It’s not every day you see the following words grouped together; migrant, lesbian, construction – empowered. Meet Nelma; Senior Project Manager, CSR Limited. An assertive and confident woman, taking perceived gender ‘norms’ and insisting on being visible within a male dominated industry. We caught up with Nelma as part of our QIPs spotlight series to discuss her obsession with construction as a child, her secrets to confidence, and what barriers she overcame as a queer person within construction.
Q: Why did you choose to work within the property industry?
Like many I ended up here by chance, taking the right opportunity at the right time led me to property, but primarily my obsession with construction as a child, I guess blindly led me to where I am now
Q: What is the change that you’d like to see in the property and construction industry?
Diversity in different executive levels, diversity can lead to change
Q: How do you feel being a LGBTIQ+ person in the property industry?
I have always been proud but in the last 4-5 years I have seen the shift towards acceptance and have felt more comfortable ‘normalising’ my personal life at work, and I have worked with some major players that have LGBTIQ+ support networks and have been supportive such as Charter Hall and CBRE, so seeing that shift has been amazing.
Q: Have you had to overcome barriers or challenges in property? Generally or as a queer person
My barrier has primarily come from being a woman in the industry and trying to break through the ‘glass ceiling’ primarily working in the Industrial property sector. As a migrant woman it has been challenging, where the majority of people I have dealt with are men, and having to deal with some misogynist behaviour has been challenging, not difficult but challenging.
Q: Why do you think there is lower LGBTIQ+ representation within property and construction, than other industries?
The key is ‘representation’, as I believe there is plenty of LGBTIQ+ people working in the Industry but from my experience we didn’t want to be singled out because of who we are but rather let our skills speak for themselves, therefore we have tried to remain silent in an industry that voices strong traditions of ‘white macho man’ and some of us have being part of ‘the jokes’ and ‘light banter’ so it’s easier not to stand out which leads to the us not having major representation, but from what I see now things are changing.
Q: What advice would you provide to queers looking to enter the property industry?
Be confident and be assertive in your values, and never be afraid to stamp out bad behaviour and know that support is all around you.
Q: How would you improve engagement and increase representation of the LGBTIQ+ community in the industry?
You have to lead by example, I come from organisations that support the LGBTIQ+ community loudly and that has provided me with encouragement to continue that loud support, so I hope by creating and being part of a supportive network within my own organisation can lead to further change.
Q: If you feel comfortable, please share a story of your experience about coming out at work
As many of us coming out at work means coming out to everyone ALL the time, every time you start a new job, you have a new colleague and you have to come out again and again. I had horrible stories about telling someone that I was gay and they instantly making that connection to a sexual story and thinking that our identity is very much connected to sex, which for me is insulting as its much more than that, so when I started my latest job I decided to tell ‘normal’ stories about my life that gave them insight into my orientation, i.e. I would say ‘oh yeah my partner and I went to that restaurant because SHE likes that place, SHE and I went on this holiday’, I don’t feel the need to come out anymore.