The construction industry is notorious for being a male dominated one, where language is rough and the jokes, sometimes, rougher.
But the “Red Q girls” of AirAsia aren’t intimidated. They put on their hard hats and boots and march down to construction sites and command the respect of the men because, well, girls can do anything.
“Yes, the construction field is dominated by men but we are proving that we can do it too. We have girl power,” says Siti Nur Naqiah Abdullah, a senior executive at AirAsia Bhd.
Siti and her colleagues – Shahrina Aman Shah, Lee Li Wei and Noorzaini Mokhtar – are with AirAsia’s Infrastructure Development department and are in charge of the low-cost carrier’s many infrastructure projects. Their job has them routinely dealing with contractors and liaising with the airport authority, Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad, for the necessary approvals they need to carry our their projects.
One of the early projects they worked on was the construction of RedQ, the airline’s new headquarters in Sepang, which was completed late last year. That’s why they are now known as the RedQ girls.
“There are five of us and our boss, who is a man. And we recently got another colleague who is a male too. But it’s girl power in our department!” says Noorzaini, 29, who has a degree in quantity surveying.
The most challenging part of her job, initially, was commanding respect from the contractors – all male – who were working on their projects.
“They didn’t really take us seriously at first. We had to show them that we knew what we were talking about. When they saw that we did speak their language, they responded to us differently. They began to show us respect.”
The rest of the girls quickly clarify that “speaking their language” doesn’t mean that they charged the construction sites or attempted to be “one of the guys”.
“We were not rough and we didn’t talk loudly or anything like that. We were ourselves but we were firm and we made sure that they knew we are competent at our jobs. Of course, sometimes we play to our advantage too. Some contractors tend to be kinder to us because we are women and that’s fine too. We will use that to our advantage too,” says Lee, with a laugh.
Department manager Shahrina says that she has a lot of respect for her younger colleagues who never let fear get in the way of getting their job done.
“I really take my hat off to them. They can hold their own with the contractors and believe me, they can be brutal,” says Shahrina who has been with Air Asia since 2004.
Internally, the RedQ girls work with the airline’s branding team and their interior designers to make sure that the ideas that are conceptualised on paper actually materialise according to plan.
“We don’t just learn how to deal with the contractors on site, we learn how to communicate with our senior management too. We need to understand what they want and translate it to the (contractors on the) ground. And, we had to learn fast. On my third week on the job, I had to attend a senior management meeting on my own. I had to think on my feet and learn … quickly,” recalls Lee.
The new six story office complex is built on an “open space” concept where no one – not even their big boss, AirAsia’s Group CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandez – has their own office.
The open space houses the airline’s 44 departments as well as cool facilities like a clinic, a gym, a convenience store, a salad bar, nursing rooms and more.
The meeting rooms or “pods” are see-through with their glass walls and each one is decorated to represent Air Asia’s different destinations.
“This office reflects AirAsia’s identity – elements of play, fun, family and our all-star family,” says Siti adding that the heart of the building is the huge atrium in the centre of the headquarters where “everything happens”.
Shahrina says that opportunities for women abound in AirAsia.
The caveat is that employees have to be willing to learn and be open to new challenges thrown their way.
“I started in flight operations and joined this department 10 years ago. It was a challenge then but you have to learn to swim and you have to learn fast. Of course it is challenging but challenges are everywhere, in every job,” says Shahrina.
The girls admit that they derive inspiration from within – from their CEO Aireen Omar who has shown them, by example, that #girlscandoanything is more than a campaign hastag but a reality.
“Our CEO Aireen Omar is truly inspiring. She shows us daily that women can do anything. That’s where our girl power comes from,” says Siti while the others nod in agreement.