International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women worldwide. To mark the occasion, four Duratec employees talk about their experience as women in the workplace.

Sam Bell – Environmental & Sustainability Lead, VIC

Sam Bell began her career at Duratec in 2021 as an environmental technical writer, assisting the HSE team with approvals for projects. Since then, as the company has grown, her role has evolved and Sam is now the business’ environmental & sustainability lead.

Sam spearheads Duratec’s sustainability initiatives, which aim to reduce the impact its works have on the environment. This involves ensuring compliance with the company’s Environmental Management System – certified to ISO 14001 – implementing conservation initiatives and advising on sustainable practices.

Having long been passionate about the environment, Sam studied marine science at university, with a minor in communications. She says that her classes were reasonably balanced, however, that could be because her degree was part science and part arts. It wasn’t until she entered the construction industry that she was exposed to a male-dominated environment.

“It was intimidating at first, but I decided from the get-go that I was just going to ask a lot of questions,” she said.

“I decided to insert myself into different areas of the business and try and build relationships because, for me, that’s the best way to break through that intimidation.

“As soon as you have a good conversation with someone, it breaks down any barriers and that’s how you glean information, hear different opinions and learn new things if the person is in a higher position or has more experience than you.”

Sam agrees that women can sometimes be more heavily scrutinised by men, not only in construction but also in other industries and society in general. She admits that some of that may be initernalised.

“I carried a lot of that through to construction,” she said.

“And then, when you’re the only woman in a meeting or on site, you really notice the imbalance between numbers of men and women in the industry.

“So I think that sometimes you do have to do a little extra prep work and it shouldn’t necessarily be that way.”

Sam says, however, that as soon as a relationship is established, people realise that you’re all there for the same reason – to achieve positive project outcomes.

When asked if she thinks it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day, Sam nods enthusiastically.

“Definitely – I think the different ideas women can bring to the table is worth celebrating,” she said.

“I know a lot of people say, ‘It should happen every day’, and I don’t disagree with that, but having that one day brings it to the forefront.

“It makes you rethink and ask yourself, ‘What can I do today to make another woman feel included?’ Inclusion doesn’t happen unless you celebrate it.”

According to Sam, it’s also incumbent upon women to ensure that other women are included.

“I’ve worked in other places where, unfortunately, the women didn’t necessarily work together,” she said.

“It’s worth pondering, ‘How can I make another woman feel like she can approach me and ask questions?’

“As important as it is for men to advocate for us, we have to stand up and look out for each other too.”

With women like Sam in Duratec’s ranks, one thing’s for sure – the future looks bright.

Ashley Muirhead – Chief Financial Officer

Last year, Ashley Muirhead became the first woman appointed to Duratec’s executive team. Having started with the company as the financial controller in 2021, Ashley’s wealth of financial and operational knowledge and experience became apparent and, in April 2023, she became the chief financial officer.

A chartered accountant, Ashley began her career in her native Scotland, working for companies including Ernst & Young (EY) and the Royal Bank of Scotland. In 2010, Ashley and her husband moved to Australia. Upon arriving in Perth, she found work at an oil and gas company, and worked her way up to the chief financial officer position. During this time, Ashley and her husband started a family.

When Ashley was having her second child, she decided to take a “step back” and seek out a financial controller position – that’s what led her to Duratec. Part of the reason Ashley accepted the role was because of the flexible working arrangements. She says, however, that flexibility works both ways, that it’s give and take.

“You can’t put a value on being able to go to school and do a pick-up or attend a sports carnival,” she said.

“On the flipside, I’m happy to be there if something critical comes up at work out of hours.”

When asked if she experiences guilt like many working mothers, Ashley responds:

“Absolutely, I think it’s a rite of passage”.

“As an expat, I don’t have family to rely on so I use before and after-school care, and vacation care.

“I’m very conscious of that but as long as the kids are happy, it’s just about finding that balance.”

Ashley agrees that there is still a stigma in mothers returning to full-time work.

“I try to block out the school mums’ chatter,” she said.

“I remember one of them saying to me, ‘Oh my goodness, your baby’s only one and you’re working full time? How can you possibly do that?!’

“Right away, you feel shamed but no one knows another person’s circumstances.”

Ashley reiterates that it’s all about balance – taking leave when you can and picking the kids up earlier where possible. The guilt, however, never goes away.

