Elouise Robinson and Alastair Brook connected through the Women in BIM (WIB) Mentor Scheme. By nurturing connections and creating opportunities for support, the scheme transcends conventional mentorship models. Over six to nine months, mentors don’t merely offer advice; they inspire and empower mentees to seize control of their goals and overcome challenges.
A chartered civil engineer, Elouise is currently an Information Manager at global engineering firm WSP. She started her career as an undergraduate at what is now Transport for New South Wales, before moving into design-side work at Arcadis. It was here that she volunteered to take on projects featuring a BIM scope of work, learning how to master federated models.
In 2018, keen to broaden her experience in the world of BIM, Elouise accepted a new role with Arcadis that saw her relocate to the United Kingdom. With the UK government having mandated the use of BIM six years earlier, Elouise had the opportunity to work on a raft of major road and rail projects, including High Speed Rail 2—currently the largest infrastructure project in Europe. By the beginning of 2022, home was calling, and Elouise returned to Australia.
“Having just returned from the UK, I was keen to expand my BIM network in Australia and establish meaningful connections with like-minded professionals. I was stepping into the next phase of my career, taking on digital engineering leadership roles. I really wanted some guidance from an experienced industry professional on how to handle this career transition,” said Elouise.
And so, Elouise applied for the WIB Mentor Scheme. WIB matched Elouise with Alastair Brook, Global General Manager ‑ Digital Engineering at DBM Vircon. Alastair has been with DBM Vircon since 2014, bringing extensive experience in construction, digital engineering, project management, and business management to his role.
A Perfect Match
According to Elouise, the pairing was perfect. “Women in BIM does a great job matching mentors and mentees. Both mentors and mentees submit an application and are then invited to a one-on-one interview. Women in BIM asks questions to determine what your objectives and priorities are for the mentorship, as well as more practical considerations, such as whether face-to-face meetings are important, or the gender of your mentor.”
“Some people may really want that female perspective. I wanted a mentor with digital engineering leadership experience, who could give me advice about the next steps in my career—that was the priority, not whether they were male or female. And so, Women in BIM matched me with Al. Everyone I told about the mentorship did a double take—a lot of people didn’t know that men can apply for the program.”
“Al gave me excellent advice. The fact is, there often aren’t people willing to volunteer as a mentor. Women aren’t necessarily looking for a female mentor. Everything I wanted in a mentor, Al more than fulfilled. Men should not be discouraged from applying for the scheme, or giving advice,” said Elouise.
Alastair admits he was unsure about applying as a mentor to begin with. “I was really hesitant to sign up at first. After all, it is Women in BIM. Would they even want me involved? But, the reality is, these types of programs always need more mentors.”
“As everyone knows, men are overrepresented in construction. As an industry, if we don’t support women, if industry leaders fail to help younger women build their confidence to take on leadership roles, then construction will continue to be male dominated. I can sponsor Women in BIM. I can mandate gender equality targets in my team. But if I want to see real change, real diversity, in the construction industry, then I need to lean in and provide tangible, practical support to organisations like Women in BIM,” said Alastair.
Bright Ideas Brought to Life
The Women in BIM mentorship can be highly structured, or it can be completely fluid. Participants set the boundaries themselves and work together to make sure everyone gets the most of out the program. To set participants up for success, Women in BIM acts like a safety net, providing help, support and resources along the way.
As Elouise explained, “Women in BIM gave us a timeframe of six months, from March to November, and recommended around six sessions. Once the program kicked off, we managed the process ourselves. While I’m based in Sydney, Alastair is in Perth. So most of our conversations were via Teams, although we did manage to meet in person twice.”
“Al was also really good at providing suggestions on books and articles to read and podcasts to listen to. He shared various tools and resources on subjects like change management, strengths and personality trait surveys. The material and recommendations Al provided were the perfect amount – enough that I was interested and engaged, yet not so much that I felt like it was homework.”
“Women in BIM also have a portal, and asked us to record our sessions, make notes about the outcome of each session,” said Elouise.
A Two-Way Street
Two-way mentorship, where both parties actively engage and learn from each other, fosters a fertile ground for mutual growth. The mentor gains fresh perspectives and insights, while the mentee benefits from the mentor’s wisdom and expertise. It was this reciprocity that helped Elouise and Alastair build such a fulfilling, impactful relationship.
As Elouise explained, “I think we were both really surprised at how much we both got out of the program. I went into the mentorship without any firm goals, other than to expand my network and get a bit of career advice. What I actually got, from the very first meeting, was an experienced industry leader who was very open and happy to discuss not just surface issues, but much deeper topics. We covered subjects like work-life balance, and the challenges that come not just with a digital engineering role, but a career in construction.”
“Al was open about the challenges he was facing, which encouraged me to be more honest about my challenges. For me, the mentorship was not just a once-a-month phone call, it prompted me to reflect on my life, my career, and on what I needed going forward. It helped me determine what I wanted to change about my career path, as well as how to avoid burnout and manage stress and difficult leadership challenges.”
“The openness of our conversations prompted both of us to ask some hard questions of ourselves,” said Elouise.
Alastair could not have agreed more. “I know from having been paired with great mentors before that it is a two-way relationship. “A lot of the conversations El and I had were not about BIM. They were focused on challenges, roadblocks, and incidents in the workplace. I used my experience to give El a different perspective.”
“Like everyone, my role and career trajectory presents its own challenges, pressures and frustrations. Mentoring keeps me honest. It makes you reflect on your own actions and behaviours. Are you living up to the advice you’re doling out to your mentee in your own life?” said Alastair.
“I learnt a lot about myself. El was great at providing feedback. I was brought up by a strong female family unit, with a successful mother and two older sisters. I thought I understood the challenges face by women in gender equality. I thought I was respectful. So it was really eye opening for me to listen to El and some of her challenges – being the only female in the room, being spoken over by men, the intimidation that women encounter when they state their view. I walk into a meeting room and don’t even think about these types of challenges, which made me wonder whether I have been inadvertently creating negative environments or systems,” said Alastair.
“Through my studies I have been involved in structured mentoring schemes. While it was confronting at times, having a mentor can be extremely enlightening and exceptionally valuable, particularly if you have a growth mindset. Mentoring takes you out of the day-to-day, and focuses you on completely different skillsets, from how to deal with conflict and make better decisions, through to systems thinking. Mentoring can give you a completely different perspective on your role, your team, and on how to really thrive professionally.”
“By getting involved in the Women in BIM mentor program, I felt like I was giving back. I need forward movement – building a business, delivering a project, building other people’s runways and helping professionals in their career. I get a lot of enjoyment out of the mentoring process. It gives me a real sense of purpose,” said Alastair.
When asked what advice they have for others considering the Women in BIM Mentor Scheme, Alastair and Elouise couldn’t be clearer: get involved.
“If you’re hesitant about applying—don’t be. Whether you’re male or female, have plenty of experience or none at all, Women in BIM will do a fantastic job of pairing you with the right person. If you have any hesitations, just talk to the Women in BIM team,” said Elouise.
Alastair offered similar advice. “Ask yourself: are you a manager or a leader? Regardless of where you are on your career trajectory, it’s likely that there is someone more junior wanting you to guide them, to show them the way. So why not formalise the relationship? Why not give mentoring a try? You don’t need to be a CEO or a senior executive to be a mentor—junior modellers can mentor cadets. There is a misconception that you have to be ‘someone’ to be a mentor. This makes people think that they are not worthy—but everyone has their experience, their story, their own unique perspective to share. Apply for schemes like that of Women in BIM,” said Alastair.