The number of women working in the New Zealand construction industry has doubled in the past 15 years, but like many industries, leadership roles tend to be held by men.
There’s a well-known, New Zealand-owned business of scale that is leading change and proudly supporting women into leadership roles in construction. G.J. Gardner Homes is New Zealand’s most successful home builder, having built over 10,000 homes here since 1997.
An international brand, the G.J. Gardner Homes Master Franchise in New Zealand is held by Ellie and Grant Porteous and 43% of people in their business are women. Furthermore, 16 of their 30 local franchises are jointly owned by women, who employ roughly 450 employees and contractors too.
“We’re proud of the fact that over half of our franchisees have women at decision-making level. They’ve earned their spots and are there on merit,” says Ellie, who is a mother to four girls, one of whom works in the business.
Ellie says the construction industry has come a long way in the 14 years she’s been at the G.J. Gardner helm with husband Grant.
“The industry has become more accepting of women in roles beyond the traditionally female-dominated sales and admin jobs. We have women estimators, draughtspersons, construction supervisors and contracts managers to name just a few,” says Ellie.
Ellie points out that she and Grant don’t deliberately employ women but choose based on talent.
“We choose the best people for the role and often that person happens to be a woman,” says Ellie.
She and Grant recognise talent and provide opportunities with leadership development programmes (LDPs) for any employee who shows promise, regardless of gender.
“For example, we send people on Outward Bound courses and really help people grow within our business,” Ellie says.
One such team-member is Shalimar Sudfelt, who owns the Whangarei G.J. Gardner Homes franchise with her husband.
“Shalimar worked with our head office in a receptionist/administrative capacity, put her hand up for training which progressed to entering our Leadership Development Program, and now she owns our Whangarei franchise,” says Ellie.
As a G.J Homes franchisee Shalimar has built over 100 homes and says being a woman in the industry still has its challenges.
“We have definitely come a long way, but the industry is still quite traditional in some ways,” says Shalimar.
An accountant by trade, Ellie stepped in to help husband Grant at G.J. Gardner Homes in 2004 when the accountant resigned just before Christmas. She was pregnant at the time and, once the baby arrived, Ellie brought her in to the office. As a working mum, Ellie knows flexibility is important and kids can often be found at G.J. Gardner Homes offices after 3pm.
“At the end of the day, we’re a family business and our success comes down to our people. ”