Carla Purcell

Chief Operations Officer | Yarra Trams

  • Change agent
  • Diversity champion
  • Driving reform
Based in: VIC
Modes: Trams
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“When you are in a leadership role, you have a responsibility to prioritise the work that will make a genuine difference in the lives of those people who rely on you and stand up for what you believe in.”

Current Positions

  • Chief Operations Officer, Yarra Trams
  • Member, Women in Transport Steering Committee

Previous Positions

  • Director, Lines, Yarra Trams
  • Head of Sydney International Terminal, Qantas
  • Operations Manager, Sydney International Airport, Qantas
  • Industrial Relations Manager, Qantas
  • Employment & Industrial Relations Lawyer, Ashurst

Career snapshot 

Carla Purcell is Yarra Trams’ Chief Operations Officer and oversees the daily operation of the network and passenger experience of the world’s largest tram network. She leads a team of over 1,800 employees, including 1,400 tram drivers. 

Carla has driven significant improvements in safety, customer service, and disruption management at Yarra Trams. Carla has also led her team through an Enterprise Agreement negotiation as well as the COVID-19 pandemic which has had significant impacts on public transport operators across the world. 

Prior to joining Yarra Trams, Carla was an Industrial Relations Manager at Qantas before making the jump to the operational side of the business to serve as Qantas' Head of Sydney International Terminal, Qantas' flagship airport and the epicentre of Qantas' international network.

Carla is passionate about improving diversity and representation across all areas of operations at Yarra Trams and addressing the structural challenges that hold minority groups back in the business. She has advanced gender diversity through the introduction of part time work opportunities and a focus on facilities. Carla is also a member of the Women in Transport Steering Committee.

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In her own words 

As COO of Yarra Trams, I am responsible for the day-to-day operation of the world’s largest tram network which involves operating up to 500 trams and 5,500 services a day. I am also responsible for the end-to-end customer experience, timetable development and delivery, rostering and looking at the overall performance of our network and identifying areas where we can improve for the next day. I lead a team of over 1,850 employees in the Operations division, including more than 1,400 tram drivers. 

Earlier in my career, as a qualified lawyer, I had never considered a role in operations, but ever since I started working in this field, I haven’t looked back. Working in this role I feel like I am having a real impact on the lives of so many people, and that keeps me motivated every single day. This is from building a more diverse workforce that better reflects the city we serve, to improving the service we deliver to millions of Melburnians every single week. 

Eliminating barriers

To achieve a diverse workforce, you must firstly ensure people know about your industry, company, and job, feel confident that it’s something for them, and then actually put their names forward to be considered. 

Having people put their hands up to be considered for a job is easier said than done, and required some significant changes for us, and that’s why I’m proud to have been instrumental in the introduction of part time driver jobs. This has been a real differentiator for us. It has moved the dial. 

We knew that being able to offer part time employment would attract more women into the industry. However, this change to allow part-time driving roles required an Enterprise Agreement negotiation in 2019 and led to eight days of strikes by the unions. This was painful, but we fought incredibly hard for this, because it was a critical priority for the business, and we are starting to see the benefits in terms of our workforce. 

One of my favourite statistics is that 36% of Yarra Trams’ part time driver workforce is female compared with the overall driver workforce of female participation of 27%. We recently did a recruitment campaign for concurrent full time and part time roles. A total of 19% of full-time applicants were female, compared to 40% of part time applicants. 

Of course, I know that there’s still more for us to do as we continue building a diverse and inclusive workforce. This will include further investment in marketing and recruitment campaigns to attract applicants from every part of society, as well as significant investments in the infrastructure and safe facilities required to fully support every one of our employees. We’re still in the foothills and there’s a mountain yet to climb on diversity, but I’m committed to reaching the peak and leaving Yarra Trams better than when I found it.

Leading on the important 

When you are in a leadership position you have a responsibility to prioritise the work that will make a genuine difference in the lives of those people who rely on you and stand up for what you believe in.

Industrial action and enterprise agreement negotiations can be difficult. However, as an organisation we saw the importance of part time roles in creating a truly diverse workforce. It’s the same with the provision of safe driver facilities. We have been operating trams in Melbourne for such a long time, and while the issue is well known a solution but never been pushed until recently because women had historically been such a small part of the workforce.

There is always something urgent to do that can distract you, but you must do the important as well. The important things that will make long-term positive impacts on an organisation. 
 

 

My vision for the next five years is... 

…for the industry to be more inclusive than what it is today, and we see increased female representation across all levels including roles with profit and loss responsibility and key decision making.

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