Big Interview: Leisha Holliday.


This month, we speak to Leisha Holliday, People and Capability Leader at Calibre New Zealand. Leisha discusses why it was important for Calibre to sign the Diversity Agenda Accord, how they’re keeping morale up during this lockdown,and their innovative approach to measurement and capturing data.

So first off, can you tell us about yourself and your role at Calibre?

I’ve been with Calibre for nearly eight years. The role itself has transitioned over time, but it’s called a People and Capability Leader. So essentially, it’s leading that space across the New Zealand business.

Calibre, New Zealand have around 140 people spread across the country. My role is a generalist People and Capability role, where we look at everything from bringing talent into the business, developing talent within the business, rewards, recognition, performance etc.

My role sits on our senior leadership team in New Zealand. I work very closely with the leaders in the business, in terms of supporting them and their overall decisions around people.

It’s great having this role on the senior leadership team, because there’s the ability to influence decisions at the top as well, and that hasn’t always been the case. Five years ago, it was quite normal to see companies have the operational and financial leaders there but didn’t have that people function represented.

It’s meant there’s an acknowledgement that we’re a people-first business. We’re nothing without our people – and we need the right representation at the senior leadership table to make sure those decisions are balanced and thought of in terms of strategy and what comes out of the boardroom.

Am I right in thinking Calibre is an international organisation?

Yes – we’re part of a broader group – Calibre Group, which is Australian and a much bigger entity. There’s probably about 1400 people across the group and New Zealand fits into that. 

We have an interesting position where we’ve got a much bigger company network and can draw on the resources and support from afar. But in New Zealand, we operate quite independently to make sure we’re doing what’s right for our people.

Why it was important for Calibre to become an Accord signatory? Have you received positive feedback from staff since signing?

We found out about the Diversity Agenda Accord movement that was taking place, then we had a discussion with the senior leadership team and all felt it was really important and we wanted to be part of the change.

There’s an issue in our industry in relation to diversity, and there’s definitely some equity issues. It’s not a quick fix and we need to take collective action to reshape and change the environment we’re operating in. So it was really important that we joined that collective action in relation to the industry, but also in relation to who we are as a business. We needed to make sure that we were doing our bit and we were part of it.

In terms of feedback from staff or from people generally – it’s all been very positive. It’s helped us with our value proposition – internally and externally. Because people want to work for a company that satisfies their desires in terms of social responsibility and the values that align with them personally. And when people are deciding whether to join, stay, or if they’re aligned with a company, our Accord commitment shows what’s important to us.

And yes, we’re a commercial entity, but it’s not just about profit at the end of the day. It’s much more than that. So, it’s a very positive move in terms of the industry, but also a very positive move for our company and our people.

Women make up 50% of your executive leadership roles – an awesome achievement. Can you share insight into how, and why this happened – as well as the impact its had? 

Yes, so that target is for our Calibre Group Executive Leadership Team. We’ve got our New Zealand Executive General Manager (EGM), Bruce Vincent, he sits on the EXCO – and they’re essentially the steering committee for the whole company.

Our Group CEO, Peter Massey, is very committed in this space. When the opportunity came up to fill executive leadership roles, he was very proactive in making sure his team was diverse and representing the business in the right way. 

It’s impressive that two out of the three Group EGMs are women – EGM for Calibre New Zealand, Bruce; EGM for Calibre Australia , Julie Stanley; and EGM for Diona (which is our construction business, so even more heavily male-dominated), Rhonda McSweeney.

You don’t see that gender split often – it sends a strong message overall around what’s important. And since that leadership team has been on board, you can see the decisions that are made are quite different to previous decisions. It’s more balanced and it’s awesome to see these strong female role models. 

From where I sit, there seems to be more people-centric decisions/initiatives coming through. The female leaders at that top level are strong role models and real advocates. I’ve noticed things, for example, if someone in New Zealand is pushing an idea somewhere down the chain, they’ll really reach out and get on board.

They’re proactively trying to sponsor and encourage people. Having those role models and that proactive sponsorship is filtering down through the business.

As People and Capability Manager, how do you make sure Calibre is delivering on diversity and inclusion through all management levels? It’s something we’ve noticed – there’s often strong top-down leadership, but it can fail to get through to that middle management.

It’s something I’ve noticed as well. It happens well at the top and then loses momentum. It’s a challenge. I think it will remain a challenge until we can make sure that throughout the layers, we’ve got a much more diverse representation of people.

But we’ve started to do some fundamental things in terms of making sure we’re reaching out across the board to individuals to see how they’re feeling. So we’ve improved our engagement touchpoints with everyone in the business to really understand where our gaps are and how to do better.

We’re in the process of creating a diversity inclusion and belonging advocacy group. So it’s about bringing a whole group of people together who are passionate about D&I. Across all layers of the business, to make sure that as a company they can help us steer things. 

