Helen Awali helps to design new path for women

Enthusiasm, energy and a ‘can-do’ attitude have all contributed to Helen Awali’s success in the construction industry.

Just 18 months ago, Helen was appointed National Sales Manager for Fletcher Insulation, the first woman to hold that role in the organisation. And by progressing to this role, Helen has also become an outstanding example of the “Inspire Inclusion” campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2024.

Celebrated throughout the world on March 8 each year, International Women’s Day highlights the achievements of women, and seeks to improve women’s equality and gender parity.

As a woman occupying a managerial position in a male-dominated industry, Helen believes the status of women in such roles has improved to quite a large extent – but still has some way to go.

Diverse viewpoints

“Twenty years ago, it was a totally different story,” she said. “For example, it was not unknown for a man who found himself meeting with a female manager to ask if there was anyone more senior he could see. That’s when such women could find themselves thinking, ‘Just give me a go!’ Unfortunately, there are still times when women need to justify themselves in the workplace and overcome some unconscious bias.”

As a general rule, Helen has found an effective way to overcome such challenges is to ensure she is always “armed with information and knowledge” to enable her to deal with any workplace problems that arise.

“I feel that women bring a point of view to the workplace that complements men’s way of thinking, and this provides a diversity that we need,” she said.

Love of building shaped career

The career path followed by Helen has ensured she has the requisite information and knowledge to deliver such solutions.

“I always had a fascination for building, and I love learning and understanding how things fit together,” she said.

This led her to study architecture, resulting in exciting employment as a junior designer for modular buildings used at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and then to work as a design estimator. But much as she enjoyed this work, there was something missing.

“I didn’t want to just sit behind a desk, designing and drafting. I’m a people person,” she explained.

Combining this enjoyment of mixing with people with her love of the construction industry, Helen moved into marketing studies and obtained her MBA. She also founded and later exited a marketing agency to the architectural and design industry as well as a consultancy agency to help and mentor startups with their sales and marketing growth. She joined Fletcher Insulation in June 2021 as Regional Sales Manager (RSM) for NSW and Queensland, and was appointed National Sales Manager in August 2022.

It was a turbulent phase for the industry, with Helen joining Fletcher at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic was causing multiple problems, including a serious shortage of building supplies.

Personal challenge led to reward

The RSM position also presented a personal challenge for Helen, who was the first woman to occupy that position.

“All my predecessors were male, and my team was mainly male, with only one female,” she said.

Although challenging, the situation would also provide Helen with a particularly rewarding moment in her career.

“After six months in the role, I started to see a shift in morale with the team,” she said. “I could feel they recognised that I knew what I was doing, and now had confidence in me.”

Helen, a first generation Australian, attributes her strong work ethic to the example set by her parents, who always worked hard after emigrating from Lebanon around the early 1970s.

“I like to work. It gives me a good sense of purpose,” she said. “And I like to empower the people I work with. I have a fantastic team, and I’m always looking to give them a platform, an opportunity to shine and deliver.”