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Take a leap - Deborah Graham

As part of pledging MADI to #100daysforchange by promoting women in non-traditional work roles, we’ll be championing women who are breaking down stereotypical barriers, leading the workforce and being agents for change.

Meet Deborah Graham!

Deborah is currently experiencing a complete career shift and is working as a Traffic Controller across Rail and Civil sites in Melbourne. She spent most of her career as a Financial Counsellor but made the shift to the construction industry earlier this year and hasn’t looked back!

Deb has such a positive outlook, is a great relationship builder and keen to share her journey with other women. I had the pleasure of interviewing her during her lunch break whilst on the job, and she happily answered my questions around her career and diversity so that the next generation can “be what they can see”.

What do you love about your chosen career?

The construction industry is really respectful! Of all the projects I’ve worked on, I have rarely come across creepy guys. The site inductions are all about respect, having a focus on mental health and bullying and being aware of the public and being courteous. This role has given me a new voice! I love being outside and on my feet all day as I’m sleeping better than I ever have and am so much healthier. I also love that I get to leave work at the end of the day and not take it home with me. A lot of women are doing this role now and come from diverse backgrounds – it’s really empowering.

How did you get to where you are today?

I was in community welfare for 15 years and spent the last 8 years as a financial counsellor. For the last 3 ½ years I was team leader across a program designed to assist gamblers with their finances. In addition to this, I was also running a volunteer no-interest loan program for individuals suffering financial hardship. I was passionate about the industry and sat on the peak industry board, worked across the financial ombudsman services and consulted to ASIC in regard to the systemic issues in the banking world in regard to people dealing with financial hardship. Unfortunately, I left this industry due to a significant incident and decided to do something completely different and challenge myself. My daughter then heard about Traffic Controller work and I investigated the opportunity and got this role!

What if any, diversity challenges have you encountered?

Unfortunately, I left the industry I was in as I was indecently assaulted by my manager and when I disclosed it 18 months later it was covered up. I kept pursuing the matter however and went to the HR team and he was eventually fired. This then led to workplace bullying by the GM until I left. I ended up having a complete break down as I was so disillusioned by the truth being covered up and the victim blaming in a small industry. Being a single mother, I wanted to be strong for my daughter and show her what empowerment looked like, so I switched to the construction industry.

What does your organisation do to promote diversity?

I have felt completely respected as a woman since joining the construction industry. I have had the opportunity to discuss with my manager how we can be more professional and change the perception of traffic controllers. My organisation is bringing in diverse, new people and has a focus on appropriate leadership which includes listening to staff issues and dealing with it.

What would you suggest to other women who want to follow in your footsteps?

Get your relevant qualifications which are not that expensive and usually just a one-day course. Get your ticket, white card and railway industries railway card, then ring all the traffic control companies – they’ll hire you! It’s a casual industry so you work your way up by doing a great job and you’ll get the hours. You need to be able to deal with ambiguity as you never know what site you’re going to and what your day might look like – but I enjoy this.

What’s next for you?

I see traffic controllers as the receptionist of construction. I love using my stakeholder skills, sharing positive communication and have a feeling of connectiveness by working with a team. I think my next step is perhaps a leadership role. I’m also looking to do my Cert III in Construction. I’d love to be working on the other side of the fence as a spotter or doing excavator work. I know one thing – I’m never going back into an office ever again!

Deb is living proof that it’s never too late to change industries and how important it is to focus on what really makes you happy in your career.

Thanks Deb xx

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