By Nick Jones
After catching up with Jenny Parker for a quick interview, it’s hard to find a single adjective to describe her. Passionate, enthusiastic, bubbly, gregarious, hard-working, pioneering, genuine, resolute, astute, compassionate – the potential list goes on!
Her accent is almost as tricky to figure out as the right adjective. Born in Zimbabwe, she moved to South Africa and worked in HR for a large mining company, before arriving on our shores.
“People are my thing; I’m fascinated by what makes them tick and how to get the best out of everyone.”
She found her feet in NZ with a construction recruitment agency, Building Recruitment, and made it her mission to head to sites and understand first-hand what was required for the roles she was trying to fill.
“On every job advert, I’d see 10-20 men apply and maybe only one woman. I was always interested in why this was the case.”
This led Jenny down the path to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). NAWIC is a voluntary, non-profit association of women who either work in the construction industry or for business organisations that provide services in the construction industry. Jenny set up the Auckland chapter for NAWIC in 2011, playing a lead role in growing the membership base exponentially.
“It became my biggest passion – I spent a lot of my free time doing site visits, going to meetings, talking with industry leaders, earning sponsorship support, and advocating for women in the industry.”
After eight years in recruitment here and navigating the uncertainty of being a single mother on commission-only, an interesting opportunity presented itself. One of her clients had an opening for an Architectural Consultant and asked Jenny if she would consider applying for the role.
“She told me, ‘You don’t have to know the technical stuff, but I want someone teachable with great people skills,’ so I applied!”
Jenny ended up getting the job and never looked back.
“I loved that role and was fortunate to be mentored by an incredible woman.”
The role incidentally introduced her to her current partner, Russell Clark, too.
Jenny was also evolving in the advocacy space, being elected as NAWIC President for four years, giving women in construction a greater voice through public speaking and meeting with industry leaders and government entities.
“There has been a generational shift. Women are more aware of the choices available, and there are more role models and visibility thanks to social media. If you can see her, you can be her.”
Cool initiatives like the BUILDhers house in Whenuapai are helping, too. BUILDhers is a New Zealand first and will see everything, from the architectural drawings right through to the final build and sale of the home, carried out by a team of more than 40 women.
“Every single aspect of build has been touched on by a female.”
Even though there has been incredible progress for women in construction and trades, Jenny said there’s still lots of work to do.
“I want people to look around and just see people, not gender. Things like skillset, knowledge, experience, and background should be all that matter.”
The COVID lockdown period brought another significant shift for the sociable Jenny, who was finding it hard in her consultancy role without the usual human interaction.
“My partner Russell surprised me one day. He said, ‘Jen, you love women in construction so much, why don’t you quit your job, pick up the tools, and be the physical embodiment of who you want to see in the industry?’”
Initially dismissive, Jenny came around to the idea and, in her mid-40s, started up her own ‘on the tools’ gig doing property maintenance, repairs, and landscaping work.
“It was a massive challenge that pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me great insights. Some people didn’t back me, some people didn’t understand, some people wanted to ‘speak to the man’ instead of me – I experienced the stigma firsthand.”
But she stuck at it and grew the business to employ staff; young women who were no longer interested in working in a sterile, office environment.
“All I asked for were team members who were good with people, had possie attitudes, enjoyed music [George FM], were happy to work indoors or outdoors, and had their full driver’s licence.”
While Jenny was having a ball onsite with her female crew, she also clocked the NAWIC honours list and joined the board of Women in Trades which focuses on women “in the trenches.” She had all the insights from her varied work experience, allowing her to “speak different languages” in her charitable endeavours.
Now, Jenny is the GM of Licensed Renovations, an Auckland home renovation company that prides itself on experience, transparency with in-house QS and fixed prices, and great client relationships.
So, does Jenny have any spare time for offsite activities? You betcha! She and Russell enjoy fishing and diving from their Haines Hunter – so much so that a boat shed is first on the to-do list for their dream home build in Onemana. She also volunteers as Manager for the NZ Roller Hockey Women’s team and was on her way to the airport to wish them luck for a competition in China after our catch-up.
Before she shot off, I had time for a parting question: If there was one piece of advice for a young woman considering a construction career, what would it be?
“Go for it; don’t think twice, don’t second guess yourself. Change that negative self-talk. Join entities like NAWIC because there’s a lot of support available. Men are our biggest champions, so we should find that incredibly encouraging and empowering.”