NO APOLOGIES FOR BEING A WOMAN IN THE CONSTRUCTION AND ENGINEERING SOFTWARE INDUSTRY
Julie Burchell is an estimating software product owner at RIB, which supplies specialised software solutions to the construction and engineering industry in South Africa and over 50 countries globally. She brings her own perspective to being a woman in a male-dominated field.
Burchell says RIB launched a fully cloud-based estimating product within a few weeks during the country’s hard lockdown. “The product has been five years in the making and my role is to manage it, enable its features and plan what comes next. To do this, I need to work closely with a diverse team of people and engage with all stakeholders.”
She says the Covid-19 pandemic has proved the necessity of her product for the industry. “Not only has the pandemic highlighted just how important cloud-based solutions are, it has also underlined the importance of a proper internet connection. I am not sure how South Africa would have coped if this had happened a year ago.”
While she has been in her current role for just over a year, she joined RIB as a business analyst in 2017. “When the product owner opportunity arose, I saw it as the perfect fit for me. I had spent a lot of time talking to subject matter experts that work in the construction industry, which gave me deep insight into their day-to-day realities and what they need to operate efficiently.”
Considering her role in a largely male-dominated industry, Burchell says she was part of a handful of female students to study Information Systems (IS) at the University of Cape Town (1997 to 2000). “From a technical or development point of view, there are very few female developers around. Happily, I work for a company that is making great efforts to employ women in critical technical roles.”
With the focus on Women’s Month, Burchell makes no apology for being wired differently to men and believes as a woman, she brings many attributes and strengths to the workplace environment.
“Firstly, women are masters of time management and multitasking. It seems to come naturally to us. Secondly, we have an eye for detail. RIB employs a female tester who is incredibly thorough at her job – this is invaluable from a quality assurance perspective.
“Thirdly (and on the softer side of things), we communicate well – verbally and at understanding unwritten cues and behavior. We have empathy and compassion for other team members and are highly attuned to what is happening around us, which contributes positively to successful team collaboration,” she adds.
Finally, Burchell says women bring higher EQ to the work environment. “We are better at swallowing our pride, not worrying about what others think, being authentically ourselves and working as team players.”
Burchell is heavily reliant on her team to deliver results. “I need to have good relationships with every team member. The typical developer is a very interesting character and it takes time and experience to know how to communicate and work with each individual. Being a good listener plays a key role in this.”
On achieving work-life balance, Burchell explains how Covid-19 has shifted the goalposts and brought unique challenges to her role at RIB. “I am a 40-plus mother of two small children. My daughter is 14 months old and the past years have been tough for me – physically and mentally. To achieve some kind of balance in my life – especially as a self-confessed workhorse – I try to exercise and spend quality time with my children and husband.
“Prior to the lockdown, I started work at 6am to be able to spend some quality time with my family. Covid-19 has meant I can work from home and find moments in my workday to take a break with my children or do some exercise. I also save a lot of time not having to drive to work. That has helped get through the stress of a heavy workload and long to-do lists.”
On the flip side, Burchell has a lot more on her plate from a domestic chore point of view, even though her husband is highly supportive and hands-on. “I am getting better at asking for help. While I am a product owner, I continue to fulfill the business analyst role and there is a lot to be done in a 24-hour day – life is a constant juggle of work and home life.”
She says not being afraid to ask for help – from family members and colleagues – has been liberating. “I don’t think it is wise for anyone to pretend things are okay when they are not. I believe transparency and open communication channels are important and promote healthier and more productive teams.”
She would like to see corporate South Africa listening to women and being more open to them in the workforce. “The corporate world should be encouraging innovation and autonomy in the workplace and promoting ongoing learning, be it on the job, through cross-training, via certifications or by attending roadshows and conferences.
“In addition, it would be great to see men encouraged to take parental leave. Why should it always fall to the women to take leave when the children get sick?”
Her advice to young women entering the workplace: show respect, listen and learn from others. Believe in yourself and strive to add value in everything you do.