties, INTERVIEWS, Design

Jeff Roberts sits down with Waterfront's only female development employees to discuss the disparity between the numbers of men and women in the Middle East's building industry.

What is your current position?

Lisa Kolinac: At the moment, I look after about 300 hectares in the AED 8 billion Veneto project of the Waterfront development. My responsibilities include planning space for residences, schools, mosques and parks, as well as marina berths and all the relevant marine activity.

Kathy Cusack: I look at some of the detailed masterplanning, but most of the time my responsibility is the 11,000 hectares of land that has yet to be masterplanned at Waterfront.

At the moment, I'm working on broad urban structure layouts, including primary and secondary road networks, city centres, residential areas and water features.

I'd come from the biggest city in Australia where things were very dense and five hectares was a decent size site and 20 hectares was huge. When I found out that there were 14,000 hectares and some of it was still being reclaimed, it was a bit jarring.

But, it was the sort of project to which one cannot say 'no' because it's such a great career opportunity.

This is a field that often impinges on personal time. How does that affect your family relationships?

Kolinac: I don't have children but if I did, it'd be very difficult to balance. I don't particularly like working long hours so I'd prefer to work more efficiently, thereby allowing for a much shorter day if I can.

But, like everyone, we're quite under-resourced at the moment and I definitely couldn't work the hours I do if I had kids.

Cusack: I think there's always more pressure on the mother. I think we put it on ourselves. There's that element of guilt that you feel when you're not home with the family.

I justify that by telling myself that this period where I'm very committed to work, will allow me to spend more time with my family in later years.

I believe in live/work balance. Although I do bring work home and I do work on weekends and I have missed holidays, I still make sure I'm home at a reasonable hour at least two days per week to ensure I've got time with the family.

Also, I've got live-in help in my home. If we didn't have that help, it would be very difficult.

That helps me to focus on work when I'm at work and focus on family when I'm at home.
 

From your perspective, are there additional challenges for women working in what is traditionally a male-dominated field?

Kolinac: I find that women are fairly well-accepted in this industry in the UAE. There are still a limited number of women in senior positions here, but there seem to be more in the UAE than anywhere else in the world.

I don't have any problems here. I think women are respected for the contributions they're making.

Cusack: It's not so much a challenge as an observation. Where I came from in Australia, my CEO was a woman, as was the political leader, the Lord Mayor of Sydney.

There were a lot of women in positions like that and it wasn't something to bat an eyelid at.

Then, when I came here, it was a bit of a shock to be in such a minority as women in the Waterfront office. It was very different from what I'd been used to.

However, within the last six months we've added a lot of women to our office. I think it's a good thing.

I think it creates a very balanced workplace. Men and women think differently and both can contribute different and valid input to any problems.

Why do you think there remains such a disparity between numbers of men and women working in this field?

Cusack: That's a really good question. I know when I was studying urban planning, ours was the first year that there was an even balance between men and women.

I don't know for sure but I think there is an old-fashioned perception that development is a man's work and that construction sites are no place for a woman.

I do think it's changing. [The workplace] is more balanced but there is still a bit of a perception issue about girls on construction sites.

Kolinac: It's interesting. It seems that the Arabic culture accepts women in business-related fields more readily than what I'm used to.

The style of business here is not as foreign to me as it might be to a male who approaches a problem with a much different thinking pattern.

Do you think it's possible that some women are intimidated by what is perceived as a male-dominated industry?

Kolinac: I think it's possible. I've never found it intimidating but there is the occasional shock of being very obviously in the minority.
 

It doesn't stop from getting on with the job but it is a bit arresting at times.

Cusack: It's actually surprising. I don't find a problem at all. You might expect that because of this region and the size and scale of the projects, the men aren't used to seeing women on-site wearing boots and hardhats.

I find that everyone is very open to receiving instructions and following the directions I give them.

Perhaps I'm oblivious to it. Maybe I've got my eyes closed to it. But the fact is, we're delivering a project and we're delivering it on time. For that to be happening, I don't see an obstructive element there at all.

As a global company, do you see Nakheel actively recruiting women over men?

Kolinac: On our team, we've got a female architect, a female logistics manager, a female interpreter and some construction women coming on board.

There's no employment bias here. It just comes down to who is most qualified and experienced and who has the best attitude for the work. It's all about delivery; it's got nothing to do with gender.

If you're seen as a delivery person, you'll move up the ranks, regardless of gender.

Cusack: It's about seeking the right people much more than it is about whether you're a man or a woman. People here have an understanding of what's needed and from that, decisions are made about who to seek out for various roles.

It's more about the right person that any woman/man division.

We're beginning to see an influx of qualified people. Whether you're a man or a woman won't really matter much.

Would you encourage more young women to get into the field? If so, what advice can you offer?

Kolinac: Absolutely. I think there are great opportunities here for any young person, regardless of whether they're male or female.

Of course, as a woman in this industry, I am focused on trying to give young women opportunities in a field where they might feel they'd have difficulty getting in.

Cusack: Absolutely. I could never have done this sort of work anywhere in the Western world; I don't mean that negatively, I just mean that the challenge and enormity of what we do here is unparalleled.

I'll certainly be here for a while but after working in this region, on this project, with a global company, you sort of ask yourself, "What could I do next?"

I would definitely encourage more women to get involved. In fact, I'm looking for a few architects and planners myself.

Most popular

Awards

CW Oman Awards 2020: Meet the winners
A round of the thirteen winning names at the Construction Week Oman Awards 2020 that

Conferences

Leaders UAE 2020: Building a sustainable, 'resilient' infra
AESG’s Phillipa Grant, Burohappold’s Farah Naz, and Samana's Imran Farooq on a sustainable built environment
CW In Focus | Inside the Leaders in KSA Awards 2019 in Riyadh
Meet the winners in all 10 categories and learn more about Vision 2030 in this

Latest Issue

Construction Week - Issue 767
Sep 01, 2020