In her own words
I started as a graduate economist working in aviation and in the first 10 years of my public service career was involved in a variety of aviation activities – from assessing the impacts of deregulation on the domestic aviation market to working on the long-term leasing of our major airports, and the Environmental Impact Statement for a second Sydney airport. I was a Departmental Liaison Officer and then Aviation Adviser in the then Minister for Transport’s office before returning to the Department to the team that oversighted Airservices Australia and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
I then became involved in non-transport projects largely in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Department. When I came back in into the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications as Deputy Secretary for Transport my interests were broadened beyond the aviation space to incorporate road and rail. It was quite clear to me that there was a gender imbalance across the transport sector, and in aviation more particularly.
In aviation we are seeing some great examples of female Chief Executives and women senior leaders including a CEO of one of our major airlines. But it is not consistent across different sectors. It is clearly a work in progress.
I like to think the National Women in Transport initiative will shine a light on where gender diversity is happening and those programs that are building talent pipelines.
I also hope that National Women in Transport program will create a network where women feel they have people to talk with in a safe, supported way about those issues you deal with when you are in a male dominated industry. In a previous role in the Infrastructure Department, I was doing a lot of work in the commonwealth/state space and there were about four women all at the same level and we just ended up connecting in a very informal way and talking about navigating through issues. It does happen informally now but the more we can do to insert support mechanisms to facilitate this network forming and operating more formally, the better it will be. Diversity can bring us together.
In addition, if we can end up in a universe where at conferences we’ve got far better gender diversity when it comes to who is presenting on stage, that is success. Women leadership being seen is critical.
At the last Avalon Airshow, one of the things we were able to do as part of the Women in Aviation initiative was a roundtable with the Deputy Prime Minister and a cross section of people from across training, operations and leadership to identify what could make a difference to attracting more women to aviation and how to raise the profile of jobs in the industry more generally. We also discussed how to ignite the interest and excitement in school kids around aviation at an early age.
Highlighting some of the stories out there around the different experiences and backgrounds of women working in aviation is extremely important. It’s like me showing you can be an economist and work in aviation. When people think about the industry they typically think about the really tangible professions (such as pilots and air traffic controllers). They don’t consider the breadth of areas you can actually work in within the community.
The mantel of leadership
My advice to women coming into a senior leadership role in transport is to always remember you are a role model and consider those you might be able to mentor. Being a senior woman leader in transport, when we don’t have the numbers, comes with the responsibility of ensuring you are supporting those women entering the sector.
I think there is a real opportunity to build up a strong network across all the modes for support and mentoring and that is something we should all be thinking about bringing to life.
Another big piece of advice – and it has taken me a while to adopt this myself – is to back yourself. If you asked me even three years ago if I would even apply to be in the job I am in today, I would have said ‘don’t be ridiculous, I’m not a pilot, people won’t take me seriously.’ When the job came up, I thought if I am serious about saying we need to do more about promoting women in transport I have to have a red hot go at getting this job because it will send an important signal of what you can do. The other side of it is - I am loving it!
It’s a great community to be involved in.