In her own words
At school in the UK, I didn’t really have a view of how I was going to navigate my career. Most of the first steps were determined on the go. I wanted to go to university so I completed an economics honours degree without a clear idea of where this would take me.
During my university holidays I worked for an engineering business expanding into America. When I graduated, I asked if I could go to America and help. They agreed, despite there being no particular role, and that is how I kicked off my career, initially writing computer programs.
And then again, my next step was determined on the go, as I was invited to move into marketing. I then progressed into roles in strategy, business development, and mergers and acquisitions. I was involved in major strategic resets and transformational projects as well as work winning. When completing one strategic reset, the CEO said ‘I want a completely different and strategic approach to my People function, will you take that on?’ – another pivot to my career path. So for two-and-a-half years I was a Chief People Officer. In considering this role, I was excited and saw the massive advantage of anchoring back to the strategic value drivers of the organisation. It was fascinating and very focusing.
All these roles and experience led me to where I am today, the Chief Strategy Officer in a company delivering a variety of transport related infrastructure including roads, bridges, tunnels, rail, trams, buses, and over-station developments – providing major transport solutions that shape and reshape our cities and towns.
Transport across Australia transforms the way we access our cities and towns and can change what you previously thought was possible. It’s about building equity across communities. You can particularly see this transformation occurring in Western Sydney at the moment and the impact on the community’s economic and social environment.
If you are working on a project, often in partnership with government, that cuts people’s train journey to work each day by 20 minutes, you are transforming lives. It is extremely rewarding to be part of solutions to these complex transport and community issues. The long term legacy of infrastructure is so important.
Embedding and operationalising change
Transport projects represent an enormous part of construction activity nationally. And in construction we suffer one of the highest suicide rates for men and one of the lowest participation rates of women. There is no easy solution to this challenge.
I chair the Culture Committee for the ACA and work closely with the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce (CICT) on its Culture Standard. The Standard is built on the pillars of wellbeing, time for life, and diversity and inclusion, recognising change must occur in all three areas concurrently. What is extremely important to me is operationalising the culture aspirations of the industry and embedding these initiatives within our tenders, our projects, and our ways of working.
We know the issues we need to solve; the challenge is shifting the thinking and ways of doing things in the construction industry, entrenched during the last 100 years. There is a genuine appetite for change, and we are facing a massive skills shortage with a real need to attract more people to the industry. I am at a time in my career where I can turn my mind to working with great people across the industry to help solve how we drive the change we need. In fact, I am probably at the most rewarding time in my professional life.
The legacy of ‘how’
When we come into our industry as young people we are driven to be extremely output focused – it’s all about what you are delivering. There was a great moment in my career when a person reflected back that ‘yes what we do is really important, but it is actually how you do it that will give you the real career opportunities.’
That was truly a pivotal moment for me. I talk a lot to graduates and emerging leaders and always share this advice. I urge them to think about how they work, their footprint, their engagement and how they bring people along with them.
I also encourage people to consider the leaders they will be working for. One of the key contributors to where I am today is that I have had great leaders who stretched me, gave me problems to solve and amazing opportunities.
Actively look for those people who will let you get out of your swim lane.