Providing a better life in the workplace

The reasons for increasing gender diversity in the workplace are well-known, from having the ability to tap into a wider talent pool, to gaining different perspectives and points of view which can spark creativity and innovation. 

The importance of inclusivity cannot be understated, and its principles are being adopted by more and more businesses as they understand its value to economic prosperity. 

Rail Express speaks to McConnell Dowell General Manager of Rail, Kyle Mortimer, and General Manager Pre-contracts (Australia), Harriet Christopherson, about championing diversity and inclusion, and promoting the industry to a broader audience to help attract new talent. 

“We’re very passionate about changing the construction industry as a whole, to make it more appealing for people with all diverse backgrounds and experiences,” they said. 

“More diversity in our people and our thinking will only make us stronger as an industry.  

“We need more women to join this industry, and hopefully, we’re doing our bit at McConnel Dowell to achieve that. 

“Our purpose as an organisation is providing a better life. And that extends to not only the staff that we have working for us at the moment, but also opening up the industry and our business to people that may not have traditionally had an opportunity to join this industry: providing more opportunities for people in our community to join up.” 

The company is sponsoring a breakfast focusing on women in rail at the AusRAIL Conference, but commitment goes far beyond just talk and breakfasts. 

“This is something we want to advocate for on behalf of the rail industry and supporting that is critical,” Mortimer said. 

“Actions speak louder than words. We actually demonstrate that we’re behind our goals, and not just being tokenistic and sponsoring things for the sake of it. 

“There are several current projects that are driving our objective of getting more diversity into rail and in construction in general.” 


One major program that McConnell Dowell has been leading is the Western Program Alliance (WPA), commissioned by Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Authority, to help remove crossings across the state, and build track duplications. The group includes ARUP and Mott Macdonald as design partners, and Metro Trains Melbourne and V/Line, as the network operators. 

“As lead contractor, we are proud that the senior Alliance Management Team (AMT), made up of 14 people, consists of seven females,” Mortimer said. 

“So we’ve got a diverse management team which brings a different way of thinking to that level of the project. We see the benefits of that filtering down throughout the whole of the group because we’ve got a different way of approaching things, and it’s actually a more rounded management structure and that brings different points of view to every decision made. 

“This also opens up opportunities for career advancement for all, with a number of the women going on to bigger challenges in the MCD business or moving up the ranks within WPA. 

“We’re certainly looking to promote and continue the development of women following the footsteps of those female senior leaders.” 

Mortimer said the company was trying to create an environment that drives inclusivity, and extending it to other areas perhaps not typically well represented in the rail industry. 

“When you talk about diversity, you’re measuring the differences between groups. When you talk about inclusivity, that means everyone is the same,” he said. 

“We want to get to a point where anyone can work here, as opposed to showing off statistics on the number of women or people of different ethnicities and sexualities.” 

Another shining example of women at work was MCD’s involvement in delivering early works on the ARTC Inland Rail Beveridge to Albury (B2A) line in Victoria. 

With a project target of 17 per cent female participation initially set, the team are currently sitting at a 23 per cent ratio (seven out of 30 staff). 

“We have fantastically talented women working hard and smashing it in construction,” Mortimer said. 

“This level of representation on the project speaks volumes; it tells you that you aren’t a quota hire, that your experience and expertise matters.  

“It tells you that McConnell Dowell knows and values the benefits of diversity and believes in that strongly enough to make sure they have the right team regardless of gender.  

“Having the opportunity to work with, learn from and mentor other women in an industry typically dominated by men is something you can’t put a price on.”

Kyle Mortimer and Harriet Christopherson.


Christopherson, an engineer with more than 15 years’ experience in delivering a wide range of rail and other infrastructure projects across Australia, is highly supportive of MCD’s integrated approach to wellness. A wellness strategy that sets out to improve workplace culture and encourage inclusivity and equality. 

“An integrated approach starts with leaders creating a psychologically and physically safe work environment as fundamental to every workplace. It then builds on traditional workplace improvement initiatives through the overall enhancement of working conditions most relevant to employee health, safety, and wellbeing,” she said.  

“We’ve got a real focus on leadership training to make the workplace a more inclusive and safer environment for everyone. 

“We’re really striving to increase our female participation through offering this much more supportive and inclusive environment, and focusing a lot on culture, making the workplace of more enjoyable place to be for everyone. 

“We want to create a culture in a workplace that encourages people to bring their true selves to work.” 

 Christopherson said construction was widely known to be close to the least progressive and innovative industry.. 

“There’s just been no major innovative progress in the construction industry for the past 50 years, and that’s because we’ve had the same sort of people doing projects the same way, with the same project roles or expertise,” she said. 

“And we’ve embedded this sort of if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it kind of mentality. 

“So we’re really trying to move out of that, we desperately need to change the way we’re doing things to open up new people to this sector. 

“There aren’t enough people in the country to deliver all the projects that are coming up, so we need to do things differently, and to do things differently, you need people with different ways of thinking. 

“We need to open up the industry and our business to people that may not have traditionally had an opportunity to join this industry; providing more opportunities for people in our community to come through the pipeline.” 

Having an inclusive workplace is also a powerful recruiting and retention tool as female millennials look for employers with a strong record on diversity and inclusion. 

And it has a positive impact on customers and the communities we work in, as they come from all walks of life. The more the make-up of an organisation reflects customers and communities, the more likely it is it will communicate effectively with them: the more likely we are to achieve a better final project outcome,” Christopherson said.  

“But while we want to encourage people from different sectors to join the construction industry, we don’t encourage them to do the job the same way we’ve been doing for the last 10 years. 

“We want to have new people come in and challenge the status-quo, for example, we can find ways of building railway lines faster, or bringing more technology into the way we do things. 

“This is where we can really benefit from the rapid growth of the sector, with people coming in from different industries, with different ways of looking at our problems and opportunities.” 

This feature first appeared here.

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