“I make sure to do a drop-off and a pick-up once a week – that means a lot to them,” she said.

“But it can be difficult – if there’s an impromptu meeting at work, I sometimes have to say, ‘Sorry, I have to pick up the kids’.
“So then you feel guilty for having left something unfinished, but the other executives are really great about that, often saying, ‘No problem, we’ll reschedule it’.”

When asked about becoming the first woman executive at Duratec, Ashley says she was thrilled. The job wasn’t completely foreign to her, however, as she had been the chief financial controller in a previous role.

In terms of barriers faced as a woman in male-dominated workplaces, Ashley can think of a few examples.

“In previous roles, I’ve experienced ‘boys’ club’ situations, where the men will have off-site meetings and make decisions that you only find out about afterwards,’ she said.

“Other barriers are not as obvious – they can be subtle, patronising undertones and closed-off body language… you can really feel that exclusion.”

Ashley believes celebrating International Women’s Day is important and that this year’s theme, ‘Inspire Inclusion’, is particularly apt. She says it’s important to raise awareness about inclusion and ensure women have a voice.

When it comes to women who want to move into managerial roles, Ashley is 100 per cent supportive.

“I think there are plenty of opportunities at Duratec because of our flexible working arrangements,” she said.

“We also have some great male champions within the organisation who promote inclusion and that’s vital.

“I think increased inclusion is absolutely something that can be achieved at Duratec.”

Patricia Murphy – HSEQ Lead, WA

Born and bred in Ireland, Duratec HSEQ lead Patricia Murphy graduated from the Sligo Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science (Occupational Health and Safety). She began her career in 2006 when the Irish economy, particularly the construction industry, was booming.

Patricia never planned on working in construction as she didn’t know anything about the industry. But that’s where all the jobs were so she took the plunge.

While she was a little intimidated at first, Patricia was lucky enough to have a supportive manager, Deirdre, who became a role model. Deirdre was highly respected within the company and a great support to Patricia early on.

Just a couple of years later, however, the global financial crisis hit and work dried up. It was then that Patricia and her husband Alan decided to move to Australia.

At first, it was hard to find work – the country was still recovering from the GFC, plus she didn’t have any
Australian experience. There were, however, plenty of FIFO jobs so Patricia accepted a health and safety
advisor role for a construction company in Port Hedland.

For six years, Patricia worked a three-and-one roster on a mine site. She arrived at camp on the same day as another woman, Nina, who was a cleaner or ‘peggy’, as they are known on site. The two hit it off straight away and Nina became a kind of mother figure to Patricia.

Once she established a routine, Patricia really started enjoying the job and the camaraderie within the camp. She and her colleagues worked 13-day fortnights with RDOs every second Sunday. On these days, they would enjoy a barbecue or go out for dinner and building those relationships had a positive effect on morale within the workplace.

When asked if she’s faced any barriers as a woman in construction, Patricia says nothing comes to mind.
“I think if you show respect to someone, they’ll show it back to you,” she said.

“I was new to FIFO and to this kind of work, and the men recognised this – they knew I was on my own so
they were empathetic.”

Six years ago, Patricia joined Duratec in a non-FIFO role and has again built solid relationships with her
colleagues both in the office and on site. There are several women in the HSEQ team so she says that
most crews are used to interacting with women.

Not long after starting with Duratec, Patricia and Alan started a family. They talked about navigating work with parenting and Alan expressed interest in being a stay-at-home dad. This meant that Patricia returned to full-time work just months after having their first child.

Patricia says Duratec has been amazing in accommodating her needs as a full-time working mother.

“The company allows me to come in early and finish early so that I can maximise the time I spend with the girls (now five and two) in the evening,” she said.

“I can’t fault Duratec – my managers understand when I have to take the kids to appointments or attend sports carnivals; it really is a family-friendly environment.”

When asked what it was like returning to work after having her first child, Patricia says it was hard.

“I remember the first day I got home and when I saw my daughter, I just burst into tears,” she said.

“It got easier, though, when I was able to change my hours and establish a routine with my husband.”

Patricia admits that she does experience guilt when she says goodbye to the kids in the morning.

“Especially with my older one as she loves spending time with me on weekends,” she said.

“But then when I have to leave on a Monday morning, she can get upset.”

The construction industry may have a way to go when it comes to the ratio of women to men, however, Patricia says she is optimistic about the future.

“I’m confident that things will only get better for women in construction”, she said.