Sarah’s 5 pillars of progress: Paving the way in construction

April 18, 2024
women in construction

Sarah Marshall is a truly exceptional leader. And it’s women leaders like her who are steering organizations and industries in new directions to create a better future for everyone.  

For Sarah, that’s through her current role as Executive General Manager – People, Safety and Sustainability with Fulton Hogan – and the work that she does through various Board positions within the broader construction industry. 

Whether you’re a woman considering a career in construction or a leader looking for some fresh inspiration, this career story could be just the thing to influence your path ahead! 

With more than 25 years’ experience in the construction sector, having worked in every State and Territory across Australia, Sarah has spearheaded countless initiatives for positive change and holds positions on numerous prestigious construction boards, committees, and councils.

As Sarah shares: “I’m passionate about sustainability, mental health support, improving leadership and career pathways, increasing female and Indigenous engagement, employment, and training – essentially, driving improvements in all areas of diversity.” Here are five pillars of progress Sarah has built from the ground up, paving the way for others to achieve success. 

1. Improving training and career development pathways 

No matter what your role or industry, clear pathways for learning, development, and accreditation can have a huge impact on your career trajectory. 

Sarah led the development of the Career Development Frameworks for all roles at Fulton Hogan Construction. These frameworks provide a clear and transparent process (particularly around promotions) that support Fulton Hogan’s people to map out and achieve their career goals. 

“They outline the necessary skills, experiences, and milestones required to progress. This improves not only the transparency, but the consistency in assessment of competency. The outcome is reduced unconscious bias in promotion decisions and helps women navigate their career trajectories more effectively.”

Fulton Hogan was the first construction company to align their internal career development program with industry accreditation Engineers Australia thanks to Sarah. 

women in construction

“It’s given us a way to recognize the professional capabilities of our engineers and provide them with a pathway to achieve an internationally recognized accreditation as Chartered Engineers. Over two years, 80% of our eligible engineers have achieved their Chartered status.” 

As Board Director of the Australian Constructors Association (ACA), Sarah has also helped establish Engineering learning and development guides in partnership with the ACA and Engineers Australia.


2. Advocating women’s advancement and development 

No doubt, women who receive support from leaders, mentors, and role models are empowered to achieve better outcomes. 

Sarah wears all three hats! 

In doing so, she’s made a real difference in women’s career advancement, pay equity, and leadership. The new employee benefits and workplace policies she’s implemented have benefitted men and women alike.  

“You reach a point in your career when it’s no longer about yourself. It’s about uplifting people around you so they can achieve their own goals. So, I’m always enthusiastic and supportive of new initiatives that lead to skill development and increasing diversity in construction,” she says. 

A few of her key initiatives at Fulton Hogan to afford women greater opportunities include:

  • Introducing new employee entitlements – that better support men and women and their families. 
  • Advocating participation in Construction Industry Culture Taskforce’s (CICT) Culture Standard working week – to improve time for life, affording team members more time to rest, pursue activities outside of work, and prioritize their mental health and well-being. 
  • Establishing a credentialing partnership with Engineers Australia – enabling women engineers to better structure and develop their careers. 
  • Establishing the company’s first REAL Leaders and REAL Mentoring Programs – courses for employees to develop critical career skills.  
  • Advocating for Fulton Hogan’s WORK180 accreditation – by raising company standards and commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion!
  • Implementing a robust five-year Mental Health Strategy – aimed at improving mental health not only for Fulton Hogan employees but also for the wider industry.

Discover why Fulton Hogan was awarded one of Australia’s Top101 workplaces for women.

Check out their employee benefits and policies. 

Of course, there’s more to be done. The industry average for women’s participation sits at 12%. But Fulton Hogan’s moving the needle – with participation currently sitting at 18%. Initiatives like Sarah’s are steadily making the construction industry more attractive, sustainable, and inclusive for women. 

3. Advocating for greater mental health and well-being support

Mental health in the construction industry has been an ongoing, silent problem. Sarah’s motivation to create positive change in this space is a personal one – having experienced its devastating impact first-hand in her family. 

In 2009, Sarah started an industry-first partnership with Beyondblue to tackle mental health issues in the construction industry. This was well before the time when business and people generally were comfortable to talk about mental health. 

Sarah has continued this work for many years and launched Fulton Hogan’s first five-year Mental Health Strategy in 2020 and chairs the National Mental Health Steer Co. 

“We’ve introduced Mental Health First Aid training and to date over 570 employees have received accredited Mental Health First Aid Training” says Sarah. “We have Mental Health First Aiders at every Fulton Hogan site and office location. Over 80% of our CEO’s and General Managers are also qualified Mental Health First Aiders.”

Fulton Hogan have also partnered with Black Dog Institute, the only medical research institute in Australia to investigate mental health across the lifespan, to help drive evidence-informed change in the construction industry. 

“If we’ve only saved one life, it’s all been worth it.” 

4. Supporting Indigenous representation and engagement

Sarah has a long history of fostering diversity, including developing a National Network of Skilling and Employment hubs – with the goal of attracting and training diverse groups, including long-term, unemployed women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, from all levels of ability. 

In every organization she’s been a part of, Sarah has led Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) agendas. That includes developing Fulton Hogan’s Innovate RAP and being an active member of the RAP Working Group. 

Clontarf photo

“Our commitment to reconciliation is demonstrated through our successful partnership with Clontarf – a not for profit that helps young men to attend school, finish Year 12 and enter employment, the direct employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within our business and a targeted approach to procurement of good and services from First Nations businesses.”

5. Putting social sustainability front and centre 

For leaders in the construction space, making a difference in company and industry outcomes comes down to one thing: improving outcomes for real people.  

With a background in sustainability that’s something Sarah has never lost sight of. 

“I’ve always reinforced the value of equity and workforce well-being by making social sustainability the core element in our goals. Whether it’s reinforcing connection with Indigenous leaders, supporting women through mentorship and leadership representation, designing strategy, or capacity-building – there’s one thing I believe. What’s good for individuals, is good for us all.” 

In truth, we could go on and on about Sarah! But perhaps we’ll leave you with her final thoughts.   

“Leadership is a privilege. It should never be taken for granted. And as leaders, we have an obligation to leave our company, industry, and more broadly the environment in which we live and work in a better place than we found it. 

“I truly believe this, and I will continue to make a difference for as long as I’m working, and beyond.” 

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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