Roads & Infrastructure hears from four women who are thriving in the civil infrastructure space with the support of their employer Rokon.

Rokon is one of Victoria’s largest civil contractors, but its growth has never come at the expense of family values.

It’s an approach that Managing Director Jim Thomas says has been key to the company’s success over the past 24 years – one strengthened by a diverse team and the breadth of life experience and expertise that brings.

“Our core values guide us in creating a workplace environment that values and respects all employees and supports their growth and development,” Thomas says.

“These values drive our commitment to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace where all employees’ unique perspectives and experiences are valued, which is to the benefit of both the company and the industry.”

“We believe in continuously striving towards a brighter future for all, where everyone feels valued and respected.”

Executive Director Steve Traicevski says a diverse workforce is crucial to the ongoing growth and strength of the infrastructure and construction sector.

“Diversity of experiences and ideas leads to better decision-making, increased innovation, and a more engaged and satisfied workforce,” he says.

“The industry has made some progress in increasing diversity, particularly in terms of increasing women’s representation – however, there’s still work to be done. Rokon is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion throughout our business, including in recruitment, training, professional development, and leadership opportunities.

Thomas says Rokon’s message to women considering a career in construction is simply to seize the opportunities that exist.

“This field is changing and offering increasing opportunities for women,” he says. “And at Rokon, we are dedicated to fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace where everyone can reach their full potential.”

Rokon Plant Operator Elizabeth Prestipino.
Rokon Plant Operator Elizabeth Prestipino.

Building careers

While for some it may still evoke images of steel-cap boots, high-vis gear, and yellow machinery, the modern civil construction sector presents opportunities for a wide range of people from all walks of life.

In search of change, Elizabeth Prestipino pivoted from a 20-year career in retail management to a Plant Operator role at Rokon.

“I was drawn to the civil construction industry because of my love for the outdoors and a willingness to try something new,” she says. “Additionally, I have always been told that I have strong driving skills, so I decided to give civil construction a go – and I love it.”

Site Safety Coordinator Claire Bourdon had always had an interest in construction, but had originally not considered it as a potential career path. 

“My journey began through a friend, who introduced me to the industry, and I fell in love with it,” she says. “From then on, I continued to build my skills and knowledge, eventually making it my full-time profession.”

Others, such as Graduate Engineer Maryam Khan and Project Manager Eva Nardo, came to the sector from the engineering side.

“My career in the civil construction industry was driven by my desire to make a positive impact on society,” Khan says. “As well as to experience a sense of accomplishment from working on projects that require hard work and dedication.”

Nardo’s career was a natural progression of her interests and studies.

“I was always fascinated by the process of designing, building, and maintaining infrastructure that are essential for the functioning of society,” she says. “I wanted to be a part of the team that brings projects to life and makes a positive impact on the community. 

“After completing my university education in civil engineering, I was eager to apply my knowledge and skills in the field. I was particularly interested in working on the contractor side, where I could be involved in the practical aspects of construction and make a hands-on contribution.”

All four women agree that Rokon’s strong foundation of values has been central to their experience.

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“Rokon has been incredibly supportive, fostering a family-oriented and supportive work environment with opportunities for training and career growth,” Khan says. “The company values diversity and equality, treating everyone with respect and valuing their ideas.”

Prestipino adds that positive values and culture have been a great support, particularly early on in her career. 

“Rokon is committed to the well-being and safety of its employees, which was especially important for me as a new member of the industry,” she says. “Everyone is supportive, encouraging, and helpful, which makes it a fantastic place to work.”

Nardo, in her three years with the company, has also made the most of Rokon’s focus on professional development.

“This supportive culture has been a great source of motivation for me in my role as Project Engineer,” she says. “I was able to work with a team of talented and supportive individuals who encouraged me to continuously develop my skills and grow in my role. 

“Over time, I was able to progress from Project Engineer to Project Manager, and I attribute my success to the support I’ve received from my colleagues and the company’s management team.”

Building change

Nardo says there’s been a noticeable change in the industry’s attitude towards diversity in recent years, and has seen this reflected in an increase in female engineers and other diverse professionals entering the industry. 

“It’s a positive step forward in breaking down the stereotypes and biases that have traditionally held women back from pursuing careers in the industry,” she says.

Rokon Site Safety Coordinator Claire Bourdon.
Rokon Site Safety Coordinator Claire Bourdon.

Bourdon says Rokon is proud to be at the forefront of this change.

“The industry has been making significant progress in its attitude towards diversity, particularly when it comes to women,” she says. “The whole industry is starting to recognise the value that women bring to the workplace, and the importance of promoting a more diverse and inclusive work environment.”

Khan acknowledges that things are trending in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.

“While the industry’s attitude towards diversity has seen some improvement in recent years, it’s still a male dominated industry,” she says. “Positive changes are being made, but it’s a gradual process.”

Despite this, Nardo says that for women considering a career in construction, there is no reason to be hesitant.

“The industry is actively seeking diversity and is open to new perspectives and ideas,” she says. “Women bring unique skills and perspectives to the table and are an important part of building a more inclusive and balanced workplace. 

“With the right education and training, women can make a valuable contribution to the industry and have a successful and rewarding career.”

For Bourdon, Rokon is just the right place for women to both start and progress their careers in civil infrastructure at all levels, from labouring to Senior Management.

“The company has shown its commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace – particularly with regard to increasing women’s representation in the industry,” she says. “It’s a very supportive environment where women can thrive and succeed.” 

“My advice is to maintain a positive attitude,” adds Prestipino. “Don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t feel inferior to your male colleagues. 

“If you have a passion for being outdoors and trying new things, the sky is the limit.”

Thomas says Rokon aims to engage the best talent available for any job in the business, regardless of gender.

“We are proud to have many talented women on our team who excel in various roles in the field and office,” he says. “In addition, our company is always open to expanding our team and welcoming individuals from diverse backgrounds.” 

This feature first appeared in Roads & Infrastructure.

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