"Iconic Infrastructure" attracts women to engineering, construction. Victoria’s push for more women in construction strikes chord at Webuild
At first blush, global infrastructure giant Webuild (previously Salini Impregilo) might seem an unlikely champion of women in the workforce. Being a corporate centenarian, tracing its origins to 1906, in an historically male-dominated industry, could invite assumptions of hidebound traditions. But they would be mistaken.
Webuild is very much a company of 21st Century values.
Milan-based Webuild promotes the inclusion of women in all facets of the company, from its construction sites to the boardroom. More than simply calling for the advancement of women, it has the accolades and the attainments to demonstrate its leadership in gender diversity.
The three-time Employer of Choice winner in Italy has made great strides in the boardroom, where one-third (33%) of directors are women – besting the ASX 200 benchmark of 30% – and in the executive suite, with 36% of corporate roles held by women, well ahead of the 29% global average reported by Grant Thornton in its 2019 Women in Business study.
Marco Assorati, executive director for Australia and Oceania at Webuild, says the company is not yet ready to rest on its laurels in its quest for gender balance across the organisation, “but the trend is on the right trajectory”.
“The issue of gender is something we have given particular attention to” Assorati says. “Several years ago, as more women entered the company, their numbers tended to be concentrated in certain areas but now we are seeing their participation across diverse occupations and responsibilities. Women are not only participating in engineering and construction roles that were once almost exclusively the preserve of men they are also participating in leadership positions within the company and on project sites”.
Assorati says it is important for companies to have structured programs aimed at attracting women to the infrastructure industry and ensuring that there are opportunities for women to advance their careers in the industry. But he adds that there are other factors attracting women to traditionally male roles in engineering and construction.
“Employers providing flexibility in the workplace, with a focus on work-life balance, is making engineering and construction more attractive career options for women” Assorati says. "Another factor attracting both men and women to the industry is that engineering and construction are much more glamorous today compared to years ago: there is much greater use of technology and the infrastructure projects themselves are often things of beauty”.
The issue of gender is something we have given particular attention to. Women are not only participating in engineering and construction roles that were once almost exclusively the preserve of men they are also participating in leadership positions within the company and on project sites
Around the globe, Webuild’s iconic infrastructure projects include the Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar, site of the 2022 FIFA World Cup championship; the Parco della Musica Auditorium in Rome and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Athens.
In Australia, Webuild’s Sydney Metro Northwest rapid transit link project, including a 270-metre curved, cable-stayed skytrain bridge and 4km-long viaduct, attracted international acclaim. Webuild was awarded the 2018 Project of the Year for the skytrain bridge by influential US industry magazine Engineering News-Record. The judges’ winning criteria included “benefits to the local community and dedication to quality, innovation and safety”.
“Iconic infrastructure that is beautiful to look at, that is sustainable and blends with the landscape and adds value to communities is attracting more people to the industry”, Assorati says.
Webuild’s iconic infrastructure projects around the globe
Assorati welcomes the recent commitment by Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas to increase the proportion of women leading the state’s major infrastructure projects.
The Victorian Government is behind the Australian Major Projects Leadership Academy (AMPLA), previously the Victorian Major Projects Leadership Academy, which aims to build infrastructure project delivery skills in the public sector. One-third of AMPLA’s 2020 cohort is female; Pallas wants this to reach 50% by 2021. “Across Australia, we particularly want to see more young women enter engineering and construction, and we want to support them into leadership roles”, the Treasurer said in a speech.
According to Engineers Australia, women make up 13% of Australia’s working engineers. Marco Assorati warns that this is not sustainable. “As long as female participation in engineering, construction and other STEM-related disciplines remains low, in the not too distant future we risk experiencing real skilled-worker shortages that may stifle Melbourne’s ability to meet its infrastructure needs”, he says.
Assorati has also welcomed the Victorian Government’s Victoria’s Women in Construction Strategy.
As part of its global network of university collaborations Webuild has partnered with the University of Technology Sydney to offer scholarships to engineering students and to sponsor the university’s Women in Engineering program. The company is in discussions with Victorian universities interested in establishing similar partnerships.
Assorati stresses, however, that gender is just one aspect of Webuild’s commitment to diversity.
The pillars of this ethos include no discrimination, equal opportunity, a positive working environment, occupational health and safety and protection from harassment. When undertaking projects in countries with indigenous populations, including Australia, that also includes employment and procurement compacts with First Peoples.
We believe that inclusion and diversity are the most precious assets that we bring to projects everywhere in the world
Webuild is present in 50 countries and employs 35,000 workers, 65% of whom are hired in the countries in which the group operates. In Africa and Latin America, the figure is 90%. “The aim of the new policy is to ensure an inclusive working environment in which the abilities and the potential of everyone is valued”, Assorati says.
Another Webuild priority is the global search for young talent. With 27% of its employees under 30 years of age and 45% under 35 years the company believes it has the people “who will eventually represent the group’s best assets in the future”. “Investing in a new generation of professionals will help the company respond to the challenges of the future and to compete on world markets with fresh perspectives and new ideas”, Assorati says.
“At Webuild our goal is to create infrastructure that enables current and future generations to live in an environment in which everyone can prosper and feel connected to one another and this is something that resonates with the people we want to attract”.
Webuild has a growing presence Down Under, with Australia’s share of the company’s commercial pipeline growing from 1.5% in 2018 to 12%. In October last year, the NSW Government announced that Webuild has been short-listed for the $2.6 billion .