Have you ever wondered what it’s like working as a woman in a male dominant industry? Or, the challenges and opportunities faced when breaking through the ‘concrete’ ceiling?
Yes, that industry is Construction.
As part of our ‘build-her UP’ empowerment stories – Meet Angela Wang. She is on her way to GM in an Australian TIER 2 Construction Company. I share 10 insights with you on what it’s like working as a female in one of Australia’s most male-dominated sectors; we also break down the mental health stigma and what she envisions for the future.
Angela, what led you to the construction industry?
I used to say that it was a bit of a fluke, but now I think it was more about following my gut and trusting the process.
After finishing my Architecture Degree in 2016, I studied Masters in Construction Project Management. By doing my Masters and understanding more about Project Management, I thought it would help me become a better Architect. Halfway through the Degree, I got bored of just studying and decided to look for a job. There was a desire to find something quite quickly and so I ended up going to 7 interviews in one week. I landed myself a job in a Tier 3 Construction Company and I’ve never looked back!
To be honest, I didn’t know where my decisions were going to take me when I first started. I just went with what felt right at the time and trusted that it would get me somewhere eventually.
What does your current role as Design Manager encompass?
The Design Manager role is a bit like a Project Manager who specialises in managing the design process. It entails understanding the client’s and architect’s vision, as well as assisting them in transforming their vision into a reality. I ensure the drawings are completed in a way that can be easily interpreted by the on site team, whilst maintaining the overall design intent. My role acts as a bridge that connects the clients, consultants and on site teams towards one single vision – constructing amazing buildings that will create a legacy while simultaneously aligning with the client’s vision.
What has working in the Construction industry taught you?
I was promoted to Design Manager without an extensive amount of industry experience and was rather unaware of what the role entailed. My first design meeting was with a large hotel client and my managers weren’t available, leaving me to take charge and conduct the meeting alone.
There was a lack of confidence in me to face a room filled with people who had a lot more experience. Self-doubt and a lack of self-confidence were my biggest challenges at the time. I found it difficult to lead a strong conversation during the meeting. The client’s development manager phoned me afterwards to tell me how badly I was doing my job. On the upside, she was kind enough to offer support because she could see that I was out of my depth. This is still one of the toughest projects I have ever worked on, yet I had learnt so much. It was then I decided that if I was ever going to be given the opportunity to support, mentor or work with another female in construction, I would never make them feel the same way I did during those meetings.
In hindsight, I believe the values instilled in me from my family, has meant that I rarely give up on things easily. I also have a genuine desire to provide the best solutions and create buildings that I will be proud of. It’s a combination of these two factors that has pushed me through every challenge I’ve faced at work.
‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’ – Steve Jobs. This is something I live by each day and I truly believe it has helped me advance my career thus far. I don’t think I know everything, and I don’t think I ever will. I am always on the lookout to find better ways of doing things, and am always interested in people and what’s important to them.
The way I view my work each day is one of service. I am here to support the teams that I work with to deliver what’s important to our clients. Personally, it’s not about ego, competition, getting that promotion or pay rise, it’s about being the best that I can be in supporting my team to design and construct lasting structures and create a positive experience. Most importantly, I do what makes me happy. This is the differentiating factor that has helped me and my career progression.
As a creative, has being in the industry harnessed or even sparked your creativity?
Yes, more and more each day. Interestingly enough, I used to think that I was not creative when studying Architecture because I was the more practical one when it came to design projects. It wasn’t until I started working that I realised there are creative people, and then there are logically creative people. Creativity doesn’t always have to be applied in a ‘pie in the sky’ kind of way.
Working in the industry allows me to think outside the box, with one leg still inside. This means that my team and I can come up with practical solutions that doesn’t lose the creative integrity. To come up with a practical, yet creative outcome requires acknowledgment of time, cost, quality and finding the perfect balance that meets the client’s brief and design intent.
What would you tell other women wanting to work in an industry where they are statistically outnumbered?
I don’t really remember ever being treated differently or feeling outnumbered. Even though I am aware that I am a minority, I think growing up being surrounded by boys in my family and friendship groups has helped!
My advice would be to just be you. Have the confidence in who you are as a woman and in your ability to bring your strength to the table.
I have spent a lot of time working on myself and getting to know who I really am as a person over the past 5 years. Many people in the personal development field call it the ‘inner works.’ What I have found is that when I respect myself and accept myself, it is reciprocated from others as well.
I was a ‘chronic people pleaser’ growing up. I used to really care about what other people thought of me. Dealing with my divorce, a quarter-life crisis and depression in 2015, I had to really assess my life, get to know myself again and find out what really makes me happy – instead of spending my time making everyone else around me happy.
What would you tell your younger self right now?
Trust your gut and honour yourself first before anything else.
Stop wasting your time trying to make everyone else happy.
Take risks and follow your heart.
I am particularly passionate about mental health and wellness. Better mental health in construction is crucial. There is still a lot to be done. Have you had any involvement in creating more awareness around this?
Mental health in the construction industry will always hold a special place in my heart as I too have faced mental health challenges.
I had a colleague commit suicide just before Christmas in 2017 and also helped a boyfriend through depression. There is definitely still a lot to be done and it is part of the reason I started my coaching business in 2018.
The coaching business was set up to play my part in reducing depression, anxiety and the suicide rate in the industry.
My first book was published last year for people in the construction industry. It is called ‘Armour: The Truth Behind The E & F Word in Construction.’ It is my way of creating more awareness around this issue and providing simple yet actionable solutions for people who are facing challenging times in their lives.
Talking about issues is not the first step for everyone because not everyone expresses themselves through talking. What I do believe is that if we can provide resources where there is the option to work on yourself on your own (in order to ‘loosen the grip’) then this will give them the space to trust that they can speak to someone when they are ready. This is what I hope my book can do for people who may be going through the same pains that I went through.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, many have had to work remotely. What has this taught you?
For years I had been thinking that it would be amazing for construction to incorporate remote work and the utilisation of more technology. I was excited to have the flexibility of working from home when Covid-19 started. I am fortunate enough, through publishing my book and running my own business after work, to have learnt to be conscious with time management and the importance of routine in creating discipline. I am responding to Covid-19 as my opportunity to level up what I have been implementing in my life for the past few years.
The biggest lesson I have learnt thus far, is the importance of setting clear boundaries between work time and me time. With my office now in my living room, I have found myself going from work to business and then to bed. I hadn’t created the space nor time for myself to just ‘BE.’
I still meditate every morning and do my morning exercises a few days in the week, but they just don’t seem to be enough during this time. Because of this, I have given myself more time than ever to be away from my office and instead in my garden to recharge my energy and soul.
What do you envision for yourself in the future?
I would love to be able to inspire and support more women in the construction industry to go for what they have always dreamed of. As well as build their dream life (even when it seems like an impossible dream!)
My vision is to run retreats and build a community/co-working space where people in construction at any level and discipline can come in, work on themselves, their career as well as their business, all while building connections with each other.
We briefly spoke about this. How do you feel you will balance work -‘mum’ life balance if and when that happens for you?
Our working environment post Covid-19 is going to be quite different, even for the construction industry. More flexible work arrangements for mums (and dads) in the industry may come into place. Since I’m yet to be a mum, it is hard for me to exactly imagine what it will be like. Although, I do believe that it makes a difference when asking for help and support, and just going with the flow.