Welcome to Building Better with CSR, a new podcast with Australia’s leading building supplier. This season we’re talking all about Australia’s favourite renovation show The Block.

Inspired by The Block’s first female tradie, Jenny, this week’s topic is about careers for women in building with guest Rebeka Morgan from BuildHer Collective. Rebeka is a registered builder with a degree in construction management and a master’s in entrepreneurship and innovation. She’s the founder of BuildHer Collective, which empowers women with the right tools to build the home of their dreams, or develop properties for profit.

Women in Construction

Rebeka says that she loves to talk about opportunities for women in construction. “There’s a surge in women getting involved in building and property,” she says. “It’s something we find very exciting.”

She says that while there still aren’t many female trades, there is a growing number of women in building and project management. “The one thing that we notice at BuildHer is that lots of women are organising their own home and renovations,” she says. “The lead is really taken by the woman in the family now, whether that’s because they’ve got a vested interest in creating the home of their dreams, or they have taken the role over from their partner. So it’s generally them organising the trades, the builders and the design, which is why we work with them and help them through that process.”

Work/life balance

Rebeka completed a degree in construction management, which led her into commercial project management, quantity surveying, then project managing.

However, she found it was hard to juggle a demanding job with family responsibilities. “I was a general manager of a commercial building company in my late 20s. And my boss sat me down one day, and he said very kindly, ‘you really need a house husband; you need someone to be at home with the kids, because this is a big job’. The expectations around the job were 7am to 7pm. And I promptly left. I see a lot of women in the commercial sector leaving in their 30s because it’s just not conducive to have a family, be around a building site, work those hours and give that time.”

Rebeka and her partner began some building projects on the side: buying, renovating and selling houses for profit. “At some point during that process, we were getting a lot of calls from people who were having problems with their builder or a problem with an architect or a designer and they were asking for help.”

“We realised that it wasn’t always on the builder, the architect or the designer where the problems originated. A lot of it was on the client side.”

Mark Thomason CSR

Educating homeowners

This was why she created BuildHer Collective, educating homeowners and renovators about the building process, knowing that for most people, building their own home is probably their biggest investment and asset. “And it has all the emotional burden of that, and more because they need to make the right decisions not for now, but for 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the track,” she says.

While there has been discussion lately that some women find the construction industry to be less friendly to females, Rebeka says that hasn’t been her experience.

She suggests that it is about communicating well and mutual respect. “What we find is that if you come to the process, and you are educated, and you know what you’re talking about, you are communicating in a way that’s positive.”

There are still builders and trades in the industry that maybe don’t think that women belong on a building site and won’t respect you. But if it’s your home and your project, it’s your job to hire a team, where you can communicate with them and understand what you’re going to get out of them from the outset.”

How The Block influences builders

Rebeka says that society often expects people to know what’s involved in building, but most of us are unaware of the process. “I think shows like The Block do perpetuate that, although I do think this season, where you’re seeing couples who are not coping, it brings to light how hard it is. I don’t think that it’s actually on those couples. It’s a really hard process, and they’re put under an immense amount of pressure.”

She adds that tradie couples such as Dylan and Jenny have a big advantage over newbies such as Ankur and Sharon.

“They know the process; they know the pathway,” she says. “They know even things like proportions. They’ve been in enough rooms to know which proportions are going to work well. They don’t have to learn what height you need to run the tiles to, or what height to fit the vanity off because they know that. I understand the trades are guiding them through the process, but there are so many little decisions.”

“It’s also very public, which is very challenging. I think people need to have sympathy that they don’t have that experience. But it’s also a good demonstration of why we need to learn the process. Just because we see people do it on The Block doesn’t mean that it’s realistic for all of us.”

Rebeka says that the design and building industry has gone through dramatic changes in recent years, and part of that is due to the influence of shows such as The Block.

“It has a huge following,” she says. “A few of the ex-contestants are good friends of mine – we work with them in the industry now and we know them. If we look at the design industry as a whole in the last 20 years, we’ve seen a massive change. Part of that’s social media and having access to finished products and projects, part of that is the technology and the materials coming out.”

“It means that people have more choice and more opportunity to create the home of their dreams. But also, they’ve got more access to different finishes. There’s huge variety in brickwork, for example. We now aspire to have a better home and to be able to renovate it and have it styled and beautiful. And I think shows like The Block are fantastic for that. They show what can be done, and allow people to build on their investment, because your home is an investment.”

The BuildHer Collective team is a big user of a variety of CSR products. “We use Gyprock plasterboard; it really is a key building material,” Rebeka says. “The PGH bricks are fantastic too – the range and the variety that you can get now – and you can do a lot with them. It’s about using these beautiful materials, but being really smart about how we use them.”

Rebeka is a big fan of Hebel, as well, because of its thermal mass.

“It’s a fantastic product in terms of its thermal properties and mass.” 

Sustainability in building

Sustainability is a big issue for construction and, like The Block in 2022, BuildHer Collective has been building to achieve a 7-star energy rating on recent projects. Rebeka says that 7-star ratings are currently above industry standard, but this is changing, with the industry expected to move to the higher rating soon.

She says a lot of designers need to get up to speed to ensure that homes have consider sustainability from the start, especially elements such as orientation, solar energy and insulation.

“The passive properties of a home are really important in terms of energy consumption,” she says, “and using products that have sustainable properties to them, such as Hebel and brickwork. We want our homes to perform better – what we’re trying to achieve is a home that functions well passively. And when I say passively, that means from wind and sun and not adding energy input. That’s going to benefit you down the track.”

Other trends that Rebeka is seeing relate to floorplans of new homes. “It’s incorporating the sustainability factors, of course, but it’s really about creating a space that’s more livable, and a footprint that works. We’re not wasting circulation space; we’re orienting our house better towards capturing the sun, creating better connections between the inside and outside, and using rooms like mudrooms and butler’s pantries a lot better. And now we’re seeing people have either flexible zones and spaces or at home offices, which wasn’t a thing a few years ago.”

Multi-generational living is also a consideration, she says.  “We are always trying to build in flexibility and utilise space as well as we possibly can. So that might mean having a master suite downstairs and upstairs. What we do see is when people build a home, they can make it very specific to themselves. We don’t know what our future brings. Sometimes it’s good to keep in mind the resale value and not overspend and make it so specific that you completely knock out anyone else’s ability to use it.”

About BuildHer Collective

BuildHer Collective was created to help women with building and renovating. They believe that with the right tools everyone can build. It’s all about encouraging women to take back control of the building process and achieve their dreams.

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