The Canterbury re-build has brought calls for more women to get involved in traditional male industries. Facing a shortage of skilled labour, the government and re-build agencies are pushing the line you "don't have to be a big, tough Irishman" to play a role in Christchurch, noting engineers and project managers are as vital as hammers and hard hats.

But Kiwi women are already making inroads into traditionally "blokey" industries. In New Zealand's mid-market (companies which turn over between $2m-$50m a year and employ about a third of all New Zealanders) , women are taking up leadership roles in construction, engineering and forestry businesses.
Carol Caldwell, for example, is Director of Christchurch-based fire engineering firm Enlightened Solutions. A highly experienced fire engineer, Caldwell established the consultancy in 2004.

Enlightened Solutions ensures new buildings are compliant with the building code fire regulations and helps owners refurbishing buildings to obtain council consents.

"Occasionally we get involved where somebody wants to put in more fire protection - in art galleries, for example, or heritage buildings."

Caldwell wants to see more women entering traditional male industries such as engineering, arguing they bring different strengths.

"As a general rule women are more open to communication and exploring other options. It doesn't mean there aren't men who aren't great communicators but having women as part of a team is important, I think. From my perspective, for example, I love it when a client is able to be fully involved in the discussion. To me, it's important but it doesn't always happen in design."

Melissa Savage says she encountered scepticism as a woman leading a firm in the construction industry. Business Manager for innovative Huntly-based modular building firm Metrapanel, Savage leads the business and financial direction of the firm, while co-owner and husband Andrew handles operations.

"In a man's industry, I've had to earn credibility," says Savage, whose background was in the banking industry. "It's taken a few years for them to have full confidence but I think they can see the value now. Women are better at crossing the 'ts', doing the forward planning and the detail work; you need that to grow a business."

Metrapanel was founded in 1994 by her father Les Wykes who later sold to Fletchers who subsequently sold it on. Since the Savages bought the firm in 2007, they've doubled revenues, a result she attributes to sticking to the business plan, along with a surge in enthusiasm for prefabrication systems among builders.
"People are looking for better, faster, smarter, more economical ways of doing things."

Karen Forbes is a rarity as a woman co-running a log transport business. In partnership with husband Alan, she operates central North Island outfit Alan Forbes Transport Ltd, with a particular focus on managing health and safety.

She believes women bring a different perspective to the log transport industry. "One example is the emphasis we place on the role of family in allowing our guys to do their job safely and well. I think women see that side of it, and understand it a little better, than men."

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