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Episode 2 Leading with resilience. Staying true to your core values and building a strong circle of influence with Jennifer Gillett

By November 28, 2022No Comments

Jennifer Gillett is the current State General Manager for Essence Project Management in Queensland and has over twenty years of experience in property and construction, delivering major projects for a diverse range of organisations. With previous senior roles including time at the Australian Institute Of Project Management, the Property Council of Australia, and more recently, the National Association of Women in Construction, Jen is a driving force behind increasing female workforce participation and shifting cultural awareness in Australia. 

2:40 – Lauren welcomes Jen to the ‘Building Doors’ podcast and Jen shares how a pilgrimage to London in her early twenties helped to shape the foundations of her career back in Australia.

  • Jen was one of the first graduates – just one of twenty – to finish university with an Applied Science Human Movement degree, but a lack of opportunities meant that she also studied business to further herself. 
  • The year was 2001, and Jen made her way to London during the same week of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Despite global uncertainty, one of her earliest experiences in construction was capital works for Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport. 

4:23 With no real qualifications, Jen eventually returned to Australia and successfully pivoted into project management before receiving a reality check on what the workload involved. 

  • After a few years ‘piggybacking’ off a senior doing the rounds for commercial and retail fitouts for Suncorp Bank, Jen soon secured a new role as Capital Works Manager for BankWest – right before the Global Financial Crisis. 
  • Once the Commonwealth Bank purchased BankWest, Jen was on the move again, but this time to Brisbane for her first foray into the world of consultancy. Working with air, rail, and heavy retail, it was also the first time she was expected to work around the clock. 

6:25 Burnt out and at the edge of her limits, Jen booked herself in for a date with a career consultant. $500 later, her sabbatical ended once she had a game plan for work-life balance.

  • A lightbulb moment came for Jen once she realised that at 4:00pm at her new role with Queensland Rail, she was the only one still at work. Although she had finally gotten the work-life balance she was looking for, she found something else: a mentor. 
  • Her mentor, Paul McClain, then CEO of Queensland Rail, asked her what her five year plan looked like. It was the first time that Jen truly assessed how her personal goals aligned with her professional ones, with the latter normally taking up all the limelight. 

12:20 Lauren and Jen get into the nitty gritty of the stigma of getting emotional at work and why having a good cry in the CEO’s office might not be such a bad thing. 

  • Jen outlines her theory that by your late thirties, your brain starts to catch up with all of the personal stuff that you might have spent years burying – and that sooner or later, it will rear its head if you don’t deal with it. 
  • Lauren and Jen share their own experiences with starting a family while your career is taking off, why it’s a conundrum that thousands of women grapple with and how the pandemic has changed things for the better. 

17:26 Jen shares the realities of what being a working mother looks like for her, her personal tips on how she keeps it all together and why she believes more women should do the same. 

  • In a post pandemic world, Jen believes that the work-life balance afforded to us shouldn’t be an excuse when it comes to managing work. For Jen, planning ahead as much as possible helps to enforce boundaries and keep the balance. 
  • Jen says that “after school care is the only thing that keeps my career going” and believes it’s a key item that can help to improve workforce participation, particularly in the construction sector where the start times are earlier than the norm. 

24:45 During their mid thirties, many women have a work related crisis tied to the question “is this it for me”. Jen shares why she never had a five year plan and why it matters. 

  • Many women in their mid to late thirties are past entry level positions but may not yet be at the level where they want to be at work. As a result, they may feel stagnant or are hitting the virtual glass ceiling. 
  • Jen now sees that you need to have an end game to form a blueprint on how to get there and although females are typically the worst at putting themselves forward, identifying ‘gatekeepers’ is crucial for getting where you want to be. 

28:55 With three of her greatest passions being the building industry, rugby and diversity, Jen outlines how the links between these very different groups are applied in her work. 

  • Jen believes that basic equality is like cutting up a birthday cake at a family dinner. If you don’t cut the same sized slice for everyone, there will be a riot. Much like the cake, giving everyone at work the same portion should be a baseline. 
  • If she wasn’t already busy enough, Jen also holds advisory roles for Queensland Rugby Union. By watching the sport assemble the very best team through strategically capitalising on individual strengths to offset weaknesses, the same applies at work. 

38:10 Lauren quizzes Jen on what she wants to see change within the Queensland building industry by the time she retires. 

  • Instead of spending millions of dollars on programs linked to diversity inclusion, Jen dreams of a day when this concept is rendered obsolete and that money could instead go towards encouraging innovation. 
  • While Jen acknowledges that most work circumstances do have politics and bullying in them, she desperately wants to see this change, alongside the lack of flexibility that is seeing good people exit the industry seeking more family friendly opportunities. 

46:05 Lauren and Jen launch into the Rocket Round questions at the end of each ‘Building Doors’ episode and they cover Jen’s love of Mark Twain and why she’s such a fan of Christmas in summer. 

Successful people build doors, while unsuccessful people wait for one to be built for them. To say hello or express interest in a guest appearance on the ‘Building Doors Podcast’ get in touch with us at