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Celebrating International Women's Day 2022: Becoming a leader & representation

IWD 2022 Pt I Becoming a leader & representation

The theme of International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. Aimed at collectively shifting the balance towards equal rights, this year's theme is a powerful reminder that there is still work to do.

‘Women are underrepresented in key decision-making roles across almost all industries in the Australian workforce.’ - WGEA

Each year the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) publishes a Gender Equality Scorecard, based on a range of findings from the previous 12 months. It’s sobering to consider that despite making up over 50% of the workforce, women fill less than 20% of executive roles. Women comprise 32.5% of key management positions, 28.1% of directors and 14.6% of board chairs.

At PeopleIN we are proactively working to combat these statistics and as of IWD 2022 can proudly report that 60% of our leadership roles are held by women, with a total 67% of our workforce comprised of women.

To explore the 2022 theme a little deeper, we sat down with four of our female leaders who are thriving in traditionally male dominated industries. Erika Thompson, Operations Manager of AWX, Julie Kirk, People and Culture Director at Halcyon Knights, Ariella McQuinn, Division Head of Talent, Industrial and Specialist Services (ISS) and Catherine Rivard, General Manager at Timberwolf.

We discuss leadership, their career journey to date, female representation in the industrial, technology and agriculture spaces and how to break the bias in 2022.

Erika Thompson - Operations Manager of AWX

Erika started her career in recruitment while living in the UK and although lacking experience found herself working for a huge recruitment company. She worked her way up from consultancy to general manager.

‘The CEO was a woman. I had a lot of strong female mentors.’ - Erika Thompson

Erika says improving female representation is about ‘Supporting, mentoring, empowering.’

In 2007, when she joined a staffing provider in Queensland, it was a team of five guys. ‘I jumped onboard as the only female in Queensland and then it was about empowering the other ladies that came through the business as well.’

Flash forward to AWX, Erika says, "There’s a nice balance in terms of males and females. There's a lady that works alongside me - she started in reception. We identified the talent and she’s now account managing some of our major talent. It’s just making sure that for the people who come through, we are absolutely supporting and mentoring their journey and their career as well."

In 2021 Erika connected with her old manager and reflected on the role she had played 20 years earlier, ‘She was amazing, and I think that sort of started that for me.’

‘I’ve never thought of being a female in recruitment or being in a male-dominated industry. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had really good support all around me, throughout my career.’ - Erika Thompson, AWX.
Catherine Rivard - General Manager of Timberwolf

Catherine from Timberwolf planted trees back home in Canada during university holidays to pay for her course. She says she never meant to stay with tree-planting long-term - but upon migrating to Australia, "I did some project management and somehow ran into this little start-up."

That was in 2015. That ‘little start up’ was Timberwolf, now helmed by Catherine as General Manager.

In the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector women make up 36% of employees and 19% of managers.

"There’s not a lot of women in the industry. You have to work twice as hard to be respected. You have to be firm. You have to be strong-headed. People will be watching you more than if you were a bloke." - Catherine Rivard, Timberwolf

For Catherine, supervisors on site are more likely to be women. "We hire a lot of women. They have a different style of planting." Improving representation is also a matter of offering a different approach in the onsite work environments, which she says people need to get used to, "I tend to lead more with kindness."

Julie Kirk - People and Culture Director at Halcyon Knights

Early in her career Julie from Halcyon Knights was also looking to pay her university expenses for her Sports Science degree and took a role at an e-learning start-up. She became an assistant to the CEO and executive team. "I fell into HR by virtue that they were growing and needed someone."

Julie says male colleagues identified strengths in how she worked with people and advocated for her to take on the challenge of setting up a HR function for the growing business.

When she arrived at a career crossroads after over a decade working in tech in the UK, she says she "either had to go back into a UK focused-job or go bigger. I decided to go bigger and came to Australia in 2010."

Julie believes improvement in female representation can be best achieved through equal distribution of males and females across roles and "promoting better role models through what we do."

"Enabling women to access the industry faster and at source, is key from a technology standpoint."

Historic themes persist however, "the lower jobs tend to be held a lot more heavily more by women, and there are males still at the top - even though it’s still a primarily female function."

Ariella McQuinn - Head of Talent (ISS)

Ariella, Division Head of Talent in the Industrial and Specialist Services (ISS) worked on an ATSIC contract, as a leasing consultant and ran a junior civil construction desk early in her career.

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008/2009 triggered a career change "I got headhunted to go over to Workpac." She moved through sales, business development and following time off to have kids, returned to a new role in the internal talent acquisition team.

Ariella joined PeopleIN in 2021 as Head of Talent for ISS;

"My role has a huge influence on new staff coming on-board, so I'm definitely an advocate to increase awareness and to give females platforms throughout the recruitment process."

In conjunction with internal roles, she says it’s also important to consider "how females are represented in our clients' roles."

In the industrial space, Ariella says talent identification processes have prompted positive shifts, which Erika at AWX re-iterates as vital to improve representation. "I don’t go putting my hand up and saying ‘I want that job’, I’ve been fortunate that I've had that ability and proven myself and then I get the tap on the shoulder and go ‘right we’ve got this role we’d like to move you into that role.’"

Since joining PeopleIN in mid-2021 Ariella says the piece that she's most impressed about is our female representation in our blue-collar industries.

"That comes down to the direction from leadership in making those opportunities available to females."

Things are changing - all four women agree - and there are positive, collaborative movements afoot in these traditionally male-dominated industries, such as the Halcyon Knights Women in IT LinkedIn group which boasts 12,000 members.

The Women in IT group has proven to be a successful platform to vet employers and encourage inclusivity. "Post-sharing, particularly opportunities that are important for people to be across. Sharing that within the industry, that this organisation is a positive and inclusive employer for anyone interested." - Julie Kirk, Halcyon Knights

Read Part II: Breaking the Bias

'Break the bias' Cover art by Dominique Falla


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