Diversity and authenticity are key to strong leadership

The rail industry pushes for more diversity in leadership and the workforce

This year’s International Women’s Day saw a lot of great conversation and initiatives across an extremely broad range of industries and sectors, and included some much needed reflection on what we are doing well, what we are starting to change, and what we can collectively do more to encourage diversity in our leadership and workforces.

The Rail industry is one that has traditionally been heavily biased towards men. However, with the increase in demand for trades and a highly skilled workforce of engineers, designers, and manufacturers, opportunities for women are better than ever before.

The recently published Gender Diversity Report of the Australasian Rail Workforce commissioned by the Australian Rail Association (ARA) puts the sector below the wider national average, but it shows that things have slowly been improving.

Key findings of the report indicate that there has been a 6% increase in females employed in the Australasian workforce from 2016-7 to 2018-19. Females hold 22 percent of manager positions in the rail industry and were awarded 31 percent of new appointments. 28 percent of promotions were awarded to females. Governing bodies are still lagging behind with the average representation being just 16 percent. However, over 80 percent of survey respondents reported that their companies had formal policies or strategies that support gender diversity, showing that this is now a step change in culture shift. Three quarters of respondents also reported having policies for flexible working arrangements, which was also a significant increase from the previous year.

Improvements are being made in women’s participation, but there is still work to do, and with initiatives by industry bodies such as the Australian Rail Association, tertiary institutions, and government bodies, hopefully we will see these numbers increase in the near future.

What does an authentic leader look like?

Systematiq’s Rail Business Development Managers Mandy Middlemist and David Lamb participated in this week’s ARA Women In Rail virtual lunchtime event and were inspired by the panel discussion that focused on developing credible and authentic leadership, and the value that greater diversity brings to teams.

The webinar was hosted by ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie, and panelists consisted of Sydney Trains CEO Suzanne Holden, V/Line Chair Gabrielle Bell, Metro Trains Melbourne CEO Raymond O’Flaherty and Port of Melbourne EGM Port Growth and Planning Caryn Anderson. The panel members shared their journeys in leadership, and they all agreed on the importance of being authentic, or asking yourself what your personal brand is and what do you stand for. Raymond O’Flaherty and Suzanne Holden both agreed that being true to your values and how you communicate this, along with being consistent is vital. By being yourself, your personality will drive your leadership style.

Gabrielle Bell stated that “being a leader is 50 percent your key skills and experience, and 50 percent your craft or how you lead. You also have to care about your company’s purpose and have pride in the organisation you work for. Whatever your leadership position, keep delivering your best in everything you are tasked with.”

Both Gabrielle and Suzanne Holden spoke about the importance as a leader of acknowledging that you cannot know all of the technical aspects (in this instance of rail). You must be able to move quickly to a base level of understanding so that you can identify issues and resolve them. Leadership is about moving from being a subject matter expert to working with others who are, and enabling a team. Engage talented people who do have the technical knowledge and expertise, to solve a problem.

Panel members spoke about their particular company cultures as well as how they developed their own leadership styles. Raymond O’Flaherty shared Metro Trains’ vision of One Team One Metro – his vision focuses on people being the most important asset of the organisation, which is reflected in their culture. But he had to get to each part of the company to reach employees at their level and place of work, so that the message became relevant to everyone.

Caryn Anderson shared that she initially modelled herself on good leadership that she had witnessed in the past. However, she recognised that her own personality and style needed to come through, in order to appear authentic to others. She said it was important to always look for opportunities for growth.

Systematiq staff offer their insights

Systematiq’s David Lamb found Suzanne Holden’s thoughts on calling out inappropriate behaviour to be particularly insightful. She stated that in her experience, it was important to call out negative gender-based attitudes, but you should know when to speak up in order to have the greatest impact and opportunity to create positive change.

Mandy Middlemist found the discussion to be inspiring and that all participants demonstrated a genuine passion for their organisations, along with having a good understanding of their own purpose.

“I strive to be authentic and true to my values every day,” Mandy said. “I aim to be the best I can be in any given circumstances while respecting others. I feel I am genuine, and truly aspire to be transparent in all of my interactions – be they personal or professional. I guess this is how I see myself.”

Being true to oneself will mean that authentic leadership will follow. And diversity in the workforce will therefore mean greater ability to solve problems for our business and clients, as well as create strong, dynamic teams. Lessons for everyone in a workforce that strives towards inclusivity.