In our Meet the Member series, we speak to a range of project professionals about their experiences as a project manager, and their advice for fellow PMs.

Today we chat to Kim Lenox, who works as the Manager Commercial Supply Agreements at the ARTC and is the President of Women in Building and Associated Services (WIBAS).

1. Could you tell us a bit about how you became a project manager and what drew you to the construction industry?

I actually fell into construction a bit by chance more than a decade ago as a contract role in between jobs. I started as a site administrator on Stage 1 of the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group site.

I absolutely fell in love with being on site and seeing things get built from the ground up and I haven’t looked back since.

Project management was a natural progression for me as I worked my way through the ranks in industry. It is still something I am passionate about and I use my skills and experience in project management in every role I work in.

2. You’re currently the Manager Commercial Supply Agreements at the ARTC. What does this role entail?

At ARTC I work for the Hunter Valley, which manages and maintains 8,500km of rail network. My role is to provide procurement and commercial support and advice for the Hunter Valley Business Unit, which includes hundreds of contracts and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of work at any one time. It’s a fantastic role, as no two days are ever the same, and I am very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive team.

I also volunteer on a number of committees including being the President of Women in Building and Associated Services (WIBAS), the Vice President of the Equal Futures Project, and a Community Representative on the City of Newcastle’s Infrastructure Advisory Committee.

3. Recent research from RMIT University, has found only 25% of early career project managers could see themselves staying in the construction industry beyond their first five years of working there. Why do you think so many young people are leaving the construction industry after such a short time?

That’s an interesting statistic and I think it’s probably for a variety of reasons but let’s face it, construction is hard work. It is long hours and incredibly demanding and if you don’t feel like the benefits outweigh the negatives it might not be for you.

I also think construction has a bad reputation when it comes to work/life balance and flexibility and if you are looking to start a family around that 5 year mark, that probably plays a role in the early exit.

4. As the President of Women in Building and Associated Services, you are clearly passionate about supporting women in their career. What do you see as the current barriers facing women and how can organisations provide better support?

My roles in project management have always been in construction and infrastructure and working in a male dominated industry is a choice for me. It has posed some challenges over the course of my career, but it has also been the catalyst for the work I do in advocacy, mentoring and supporting women which is my passion.

When it comes to women in leadership, during my time, there have not been many senior females in decision making roles and that is a challenge because it’s very hard to model something you can’t see.

I think a significant barrier for women is perception. Often behaviours or styles that may be perceived as dominant or aggressive would be perfectly acceptable from a male equivalent, and possibly even praised. I have often seen ambitious women become a threat to someone senior to them and quickly be pigeonholed in this way. This can be overt but is often part of some unconscious bias.

I think there are some real opportunities within our industry for leaders, CEOs and Boards to become true advocates for women, identifying them for roles or projects that they may not have visibility of through sponsorship, understanding that just because a role is not exactly what they are doing right now doesn’t mean that they can’t do it and supporting their growth and development through personalised professional development plans.

There are also plenty of women who don’t need that kind of support and just need to find the right companies and leaders who can see them for exactly what they can bring to the table.

5. Lastly, what advice would you give to someone looking for a successful career in the construction industry?

The construction industry has so much to offer, the variety of roles, experience and projects available are endless. My advice is to make sure you do your research about the company you want to work for and find a company whose values align with yours.

Connect with people on LinkedIn, find networking events and talk to other people in that company and/or industry and start developing a group of people around you that have diverse experience.

Work hard, be a sponge and learn everything you can from everyone who is prepared to teach you, from the site supervisor to the superintendent. Once you have had a bit of experience and you have identified what you are passionate about, then you can focus in on one particular area.

Continue your education and maintain your professional associations like AIPM, where you can get access to a breadth of information and stay connected with like minded professionals. There’s lots of great things about construction and lots of opportunities for improvement and everybody has the ability to be part of those changes.