Big Interview: Tracey Ryan.

Tracey Ryan

We talk with Tracey Ryan, Managing Director of Aurecon NZ, to find out the importance of senior leaders driving change, how an organisation can truly be diverse and inclusive, the role of flexible working, and much more.

How important is it for Managing Directors to be engaged in driving improvements in diversity and inclusion?

It is critical. Managing Directors set the strategic direction and determine investment. For us to achieve change, diversity and inclusion must be embedded in the strategy. Employees look to leaders to guide their own actions. Leaders’ priorities, behaviours and how and what they communicate directly impacts the behaviours of others and therefore the culture of the organisation. This is what diversity and inclusion is – it’s transformational culture change.

How do you make sure Aurecon is delivering on Diversity and Inclusion all the way through the management levels?

Our people are our greatest asset, and whilst everything we do can be theoretically replicated by our competitors, it is our people that set us apart. I want Aurecon to become a champion organisation of equality, diversity and inclusivity. We have had some success to date but we are still on that journey and we will continue to drive our diversity and inclusion agenda throughout the business so that we create a place where we can all be ourselves and thrive.

My team know I prioritise diversity and inclusion; it is a standing item for our team meetings, it’s considered in our strategic decision making and we have KPIs built into our performance framework. Fundamentally though, it’s the way that I lead; through my actions and behaviours and by doing everything I can to ensure I am leading inclusively.

Inclusion is empowering everyone to feel valued, respected and supported to have a voice to thrive. That is our ultimate goal.

What do you do to ensure your employees’ opinions are being heard?

Through a range of channels. We run an engagement survey (Employee Pulse) three times a year, which is a safe (anonymous) way for our people to have their say. I have personally looked at all 5424 comments in this year’s results and I am working through them with the leadership team. It’s about that deep listening and really hearing and responding to what our people are saying. We are soon to launch our inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which is made up of volunteers from our people – we had more than 40 expressions of interest – which will be a key group to test ideas with and to receive ideas from.

Did you have to overcome barriers due to your gender on your journey through to senior leadership?

Many organisations do a fantastic job implementing the right policies to improve diversity and inclusion. What is more difficult, is changing deeply ingrained organisational culture. I wish to be authentic and true to myself, but at some points in my career I have encountered tightknit organisational cultures where I felt the need to conform. At Aurecon, our commitment to diversity is about creating a vibrant community where everyone feels safe to bring their whole self to work.

Do you feel a responsibility as a female Managing Director to ‘lead the charge’ as a role model for women?

I see my responsibility as role modelling a different type of leadership (regardless of my gender) and being visible about it. What we want to see in this world are leaders who approach things differently, who prioritise differently, who become role models for all sorts of different people so more of us are able ‘to see it so we can be it’. The most important thing is for me to be a leader who plays to my strengths, rather than conforming to any stereotype.

Did you have female role models as you progressed your career?

One of my strongest role models would have to be my grandmother, a first-generation Irish immigrant to New York in the 1950s. Her fighting spirit, courage and commitment to remaining true to herself are values that I have tried to take and bring into my own life. And most importantly, she showed me to face adversity with kindness and courage.

Now, social media makes it so easy to tap into leadership advice from a broad range of perspectives. There are some really impressive young leaders coming through, such as Alexia Hilbertidou (Girl Boss), that I frequently take inspiration from.

With stats showing 29% of women leave the engineering profession within the first 5 years, what’s your advice to women who are considering leaving due to barriers they are encountering due to their gender?

That’s interesting, as this has not been our experience. Aurecon’s attrition rate for females in the first five years of their career is around 7%. That said, this is an industry challenge, so we need to work together to resolve it. There is a significant pipeline of work ahead, so retaining capacity and talent in the industry is vital.

We know that we need to create an environment where women can explore diverse career pathways, and there is visible succession planning at all levels. Aurecon has a range of early career networks such as Limelight (Emerging Professionals programme) and Amplify (for mid-career professionals) to support all our up and coming leaders.

If you don’t feel like you belong, you may be more likely to leave the industry. Aurecon works continuously to create an environment where everyone feels like they can be their true authentic self.

What are the business benefits of an effective focus on diversity and inclusion?

At its foundation, it’s the experience we have at work every day – how interesting it is when we work with people different from ourselves, how respected and valued we feel, our sense of belonging and our ability to contribute. Our ability to openly integrate our work with our other commitments and passions. The satisfaction we gain from producing a solution so different and innovative and exciting because of our collective input and our delighted clients. If we can be successful with that foundation, the business benefits (that are well documented) include high performance, enhanced wellbeing, greater innovation and reduced risk.

