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Donna Howell, NAWIC president (far left) with this year’s winners of the Hays NAWIC Excellence Awards

Celebrating successful women in construction

Winners of the third annual Hays NAWIC Excellence Awards have been celebrated as trail-blazing role models for women in construction during a ceremony at the Aotea Centre in Auckland on 18 August.


NAWIC is the National Association for Women in Construction, and their annual Excellence Awards, sponsored by Hays, honour the outstanding achievements women are making in New Zealand’s construction industry. 

With 10% yearly growth rates predicted through to 2019 and 50,000 more construction workers required within the next five years, it makes sense to encourage more women to work in construction and to highlight career paths available in this exciting sector.

Professional women

A commitment to outstanding health care design combined with excellent leadership skills saw Rachael Rush of Klein win the Professional Woman of the Year Award. Rachael’s ability to understand the complex nature of New Zealand healthcare and her desire to constantly add value to each project makes her a fantastic role model for women in construction. The judges were impressed with the specialist skills Rachael has developed while finding her niche in architecture.

Verena Maeder from Solid Earth took out Tradeswoman of the Year for her cutting-edge approach to leading the only commercial earth building yard in New Zealand. As a 16-year-old exchange student, Swiss-born Verena visited a mud brick home in Nelson and it was, she says, “love at first sight” when she entered the house. After returning to Switzerland, Verena studied architecture and building ecology before returning to New Zealand in 2002 to purchase a mud brick operation.

Verena has worked with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to develop earth building standards, along with contributing to the development of an improved energy-efficient load-bearing mud brick.

Powerful contribution

Sian France of Beca won the Outstanding Achievement in Design Award. A technical director specialising in hydro-geology, Sian is noted for her work on the Waterview Connection project. She was involved in implementing a major design change that achieved a positive environmental outcome and significant cost savings for the project.

The judges were impressed by her strong leadership skills, coupled with well-researched decisions which deliver excellent results.

Described as “a quiet, yet powerful contributor and a strong advocate for women in construction”, Laura Clifford of Hawkins Construction won the Helen Tippett Award for actively promoting the participation of women in construction. 

Laura acts as a mentor to young women entering the industry through her enthusiastic contribution to He Toki ki te Rika, a Maori trade training scheme re-established after the earthquakes to ensure that Maori could play an active role in the Canterbury rebuild.

Rising stars

Steph McLeod of Stantec NZ and Vikki Stephens of Beca were joint winners of the new Rising Star Award which celebrates future leaders in construction.

After starting out as a project manager, Steph was promoted to commercial leader for water throughout New Zealand. Her outstanding business acumen and enthusiasm for construction give Steph the edge to succeed in her role.

The judges were impressed by Steph’s focus on effective communication as a key driver to delivering projects on time, while leading teams by example. Her desire to foster collaborative solutions to construction issues also made her stand out as a rising star.

A knowledgeable leader in the field of mechanical engineering, Vikki has made her mark while working on complex projects such as Wellington Airport’s control tower. Vikki is passionate about working with others to improve the built environment, and her cooperative approach, combined with excellent decision-making skills, has made her a popular team leader.

Service and student awards

The Excellence in Construction Services Award went to Sophie Lackey of Leighs Construction. Sophie has been instrumental in setting up effective policies and procedures as the company grew from 50 to 280 people. She aspires to be on the board of directors in the future and absolutely loves working in the construction industry.

Gillian Linton of Arvida won the Apprentice and Student Award (professional category) for her exceptional commitment to her role as an assistant construction project manager while studying towards a Bachelor of Construction at Massey University. 

Judges commented on her excellent organisation skills and methodical approach to problem solving, along with her generosity in sharing knowledge with fellow students.

Emily Sutton of City Care won the Apprentice and Student Award (trades category) for her outstanding work as an apprentice digger operator. When Emily joined City Care as a pre-apprentice she watched digger operators onsite and thought, “I want to do that”. She now operates diggers all over Christchurch and has achieved her dream. She is studying towards a Certificate in Civil Infrastructure Trades while volunteering as a firefighter in her free time.

A number of highly commended and special merit awards were also made.


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