We had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Churchill, Fulton Hogan’s National Performance Manager. Kelly was awarded the 2022 IPWEA NZ Emerging Governance Scholarship to complete the Institute of Directors Company Directors Course valued at $10,000.
Based in Christchurch, Kelly ensures the roading and water contracts are performing at their best, throughout the entire lifecycle of infrastructure asset management. Her role harnesses both strategic and hands-on mahi. She guides great ideas into reality, by facilitating plans throughout the business, their clients, and subcontractors working in the field.
Who is Kelly Churchill?
First and foremost, I’m a mum of two little girls. Lexi the youngest is seven, and my eldest Poppy just turned 11. Lexi is a little warrior – when she was five, she said to me, “Mum, are you still going to be at Fulton Hogan, when I start working at Fulton Hogan?” – I said, you never know, Lexi! They don’t often get to see me at work. So, for the IPWEA NZ Excellence Awards Gala, I asked if they could come. My mum brought them along, and when they saw that I had won, they were so excited and super proud. At school, they wrote about it in their stories. When you love your work, your children love it too.
I think it’s important, especially for a single mother, to be a role model and empower your children. Show them that you can be independent. You can have a family and a good career. You don’t have to choose; you can have both. That’s always been my motivation.
When I left small-town Alexandra, I decided to go to university, because all my friends were going. I did six months of psychology, and thought, “Am I really going to be a psychologist?” I’m a practical person, so I changed to a surveying degree. Specifically, cadastral surveying – land surveying, and property definition. This degree had an engineering side, which I enjoyed more. But I had already changed my degree once, and I wanted to complete my qualification. So, I finished my degree and then did some summer work for Fulton Hogan.
Being a woman in the trades industry
After that summer, I applied for a job at another company, for a cadastral surveyor role. My interview was not a great experience – I didn’t feel I was being judged fairly. Funnily enough, another job came up in a goldmine, and I thought, “Well, that’s probably quite a good experience, I’ll just go and do that”. With the mines, you’re working in all weather extremes. I did 12-hour days of hard work. I did my best to fit in there. It was very male dominated. They even had a bet on me, to see how long I’d last! That made me really determined to prove myself.
This experience helped form my mindset early on in my career. “What would I tell my younger self?” A lot of women working in engineering and contracting feel they need to be “one of the boys”. I think that’s really sad because I’ve learned so much along the way about diversity of thought. We all bring something different. And if we’re trying to be someone else, how can we genuinely contribute our perspective? So, if I could go back 20 years, I wouldn’t try and be one of the boys, because I’m not a boy. And I’d not be afraid to offer my views.
Overall, I did enjoy the experience. But after 18 months or so I wasn’t feeling challenged, and I couldn’t see a future there for me. I wanted to do engineering design and they said “No, our engineers do that”. So, I moved on. I’d heard there was this consultancy that took on surveyors to do engineering. I contacted them. After two years in the goldmine, I changed jobs.
Being a mother with a thriving career
This is one of my passions. Hopefully, working mothers, and our daughters, will not be disadvantaged if we choose to have children. Still, now, women have the fear of losing their recognition, acknowledgement, and career momentum, when we take time off to have kids. Fulton Hogan is probably the most progressive environment that I’ve worked in.
They have provided me with opportunities to develop my skills, such as fieldwork in the regions, and technical work in our national teams. The fieldwork gave me an operational perspective. The national work enabled me to develop and use my key strengths in performance management, and future thinking.
Also, they have given me the flexibility to work around my children, ensuring I could be there for their school and extracurricular activities, and schedule travel around important events.
For my career, Fulton Hogan has guided me into opportunities I wouldn’t have recognised for myself, particularly given I work part-time. The focus on outputs, instead of inputs, is empowering. If everyone adopts this mindset, this will increase the diversity and strength of our workforce.
As an industry, we still have so much work to do. In fact, someone said to me, “You had to be a woman to win your award”. It’s not about the fact that I’m a woman. It’s about doing the work in our industry – going above and beyond. There’s still heaps that we can do to make positive change. Professional development opportunities, work-life flexibility, and an outputs mindset needs to become business as usual.
When I speak to other mothers, I sense my experience is not as common as it should be. We are seeing some policy changes to attract mothers back into work. However, it would be great to see how we can make this BAU in our operational workforce, so that our careers are not impacted by motherhood. Diversity is a superpower, and if we constrain the environment for certain people, we are limiting our ability to deliver solutions for our diverse communities.
Thanks for the solid insight, Kelly!
With the IPWEA NZ Emerging Governance Scholarship, Kelly will be completing the Institute of Directors Company Directors Course, valued at $10,000.