Capacity and availability of talent remain a huge challenge in our industry, and having a diverse workforce is the only way we will be able to deliver the significant pipeline of work ahead. If we are to develop creative solutions for our customers, we need a broad range of perspectives.

And what do you say to businesses who aren’t embracing it?

Seriously, I would say take it a step at a time. Think about the workforce and the culture you would love to have and develop a plan year on year that will help you achieve it. I would also say it isn’t something that sits in a silo. It’s not something you can do between 4.30pm and 5pm on a Wednesday. It is how we behave every day, the decisions we make, the conscience we bring with us as we go about our day-to-day activities. It is an investment but the individual and organisational benefits are transformational and for us, it’s securing an exciting future.

How was Aurecon embracing flexible working pre lockdown? And do you see long-term positive changes to your approach once work has returned back to ‘normal’?

Aurecon has had a flexible working policy for all roles in place since 2015. We had just refreshed our training in February, prior to lockdown. Most people worked flexibly, at least some of the time. What lockdown has done is make flexible working from home normalised and has proven once and for all that presenteeism is not an indicator for performance. Our new normal (I think there is no ‘back to normal’) will be one of increased remote working, with the benefits of reduced commute, higher productivity, greater interaction with family, community and other external pursuits, combined with the wonderful benefits face-to-face brings to us all, both personally and professionally. I’m also hoping it will further disrupt gendered working and caring roles, bringing more of the magic of parenting and the satisfaction of work to us all.

What is Aurecon doing to increase the number of Māori in engineering?

It is one of our Diversity & Inclusion strategic pillars – incorporating Tikanga Māori (Māori culture) into our day to day ways of working. Our approach combines cultural awareness and safety, employment and career pathways and partnership with Iwi in client project delivery. This includes intranet and training resources, celebrating Māori language week and using Māori language in everyday communication. We have a number of different Māori cadetship programmes, a tertiary internship with TupuToa and we sponsor the South Pacific Indigenous Engineering Students (SPIES) network.

We have interpreted Aurecon’s purpose – Bringing Ideas to Life – with a Māori world lense, creating a new vision: Be Bold, Be Strong, Work as One. We recognise there is still so much more we can do.

And what is Aurecon doing for their rainbow community?

Aurecon was the first engineering organisation in New Zealand to be granted the Rainbow Tick in February 2019 and LGBTI+ inclusion is embedded in our Diversity & Inclusion Plan. Being part of the Rainbow Tick community has really helped us focus on what’s important and drive continuous focussed improvement. We have a very strong Pride network across Australia and New Zealand made up of members of the LGBTI+ community and allies, including an executive sponsor Andrew Muller, the Aurecon Group’s Chief Operating Office. The network has an annual action plan to increase inclusion including updating policies and processes, raising awareness through internal and external events and media, sharing personal stories and experiences and providing training at our offices across the country.

We have a strong network of allies within all our offices who are very visible. We have really strong champions in this space who are remodels for us and we are really proud of the work they are doing in the industry.

We had a Drag Bingo night planned as part of Auckland Pride Month, where some of our client organisations were going to join us. We were really disappointed to have to postpone this due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Why did Aurecon sign the Diversity Agenda Accord?

Aurecon signed up as part of our accountability and commitment to diversity and inclusion and to be part of the movement for change in New Zealand. As a public document it indicates our intention to be an employer of choice for all people and to be held accountable for our performance.

We are deeply committed to improving diversity and inclusion within our industry and we are not afraid to stand up and be held accountable. The Accord is an opportunity for us to be challenged.

Why is measuring and reporting on diversity levels important to driving change?

The same reason you plan and track for anything you wish to see happen! We want to be a profitable and safe business, so we make a financial plan and a safety plan and track it month on month. It’s the same with diversity and inclusion – we want to be a diverse and inclusive business so we must make a plan and make ourselves accountable.

Is there anything else you would like to share to fellow Diversity Agenda members?

While diversity and inclusion is critical to the future of our business it is also our opportunity to contribute to societal change and human rights. We all deserve the opportunity to have a rewarding career, where we feel a sense of belonging, we feel valued and can contribute, with equal access to opportunities. Experiencing a different way of working is exciting for us all, and to feel a deep connection and empathy for our colleagues, to collaborate to deliver innovative and creative solutions for our clients, is the gift of diversity and inclusion.

Thank you to Tracey for taking the time to talk to us. If you’re a Diversity Agenda member with a great story to tell, please get in touch.

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