Almost five years since its inception, Australia’s most innovative and awarded mentoring program for women in male-dominated industries, the Australian Women in Resources Alliance (AWRA) e-Mentoring program, continues to break barriers for emerging female talent in the sector.
We talk with two participants – a mentor and a mentee – about their experiences with the program and gender in male-dominated industries more widely.
Heavy industries veteran facilitates female growth
WITH MORE than two decades’ experience, there are few people more familiar with the rapid changes to gender within the heavy industries than Jeff Fitch (pictured).
The Caterpillar District Manager began work within the industry in 1992, spending time in Canada and the United States before moving to Melbourne in 2012.
During his time with Caterpillar he’s held a variety of technical and management roles, and has witnessed significant change surrounding female involvement in the heavy industries.
He reflects on a time when the primary purpose of women in the sector was to hold secretarial and administrative positions, viewed as ‘typing aids’ to their male superiors. But this is now ‘a thing of the past’, says Jeff.
“I’ve seen that change tremendously, and it still needs to grow even further. I long for the day where we don’t need to ‘have a day’ in order to celebrate the role of women in our industry,” he says.
Caterpillar is dedicated to growing its female leadership population through creating diversity within every rank in the organisation. The company’s global success is perhaps best demonstrated by the appointment of a woman – Denise Johnson – as its group president.
At the local level, Jeff believes his capacity as a mentor with the AWRA e-Mentoring program will assist other women in achieving success.
His pairing with information technology specialist Sherry Woodhouse has seen him both pass on knowledge and provide invaluable male insights into gender and career matters.
“Sherry wasn’t looking for me to do her job,” Jeff says, praising Sherry’s work ethic.
“Being a mentor isn’t about having the answers, it’s about being willing to share our experiences, whether they turned out well or not.
“Literally all that I did was just unleash what was inside of her already.”
Jeff hopes the mentoring program will allow for young women to follow the leadership journeys experienced by other females who have ‘blazed the trail’ in this industry.
He emphasises the importance of providing support and guidance in accomplishing career goals, and providing encouragement through ‘reaching a hand out to the next female coming up’.
“And that’s ultimately what it’s going to take, is every single one of us reaching out to that next person and helping them take that next step in their journey,” he says.
Hard work best bet for bridging gender gap
SHERRY Woodhouse (pictured) had a decade of experience in the construction and consultancy sectors before she reached out through AWRA’s e-Mentoring Program for a fresh perspective on her career development.
Armed with a degree in information technology and post-graduate qualifications in Marketing, the Proposals Coordinator for construction firm Seymour Whyte Constructions is using the mentoring experience to push toward more strategic roles.
“I’ve been in the industry for a while and wanted some direction as to how I might be able to progress my career further,” Sherry says.
While a female mentor may have been the obvious choice, Sherry instead opted for a male mentor – Caterpillar’s Jeff Fitch – an experienced senior manager and mentor internally within Caterpillar who imparted his guidance and feedback through multiple sessions conducted interstate and over different time zones.
“Women will bring a certain perspective, but I was actually looking for a male perspective of how women are perceived in the construction industry,” she says.
“Jeff was able to, from a senior manager point of view, contribute to what he thought my career would look like.”
Sherry has found Jeff’s insights to be incredibly valuable and has found AWRA’s e-Mentoring Program a rewarding experience. She hopes to continue in the program as a mentee and one day, as a mentor herself.
“Mentoring is vitally important to everyone at any stages of their careers. It’s about more than merely seeking help and resolving issues,” she says.