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Canberra’s multi-million dollar woman

Catherine Carter

Next time you walk through the doors of the spectacular new entrance to the National Gallery of Australia, spare a thought for Fiona Doherty.

Fiona was the woman who crunched the numbers to provide ongoing cost advice for this multi-million-dollar, nation-building project.

Just last week, Fiona was named the Property Council’s ACT Professional of the Year for her outstanding contribution to Canberra.

Few people have the skills to set a realistic budget for a large-scale construction project, and even fewer women are involved in this sector, but that’s exactly how Fiona has spent her 27-year career.

She had her future as a vet mapped out until, aged 15, she was home sick and stumbled across a BBC program about a female quantity surveyor.

“Years later I remembered it as I was looking at career choices and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Fiona says her profession is sometimes misunderstood, and has friends ask if she is a “doorknob counter”.

“I get so much stick about my ‘boring’ job. But what is a main driver on most construction projects? Cost. And who is going to be the person that gives you expert advice in that area? A quantity surveyor.”

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Quantity surveyors are responsible for the cost management of any building project, managing everything from initial estimates through to advice on the selection of materials. The role is varied, but at its heart is a commitment to providing value for money while meeting the strict criteria outlined in Australia’s stringent building code.

The ACT President of the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (AIQS) and a director of Rider Levett Bucknall, Fiona says she recognised early that she needed to “hone my skills and stay focused” to progress her career. She’s traveled widely and worked on some amazing projects from Singapore to Samoa, and from Ethiopia to Doha.

“It’s taken a while, including three countries and three Australian cities, but I have found a place to call home in Canberra.”

Fiona’s profession, like many other parts of the industry, is not well represented by females, with women accounting for around 14 per cent of QS professionals.

“Leading by example gives other females in the industry role models in leadership positions,” she says.

“Currently the AIQS has three female chapter presidents representing New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT. Hopefully, our leadership and advocacy can attract more women into the profession, because there is nothing particularly blokey about providing strategic cost advice on multi-million-dollar projects.”

So, what are Fiona’s tips for other women looking to forge careers in non-traditional job roles?

“Don’t be restricted by stereotypes,” she says.

“Don’t listen to people around you saying it’s not an ‘appropriate’ career choice. If you want to be a carpenter – do it. If you want to be a quantity surveyor – do it. Seek out others you can look to as mentors, talk to them about their experiences and get advice.”

Fiona says her greatest satisfaction is being part of a team that is helping to build a better city.

“When I look around this city I can see projects that I have been involved in in some way. I might not be actually physically building something but it’s a great sense of achievement to be part of the team.

“To see the National Gallery of Australia’s southern entrance complete, and the extensions at the National Museum of Australia right there on the lake, is uplifting.

“And knowing that I have been involved in work at the Canberra Hospital, like the new Canberra Regional Cancer Centre, which is improving health outcomes for the community, is grounding.

“Canberra is at an exciting point in its history and to say ‘I did that’ on a project as we transform and grow gives me a sense of pride that I am now part of this city and community.”

Fiona, on behalf of this city, we salute you.


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now heads up Indigo Consulting Australia where she provides specialist business and communication advisory services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010, and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author

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