The construction industry is male-dominated, but CEO of Roberts Pizzarotti, Alison Mirams, is bringing under-represented groups into the industry, particularly women and Indigenous people. She and her team are actively looking for women to fill available roles.
“My team is 50% male and 50% female,” she beams. “We are 30% female if you slice the organisation vertically, which is amazing for a construction company. I’m passionate about women in construction. They have a different way of thinking that adds to the culture. We are always looking out for female CVs. We have specifically looked for women in roles and they are out there. You’ve just got to find them,” Alison says. “I love what I do; I love going to work. I want others to have the same enjoyment as me.
“There is so much evidence that if you have women in senior positions in your organisation, your organisation is more profitable,” she continues. “We want people who think differently to each other; we can’t deliver the best outcome to our clients if we have homogeneous thinking.”
It may have originated as a startup, but the company has grown immensely. “We have 130 staff and more than A$700 million worth of work,” Alison notes. “We have four projects in construction and we’ve got another three that we’re in the planning phase for; it’s an incredible change. In 2018, we doubled the size of the business and in 2019 we tripled in size – all this after starting from scratch. But it’s been an incredible journey.”
“My team is 50% male and 50% female. We are 30% female if you slice the organisation vertically, which is amazing for a construction company.”
The company takes a no-nonsense approach to projects. “It was easier to build 20 years ago than it is today, because of the amount of process and bureaucracy that builders have put into the supply chain,” Alison explains. “If the process doesn’t add value, we don’t have it. Construction is a tough and demanding industry.”
It’s common to work six long-hour days each week in the construction industry, but Alison takes a different approach and is trying to give her team their lives back. “If you take out all the processes that don’t add value, you have the chance of having more time in the day,” she explains.
“If someone on my staff has done their job and they’re up to date with everything, I tell them to go home. The industry suffers very much from presenteeism and we’re trying to break this down.”
Alison believes that companies are slow to move forward because people generally find comfort in the process, and don’t like change. “Change can be confronting to some people,” she explains. “I like it, and I relish it. It’s exciting to think about how we can improve ourselves, but that’s not for everyone.”
Not only can fewer hours mean an increase in productivity, it can also save lives. It’s confronting to read the statistics: construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an incident at work, and 190 Australian construction workers take their lives every year.
“These are horrific statistics,” Alison states. “We have presented a program to clients where we skip the traditional hours and we work Monday to Friday. We can’t change the statistics, but we can influence them. We are helping to take the stress out of a job by giving people enough time to spend with their families and friends, where they can get an injection of positivity that they might need to pull them out of a hole.”
Roberts Pizzarotti has engaged with the University of New South Wales to study its team working a five-day week. “They’re studying more than 100 construction workers and five partners of workers to see the impact it has on their home lives,” Alison explains. “We hope it makes a difference, and improves their health and wellbeing.
“Unfortunately, it will take another year until we receive the data, but when we do, it will be made public. If we can prove that we don’t need the additional time, every job can change tomorrow, and that changes the industry.”
Alison wants the five-day week to succeed so that she can demonstrate to others in the industry that they can do the same on their sites.
“Don’t just watch, come with us on the journey,” she stresses. “Start doing it in your businesses. Many know it’s the right thing to do and say to me that they are interested to see how it goes. The shorter week is currently working well on site, and we are receiving lots of positive feedback from workers, so we are on the right track.”
Alison is passionate about seeing more companies in the industry make the change and realise that it’s not beneficial to do the hours they have always done. “It’d be great to see more government departments say, ‘It’s not okay to keep pushing people as hard as we do’,” she remarks.
“The industry hasn’t always been a six-day per week industry. From what I understand, it changed from five days a week to six days a week when interest rates were at 17% – and the cost of time was enormous – but it’s never been recalibrated. I want to see other construction companies come on board.”
Alison and her team are cultivating a company where people love going to work. “If you get people who love going to work, they’ll achieve greatness,” she assures. “If you put people in a happy place, they will perform at their best. I get my energy by going out to our sites and seeing how happy our people are and seeing them thrive. I genuinely care about our staff.
“If you get people who love going to work, they’ll achieve greatness.”
“We’re also selective about which clients we work for because I want to work for those who say thank you, and who value and appreciate our team. It’s such an easy thing to say, but it means so much,” she adds.
“We are very focused on empowerment. As a managing contractor, we don’t own anything as a business; the only asset we have is people, and we must look after them.”
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