An interview with Colleen May from May Construction

Bowens had the privilege of interviewing Colleen May, recent winner of the Margaret Hickey Award and General Manager of May Constructions.

Spanning a career of over 20 years, Colleen’s contribution to the construction industry has seen her involved in a variety of organisations and initiatives, including the HIA Building Women program, Chairperson of the Victorian Homeless Fund, and in 2008, Colleen was elected as the first female president of Housing Industry Australia.

How did you enter the construction industry?

In the early 2000s, I arrived in Melbourne armed with a Bachelor of Arts Degree and 20 years of business experience but none in construction. I had three young children at the time, and it was important to me that I had flexibility in my employment, which I found in construction. I brought a diverse range of business skills to May Constructions and redefined processes and drove the performance of the business.

You are the first woman to become the president of the HIA, what is it like working in a male-dominated industry?

I believe we all have something to offer, irrespective of someone’s gender. Unfortunately, ignorance and fear can sometimes motivate the actions of a few but my overwhelming experience in this industry has been of support. During my 20 years on the HIA Regional Executive Committee, I have often been the only woman, however, I have always been treated as an equal and I have been valued for my contribution.

“I believe we all have something to offer, irrespective of someone’s gender.”

What is the objective of the HIA Building Women Committee and what is your involvement?

Together with Fiona Nield, Executive Director of HIA Victoria, we identified the need for a specific program to support women in the industry. We gathered a small group of similarly motivated women and together we created HIA Building Women. The HIA Building Women initiative aims to create opportunities for women to connect across all levels of our industry and to foster an environment where female talent is nurtured and developed through education, mentoring support, and role modelling.

Could you tell us about the Victorian Homeless Fund (VHF) and your involvement as chairman?

The VHF was founded in 1987 and I have been its Chairperson for the past 10 years. We are a small group of professionals who donate time and expertise to relieve homelessness, particularly for women and children who are victims of family violence. The slide into homelessness is often very rapid, leaving people feeling lost, desperate and without hope. We aim to provide long-term stable homes so that families can get back on their feet, children can get back to school and the cycle of poverty can be broken.

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) has been our major supporter for over 30 years and it’s through the generosity of HIA members and suppliers that we are able to deliver our projects.

What do you see as the future of the construction industry?

The construction industry is facing many challenges including severe shortages of labour and materials. The industry will need to develop new technologies and work hard to educate a new generation of trades to ensure the industry can adapt. Increasing the participation of women in trades will make a significant difference in addressing the acute skills shortage in our industry. However, it’s not simply about training women in trades, we must also ensure that the culture within our working environment is safe and supportive for everyone.

“Increasing the participation of women in trades will make a significant difference in addressing the acute skills shortage in our industry.” 

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