It’s important to recognise that you might see it from one angle, but you don’t necessarily have the lens across the business. There’s huge benefit to bringing a group of people together that will cover that lens and help us steer our strategy in the right place, or point out things that need to be challenged/aren’t working.

We’re in the process of creating that. I think it’s an acknowledgement that we need to make sure we’re capturing all the voices here, and not just talking to our direct reports and hoping that the message gets down the chain effectively.

There’s a lot to do. It’s a journey, but if we take bite-sized chunks each year in terms of a few initiatives and really focus on these, then as we mature in the space, we can start to develop it even further.

Calibre is doing awesome stuff in terms of measuring and surveying staff. Are you able to elaborate on this and why you think measuring is so crucial to change?

Just before the Accord summit, we launched our diversity and inclusion survey. The whole Calibre Group participated to really understand where we were right now. We’ve gathered the data. We understand where we are now. And we can start to build upon our strategy, tailor the right areas and then also measure our success.

We started that journey early to mid this year. And the data was interesting in terms of capturing where we sat. We knew we were very underrepresented when it came to females within the business. But it showed us that culturally we’re very, very diverse as a business. And in terms of linguistics – we have this wonderful richness that we didn’t even know we had. But it also showcased to us some red flag areas we really need to put some energy into.

The survey was about gaining data. But data is only data. It’s a steer, but it’s only through one lens and we wanted to bring the data to life. So, what we did after we had the data, is put the invitation out to the business to see who wanted to participate in diversity and inclusion round tables.

The purpose of the round tables was to bring people together and bring the data to life – with the view of coming to the end of the conversation with that group recommending what key initiatives we should focus on as a business.

So it was a question of – do we just get data and then at the top table, set the initiatives and take over? Or do we bring people along on the journey and include them in this conversation on what we should focus on?

We did that across the different businesses and each business is quite different. Three initiatives were recommended to go to the sponsor (the EGM) in each of those businesses. And then effectively present it to them and then endorse it and gain sign off. Those initiatives form part of the business strategy for the business for the next year. So, it was a cool process going from capturing the data, having the conversation, the business and the people in the business recommending the change, and then the leader endorsing it.

What sort of things are you guys doing to support your staff during this current lockdown?

It’s a relevant question. We’ve learned a lot in the last lockdowns – such as every situation is wildly different. A couple of people I know are living alone. So, they can be productive in terms of getting the work out the door, but mentally they’re very lonely. They need meetings every day to keep on top of things, and that communication and interaction is very important. Others are trying to manage kids and they want communication at a minimum.

I think the key thing we’ve learned, and what we’re trying to encourage through all of our people leaders in the business, is taking the time to have conversations with your team and identify what they need. 

For example, what communication channels are going to work for them, an honest conversation around expectations, honesty about what you can realistically achieve – and making people feel like it’s okay. Let’s just be honest about it so everyone’s feeling comfortable and not anxious. 

A lot of tailored communication has been important. And then we do fun stuff, like office Olympics, quiz evenings, coffee catchups and social things where it’s optional to participate. 

As the People and Capability Leader, how do you ensure that people within the organization, that their opinions and voices are being heard?

It’s this inclusion piece, which is tricky. People think of diversity as one dimensional, but the inclusion piece is so important.

So, I do what I can in terms of the conversations I’m having with leaders. And I really help shape what my mantra is. Every conversation I have, we need to really think of how we include and involve the relevant people.

The more you can engage, involve and include people at all levels (either in what’s happening, getting their feedback, or getting them on board) the more information you can give, and the more you can engage, the better.

You tend to get a better outcome because you understand different opinions and different feedback and see it from several different dimensions. But also, when people feel on board and understand the landscape of what’s happening, they can participate. 

Think about, with every conversation you’re having or with every decision that’s being made, is it just your decision, or is it just a you and me decision, or should we be going further afar and asking this person?

I think the challenge with our business is time is money. It’s about efficiency and delivery and everyone’s busy. But you get a much stronger outcome if you think about who should be included. 

I do it all the time in terms of how I operate, but I think we’ve got to the point where the senior leadership team tend to do it now. We’re starting to create that change. And it’s really about embedding it throughout the business as well.

Was there anything else that you wanted to add? 

It’s a journey, isn’t it? It’s a constant journey.

So, I think we just need to keep challenging ourselves and the way we think. Keeping this lens on ourselves and the decisions we make in the business. If we can get that thinking right at that top table, then start to work that lens across the business. We just need to keep chipping away.

 And there’s been a lot of change in the last couple of years, and I think there’ll continue to be a lot of change if we collectively get on board with the cause.

If you’re a Diversity Agenda member with a great story to tell, please get in touch.

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