In conversation with

Portia Pitt

Portia brings nearly 25 years’ experience, in engineering and project management in the construction industry to her role as General Manager of Ventia’s Transport Australia business. Her unique combination of bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and environmental science ensures a sustainable approach to projects and outcomes for our clients.

Portia's chosen career has provided huge satisfaction, but also many challenges. She spoke to us about the experiences, and more importantly, the opportunities, of being a woman in male dominated industries. 


Q: Tell us about your role as General Manager Transport Australia?  

In just under two years at Ventia, it’s safe to say that I have thrown myself into the challenge – the role, the company, and most of all the people. I oversee an enthusiastic team of 500 people in the Transport Australia business unit and manage a portfolio of diverse projects across Australia – including operation and maintenance of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, Melbourne’s Eastlink, the Transurban network in Brisbane, civil projects in WA, and maintenance of key road networks throughout QLD, NSW and VIC. 

Whilst the projects are exciting, it’s the people who are the most memorable and rewarding part of the job.

I love working with people – it’s what I’m passionate about – to really understand them and their needs; whether it’s developing my own team, collaborating with clients, or focusing on diversity challenges. 

Portia and the Transport team visiting New Zealand after Cyclone Gabrielle.


Q: How would you describe your leadership style?  

My leadership style is both empathetic and collaborative. I’d also like to describe my style as strategic – someone who looks at the big picture. In all my roles I’ve worked directly with clients, and it has been critical to understand their needs, see things from their perspective, and balance with organisational needs to get the best outcome for everyone. These traits are part of my personality, but I’ve also developed them throughout my career. 


Q: Who inspired you to be a leader and why?  

When I was studying and throughout my career, there were minimal female leaders and role models in the construction industry. What I have had and am so grateful for, is many fantastic female peers along the way, and we have supported each other. We have similar lived experience and – both the highs and the lows. In hindsight I never actually set my sights on leadership, but rather went wherever my curiosity and interests led me. I also took opportunities as they presented themselves.


Q: What are the benefits of having women in leadership roles?  

The key benefit that I see is the diversity of thought it brings.

Women can often have a different way of thinking.

We also have the enormous opportunity and privilege to support women coming through the business, generally we have the lived experience and understand fundamentally the challenges of the work – life balance! I have two children, and my daughter has just started high school. Sometimes the logistics of getting everyone everywhere on time can be overwhelming! 


Q: What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?  

From an internal perspective – our own self-belief. Women naturally hold themselves back; we expect to be recognised for our achievements rather than putting ourselves forward and imposter syndrome can strike all too easily. From an external perspective – tradition. The mentality that there is a certain way to lead, to work, to communicate needs to be broken, when there are so many different ways. 


Q: How do we overcome barriers for women in the workplace?  

Support and innovate to create flexible work practices – for everyone, men and women. This is central to everything. Our ability to do a good job is not determined by how much time we spend in the office.

Portia on a site visit to a tunnel maintained by Ventia

Men also require flexible work practices to support and enable the women in their lives to work and succeed in their chosen roles.

This is how we shift the culture. We know we need to retain women in middle management to have women in senior management – this will only come from flexible work practices for everyone. I know I couldn’t do my role without the flexibility and work balance afforded to my husband by his company.


Q: What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?  

Back yourself, have confidence in yourself. It took me a while to have confidence in my abilities, strengths, and style. 

Portia joined the panel for the Australian Flexible Pavement Association (AfPA) SA's inaugural International Women's Day breakfast in Adelaide.


Q: Any advice for the next generation of female leaders?  

Embrace empathy and authenticity – it’s what makes you a better leader.

Challenge yourself – move outside your comfort zone, take that speaking engagement, say “yes” to taking risks. And finally, there will be good days and bad days, but you’ve got this. You can do it.