In a recent interview with Charlie, we canvassed his thoughts on gender balance and discussed his determination to foster diversity and equality, not just in our Transport business but across WSP in general.
A former chair of the WSP Diversity Council and now contributing member for more than seven years, Charlie believes that gender balance is something every single one of us needs to strive for. He says, “In most Australian cities, there’s a reasonably equal gender split of fifty per cent females and males, so it makes sense to strive to achieve a similar balance in your workforce. I concede there is a lot of work to be done but I am committed to creating a workplace that’s more balanced, Why? Because at its core, WSP is a people business, and we want to provide equality for women and men.
“I view gender balance through four key lenses – employee engagement, business performance, client satisfaction and a responsibility to society.
“Looking at employee engagement, we want all 4,610 members of staff in ANZ to have access to the same opportunities and be able to develop their careers irrespective of gender. By tapping the full potential of our men and women, we can be a stronger and more innovative business.
“In terms of performance, it has been shown that there is a correlation between financial performance and female leadership. A report from Credit Suisse Institute found that companies with gender balanced boards outperformed those without, in terms of average growth, price/book value multiples and return on equity. For WSP, having better gender balance means we will have increased diversity of thought, encouraged different perspectives and will have a more balanced approach to our business.
“From a client perspective, many of the organisations we deal with are well on their way to achieving gender equality or being close to it. For example, the Australian Rail Track Corporation has 42 per cent female representation at the director level. We are also receiving an increasing number of requests to provide gender balanced teams for projects. This approach from our clients aligns well with our thinking. By having gender balanced teams collaborating to solve complex problems, we can provide clients with better solutions. After all, for most transport projects, 50 per cent of the ultimate customers will be female.
“Lastly, we have a responsibility to society to change the diversity of our workforce to ensure the next generation is afforded equal opportunities when it comes of age. Whenever I speak to clients or colleagues who have daughters, they emphasise the importance of future opportunities being a change from past practices.”
The Road to Equality
At WSP, greater diversity and inclusiveness is part of a cultural transformation that will require time and humility.
“This is not an easy journey,” says Charlie. “It takes rigour and commitment, and it takes time to educate all those – both women and men – who may not understand why the issue is so important.
“While I am a little frustrated with our progress towards equality in our business, the biggest impact I can have is on the people in the Transport business and encouraging them to take decisive steps towards change. I am putting more effort in the way I engage with my direct reports and the way they connect with theirs – to help alter everyone’s perceptions so that we can create a workplace in which all our employees can have the future they want. All of this has to do with ensuring we are all comfortable in having conversations about gender balance – making sure we understand the opportunities, address the challenges and verbalise our approach in a consistent manner.
“One of our biggest challenges we face as a business (this is partly due to the tight labour market) is building our pipeline of female professionals and bringing more of them into senior leadership roles. Clearly males have a role to play in supporting this, yet it’s not always easy to achieve the realisation that equality is beneficial for everyone. For example, flexible working, parental leave and additional annual leave for school holidays are some of the initiatives that can improve work/life balance for both men and women.”
Where to Next?
As an industry, Charlie believes we’re headed in the right direction, albeit not fast enough.
He says, “Increasingly, we’re seeing organisations move away from talking about how to fix gender balance and transitioning towards action, targets and discussions at the board level. It’s good to see that as a collective we are making progress.”
According to the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency in 2017, women in Australia hold only 13 per cent of chair positions, 25 per cent of directorships, and represent 16 per cent of CEOs. As the calls for increased diversity in business get louder, there’s an opportunity for WSP people to affect change.
“Apart from always having gender balanced short-lists, we also need to rethink our approach to talent recruitment and team resourcing, particularly at the senior level,” adds Charlie. “We know that it can be difficult to find women at this level, so maybe it’s a case of challenging the importance of the technical background required or the specific industry experience. For example, does a structural engineer for a roads project need to possess transportation experience to be a valuable member of our team? Or, could we recruit someone with a background in water, and upskill them with industry knowledge, while we benefit from a different perspective to solving challenges? In short, are we asking the right questions of our candidates, and are we looking for them in the right places?
“In conclusion, gender balance presents us with the opportunity to enrich our firm. It’s time to get serious about our actions. It’s up to each and every one of us to engage with our teams, colleagues and clients on the issue and transform the issue from a challenge to an opportunity, and ultimately a positive outcome.”
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