To celebrate International Women’s Day, TAFE Gippsland and AGL Loy Yang, alongside business partners, hosted the first-ever Gippsland Women in Industry Network Launch on Tuesday, March 5.

Strong women from across heavy industry congregated at the AGL Loy Yang Learning Centre to celebrate success, discuss challenges, and discuss the future.

The room was full of high-visibility plaid women, showcasing the growing female workforce in Gippsland.

The day was definitely seen as a celebration and an opportunity – many women caught up with old colleagues from old workplaces or took the time to make new connections across businesses.

The discussion was lively and articulate, as the experienced panellists shared their experiences in their respective workforces with the rest of the crowd.

Pepper Coles, Training and Development Coordinator at Loy Yang B, Alinta Energy, said when she started out in the industry, she felt as if people perceived her as nothing but a recruitment quota fulfilled.

“When I started at Yallourn, we came as the all-female recruitment – so there was a lot of stigma attached to that,” she said.

Having been a part of six female recruits, Ms Coles said she was fortunate she had her support base around her to navigate a male-dominated field.

“The expectation was almost that we were going to fail … but then on a personal level moving across to proving them wrong, working ourselves to the bone to prove that wrong – probably working harder than anyone else had to,” she added.

She told the room that she internalised the feeling that “you didn’t achieve the job on your merit; you achieved it because of your gender.”

“To me, I work harder to prove that wrong, but with that being said, that’s a lot to carry, so it’s about finding that balance – the biggest challenge I’ve faced,” she said.

Inspiring stories of women overcoming gender barriers filled the room as panellists discussed their careers.

For Siobhan Kinman, a fourth-year apprentice electrician at AGL Loy Yang, she loves the variety of jobs she gets to do onsite and the specialised skills she gets to learn in the industry.

“They’re hiring you because you’re right for the job and I think that’s something that needs to be pushed through to the new apprentices coming through … you are here because you earned it and you’re here because you’re meant to be here,” she said to the other women in the room.

Julia Heslop, Jeeralang Asset Leader at EnergyAustralia, took the time to share her challenges in a leadership role when her previous station overseas shut down. She explained the troubles she had trying to find her authentic self when leading many men into an uncertain future.

“What I really love is setting myself a challenge that’s going to be really, really hard, and striving to overcome all those barriers,” she said.

Linda Austin, the director of educational delivery at TAFE Gippsland, also addressed the crowd, regarding the many exciting opportunities training and development has provided for these skilled women and how she wishes to see more female representation in heavy industry.

Many women at the event remarked that it was a wonderful day and an opportunity to establish those integral networks and have those tough conversations to help women navigate a male-dominated industry.

The industry partners are considering making the networking event a reoccurring date on the calendar to help forge women’s equality.

Doctor Louise Mahler was the guest speaker for the event.

One of the leading body language and communication experts in the world, Dr Mahler engaged the audience – teaching the emerging leaders in the room skills to obtain that ‘Gravitas’ and remain confident, even in a male-dominated workplace. Attendees learnt the art of body language and how to master the handshake.

Tequa Plumbing & Civil’s Department Manager, Bernadette Dillon said the Tequa team thoroughly enjoyed the event.

“The day provided a practical approach with women in the field candidly talking about their experiences and successes,” she said.

“Louise, the keynote speaker, with her very lively demonstration, had the room engaging in practical situations. We all walked away feeling positive and confident on conducting ourselves in work meetings.”

Many guests remarked that they had never experienced such a positive day to celebrate women in the industry.

The team at AGL Loy Yang hopes to continue this networking event and facilitate ways to support women at work, not just on International Women’s Day, but every day of the year.