Globally the face of the workforce is changing. Now more that ever, there is an upswell of awareness and support around improving gender equality in every workplace. In the asset management space – an industry that has historically employed an almost entirely male workforce – the shift towards creating opportunities for women is challenging. But some companies are making great strides towards gender equality and are discovering that greater diversity of thought and style will surely drive Australian industry towards world’s best practice.
Jess Torpey, Transformation Implementation Leader, Operations Services at Aurizon will be presenting at Mainstream Conference 2018. As a female business and journalism major employed to write speeches for our senior execs, Jess never imagined that she’d find herself in a front-line leadership role in a heavy haul rail workshop. One day, she was enjoying life in Brisbane’s CBD and the next she was the team leader of the Traction and Machine shop, one hour from Brisbane, leading a team of 12 tradies and apprentices. Opportunities to take a leadership role don’t come along very often so she was keen to make the most of it and as daunting as it appeared initially, it was the best thing that happened to her career.
Jess is well positioned to share her insights into how companies can use their existing people and by simply placing the right people in the right jobs, with a little lateral thinking, can impact their businesses and the lives of their staff positively. We chatted to Jess about her story and her work in the transformation space.
What have been some of the challenges faced with regard to striving to achieve gender equality in this industry?
Historically, the rail industry workforce has been predominantly male, and it is not uncommon to come across generational male railroaders. Indeed at Aurizon up until 2011 our workforce was still almost 90% male, and women in operational areas were very rare.
Changing the perceptions of both current employees and potential employees that the asset management industry offers rewarding careers to men and women has been a slow process, but that’s definitely changing as we see more women taking up operational leadership roles.
With an increasing focus on ensuring gender diversity in all workforces, what have you observed in your workplace, and what is Aurizon doing to improve gender equality?
Over the past six years Aurizon has been extremely active in improving the representation of women at all levels in the company. This drive has seen the percentage of women in the workforce increase from 11.6% in 2011 to almost 21% today.
There is no silver bullet to achieving greater gender equality in the workforce – this change has been achieved in a variety of ways for example:
- setting annual targets at an enterprise and business unit level
- reviewing our attraction and recruitment methods, for example by taking steps to improve the number of women shortlisted for roles
- taking steps to reduce the gender pay gap
- company-wide development activities for women in the workforce, for example our mentor circles (now in its fifth year)
The mentoring circles initiative is part of our mentoring program. It involves one male and one female senior executive running the program for a group of approximately 10 women. The program is agile and although content is suggested and outlined, it will change depending on the needs of the group. The group meet monthly and are together for 8-12 sessions. In my experience it’s been a great way to meet senior leaders and increase a network of women in the company.
Aurizon is also using technology advancements to ensure that anyone, regardless of gender, can physically undertake any role. For example, a decade ago rail workers would physically lay the railway track. This was an extremely physical task in extremely hot temperatures. Today, Aurizon uses large track laying machinery, taking away the manual nature of this task.
The company is also looking at more practical ways of increasing female representation by looking at things like ‘school hour’ rosters for train drivers ie. Monday to Friday 9am – 3pm, to make these jobs more accessible to women.
Although much progress has been made, there is still much to do to improve gender equality at all levels within the company.
What advice can you give women and leaders who are embarking or progressing on the path to better gender diversity?
My advice to others is to build your network, find a sponsor and make sure your own leader knows of your development aspirations. But above all else, perform to a high standard in your current role. And if a development opportunity comes along, grab it!
Tell us about your career story
After completing a double bachelor of business and journalism at university, I started at Aurizon in a graduate role, rotating between various teams within the communications department.
From there I settled into a permanent role in the external relations team, dealing with the media and drafting speeches and presentations for the executives. I had been thinking about a move to a more operational role when I was asked if I would be interested in taking up a three month secondment in a front line leadership role in our heavy rail workshop. Despite being fearful, I took up the opportunity.
This first step gave me the experience I needed to move into other operational focused roles. I’m currently a Transformation Implementation Leader, working in the maintenance area at Aurizon and I manage a team that look at more efficient ways we can operate as a business utilising technology.
What do you love most about your current role?
Being part of a high performing team that is literally changing the way we operate as a business. It’s incredibly rewarding being part of such a diverse team – from background to experiences – and being able to pool our collective skills and knowledge together to create a better outcome for the business.
About the Speaker
Jess Torpey is currently a Transformation Implementation Leader, working in the maintenance area at Aurizon. She is an experienced communications and stakeholder engagement professional who started with Aurizon six years ago. For four years she was part of the media and communications team, providing advice to the CEO and senior leadership team on crisis management, communication strategy and media enquiries. From there she moved to Redbank to take on a front line leadership role as Team Leader of the Traction and Machine Shop over a five month period as the site was transferred from Aurizon to Progress Rail. For the last 18 months, Jess has been a leader in the Train Systems Improvement team. She holds a double degree in journalism and business and a diploma in investor relations.