“I worked for 23 years in the aviation industry,” says Susannah Le Bron. “It was male-dominated and extremely hard for women to get ahead. There was no glass ceiling – it was concrete. It took years of perseverance, and a bit of luck, to achieve my goals.”
Susannah has been at Sydney Trains for just over nine months as Executive Director of Customer Service, and she’s energised by Transport’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“Our senior leadership team is right behind the idea of increasing the proportion of women in senior roles,” she says. “There’s a clear understanding that we need to achieve diversity in the workplace.”
The Transport cluster’s goal is to have 25.5 per cent of senior roles filled by women by December 2017.
Is this achievable? “Absolutely,” says Susannah. “The target is not only achievable, it’s essential. At the start of the year, women made up only 21 per cent of the senior team across Transport. At Sydney Trains, it was closer to 15 per cent. Those figures don’t reflect our customers.”
“We’ve already lifted the percentage across Transport to around 23, which equates to 49 additional women in senior service roles since January. So we’re headed in the right direction but there’s lots more to do.”
Achieving the December 2017 target means employing an additional 37 women in existing senior service roles over the next year, and retaining them along with all our current female leaders.
For Susannah, it is not just about meeting the target. “Diversity is a business imperative. Even more important, it’s about having a workforce and a leadership team that truly reflects the community in which we live and that we serve.”
The Women in Leadership initiative involves communications to raise awareness and encourage managers to support women applying for senior roles, and to retain those who have taken time off to have a family or care for a sick relative.
There is a ‘Staying Connected’ program to support employees returning from parental leave, as well as leadership and mentoring programs.
Susannah’s advice for women contemplating a senior role is simple. “Go for it, put your hand up. And just be yourself because that creates an element of difference.”
Scott White, Executive Director of the Transport Management Centre (TMC), is another strong proponent of having a better gender balance.
“It’s close to my heart, particularly as I have four daughters,” says Scott.
“Also, when I worked at Docklands Light Railway in London, I saw first-hand the benefits of having a diverse workplace. And there’s plenty of research showing organisations with good gender balance are more successful.”
What does he think women add in senior roles?
“I think you get better engagement, a more supportive workplace, more efficient meetings and better internal communications,” he says.
Scott has been actively involved in initiatives to increase the number of women in senior roles. “We’re driving a culture change backed by practical steps,” he says. “It’s all about attracting new talent, retaining our existing leaders and being aware of the value that women add in decision-making roles.”
Some of the initiatives Scott’s been involved with include making job ads more attractive to women. “In the ads, we offer a workplace that’s flexible and innovative, and supports a diverse workforce. We’re also getting people to ensure they interview at least one female candidate for job openings.”
Another initiative has been to address unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion. This has included role-plays and sessions with guest speakers that encourage managers to think about their ‘hidden’ preferences and a natural tendency to favour people who are like yourself.
He has also created a senior management group at TMC to give women experience at a higher level.
“Long term, I’d like to see a 50/50 gender balance in our senior ranks. It will take some time and effort to get there, but we’re making all the right moves.”