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Forging new pathways with Coffey Testing

Coffey Testing has more than 60 years’ experience in aggregates and concrete testing.

Using her own industry insight, Dawn Watt is helping to forge new paths and opportunities as part of her role as Chief Executive Officer and Director at Coffey Testing.

Dawn Watt is a trailblazer within an industry that is one of the single most male-dominated sectors nationally.

Presenting at the recent Women and Construction breakfast for the Queensland Major Contractors Association, Watt described her journey, as well as the defining moments that made her into the leader and woman that she is today.

In her position at Coffey Testing, Watt is aiming to ensure that meaningful change can lead to more opportunities and greater diversity within construction.

Foundational experiences 

Born in Canada, Watt grew up in a regional town of just 700 people. As she recalls, the example set by her mother played a large role in her foundational years.

“It meant learning how to change a tyre or changing the oil in my car. It also meant taking some responsibility for the household and my younger brother whilst my mother pursued her career as a Chemical Engineering Technologist, working in oilfields in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico,” she says.

“I didn’t realise it then, but she would be my first female role model.”

Despite having an early passion for science, Watt’s first exposure to the industry came in 1996 when she began working as a Construction Materials Technician. 

Even though she was one of the few women in concrete testing, Watt says she never considered herself to be different or in the minority. Instead, she rightfully saw herself as just another employee.

“I was one of the few females doing this work. However, I had never felt like being the only female made me different. I never considered myself a female tech. I just considered myself a tech,” she says.

Dawn Watt, Chief Executive Officer and Director at Coffey Testing.
Dawn Watt, Chief Executive Officer and Director at Coffey Testing.

Beginning abroad 

Watt’s journey in Australia began in 2001, when she started working for what was then Coffey Geosciences. 

She says the differences between Australia’s and Canada’s Construction Materials Testing industries was glaring, particularly when it came to the culture and working environment.

“They didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them, but I was going to make sure that I advocated for myself. I proudly described my successes over the past eight years, letting them see my passion and knowledge of the business and the construction industry,” she says.

“I boldly told them the way to increased profitability could only be done under my leadership. Unsolicited, I presented them with reports full of data to back up my claims.”


 

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After arriving in Australia in 2001 Watt had already accumulated 15 years worth of experience when Coffey Testing was bought. Six months after that she was appointed the role of CEO, making her the first female CEO in the Geotechnical and Civil Construction Material Testing industry in Australia. 

Three years later, in 2019 she also became an owner, following the company’s separation from Tetra Tech.

Watt now leads one of the nation’s largest construction materials testing services. The company has more than 60 years’ experience in aggregates and concrete testing, as well as 25 laboratories nationwide.

During this period Watt has overseen systematic change throughout the organisation to create a greater platform for female representation, even within her own team.

“As the owner and CEO of Coffey Testing, I have taken strides to improve gender diversity in my company. In 2003 I was the only female technician in the company,” she says.  

“As of today, Coffey Testing has 40 female lab employees, six of whom are in positions of management across 12 labs, and of my senior leadership team, 40 per cent are women.”

But she isn’t done yet, with an exciting future ahead for the company and the industry.

“It’s an extremely important industry to the economic health of Australia and I am so proud to be a part of it,” she says.

She says that for fellow females who are aspiring to enter or advance careers in the construction sector, the first step it to say yes.

“I had been told by my mother when I was younger, don’t say no, give everything a try,” she says.

“Believe in yourself, challenge yourself, seek to teach yourself, and conquer your fears by saying yes.”

And for the wider industry, the benefits are clear, she says.

“Men and women naturally have different points of view and approaches to problem solving that come from different life experiences. This can lead to creativity and innovation, something that many construction companies are looking for to increase productivity and efficiency,” she says.

“Equality in the workplace will be achieved when more women start applying for roles in every sector of the Construction industry.

“Employers, colleagues, spouses, the industry, and academic institutions need to be supportive of women striving to be employed in these exciting roles.” 

This article was originally published in the September edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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