Fostering diversity and inclusion in the workplace is critically important for all organisations. Diversity of thought, people, culture and experience can offer significant opportunity to all businesses – and is demonstrably profitable.
Increased diversity in the workplace is rightly celebrated. One in four of Australians were born overseas, and there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of females in the male dominated manager occupation since the turn of the century.
In late 2022, Katharine Tapley, ANZ’s head of Sustainable Finance, moderated a panel discussion on these themes at the Carbon Market Institute’s annual Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit in Sydney with experts in this field. They were:
• Heather Campbell, CEO Bush Heritage
• Mary Stewart, CEO Energetics
• Kerry Schott, Chair Net Zero Emissions & Clean Economy Board NSW Government
Throughout the conversation it was agreed workplaces – and society – have come a long way but striving for equality to build a more progressive and representative future needs to continue. As more women enter the nature and climate sector carving pathways for the next generation, there is much wealth and understanding to be shared and learned.
Below is part one of an edited version of that discussion. Part two will be published in the lead up to International Women's Day 2023.
KT: You've all had illustrious careers in the nature and climate sector. How have you seen the role of women transform? Do you think there's more to be done in achieving equality? And what's the role that women are going to play going forward?
KS: I think the role of women in this sector is much the same as it is in the rest of society. There is definitely a need for more equality, still. While women have made advances, we've still got a huge way to go.
MS: I was lucky enough to work with a man called Roland Clift who started the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey. In 1994 he wrote the paper, The female engineer and her role in society.
Clift was very clear on the fact as far as he was concerned, women approach complex problems differently. Women are more likely to accept decision-taking under variability, to accept uncertainty, and to be able to work in an uncertain world.
He was right. A woman’s ability to engage with variance sets us up for success in this world going forward because we can see a pathway where it isn't necessarily clear.
I'm seeing that on boards now, and there is a generational change. The new thinkers on the board don't have to have that one right decision; they have the capacity and the capability to engage with uncertainty. They also bring a different way of thinking.
And it's not only women, it's the generation that's coming in. I think that's the role we need to play, making sure a variety of thinking is brought to these decisions.
We need to move further to get equity in the workplace. It's not an easy one to solve. We're not getting enough women through the STEM degrees; we're not getting enough girls taking up maths.
It's not something we can solve today, but we all need to pay attention to it and do what we can to try and address it.
HC: I think women are particularly good at dealing with complexity and the shades of grey because our world isn’t black or white. Women are great at dealing with variables; dealing with those things where you think you’ve planned, and something just comes in from the side.
Having that ability to pivot, move and deal with ‘stuff’ in the moment is important. And that's going to be more important as we're seeing the further impacts of climate change. We need to act quickly, think on our feet, pivot, navigate, and embrace the complexities of the world.
I think there is a challenge around getting parity in the workforce but I can see change happening, particularly now it is an employee's market. In many cases people have a say in the way they want to craft their work life, and that is changing how a lot of businesses are thinking about their workforce.
This means some of the barriers that used to be there for women are starting to dissolve. But we must keep breaking down those barriers. Keep pushing to embrace a diversity of views.
KT: How do you play a role in creating urgency and ambition in the climate and sustainability sector, and work to create a market that has integrity?
MS: I think the first point is to accept the position that the only wrong decision is the no-go decision. We all must act. We need to act concertedly, and we have to act now.
The other thing is to accept there's never going to be a right answer. All you can do is look for the answer that’s least likely to be wrong.
KS: I'm absolutely committed to the message about urgency. I think it's dawning on companies, and the entire population, it is urgent we address climate change.
Australia is in a place where we have a lot of opportunity, but we've really got to get moving. And in terms of ambition, I would say to meet the 2050 target and preferably get there earlier, we need technology we don't have yet. I think we can see a path to 2030, 2035. But after that, we're dependent on new things.
HC: I'm very much for urgency because our natural world is telling us we have to do more.
The other thing I think is really important, as we sit here on Gadigal land and recognise First Nations people in Australia and around the globe, is traditional owners have tens of thousands of years of knowledge of how to manage this land. Let's embrace that. Let’s have them at the table being part of the solution and learn from them. We need to embrace all knowledge sets for all areas of society to move forward.
KT: On the theme of learning, I’d like to go back in time and talk to you about your career trajectories, what you've learnt along the way, and the risks you've taken?
KS: I always find questions about careers a bit daunting because I was born into a world where there was almost zero unemployment and getting a job was not something you planned for or even thought much about.
I come from a family where my grandmother and mother - and I'm sure all the women in the family felt the same - were absolutely committed to education. The way to keep above the poverty line was to go to school, finish school, then go and do something else in the education space.
My career was completely accidental, and that sounds silly because I know so many young people now plan their own. I can't imagine it, I've just pursued things I found interesting.
I started doing maths and physics at night at university. I really enjoyed maths and I was looking for a 'filler' subject at university and I was with a friend one day and said ‘I've got to find some subject to fill in here’. I was thinking I might do philosophy. And she said to me, ‘Don't do that, it's too hard. Do economics.’ On that sage advice, I became an economist.
I applied for a job as a statistician at a drug company, and they wanted me to say if I was going to have a child. And I thought, this is an outrageous thing to ask someone in an interview. I can remember going outside after the interview into a phone box in North Sydney and ringing my father and saying ‘You won't believe what just happened to me’.
And he said ‘Oh, Kerry, the world's like that. You're just going to have to get used to it’. And I thought ‘I'm not getting used to this’.
I rang the Reserve Bank of Australia, who had been chasing me to go and work on an econometric model because of my economics and maths background. I got lots of help from them and really enjoyed what I was doing but it was completely accidental.
HC: I'm a Kiwi farm kid who grew up with a bush block where you could just disappear into the bush. And that was great, but you had to be practical. If you weren't practical then you weren't as valued.
I moved to Australia with my family when I was 14. Imagine when a group of Year-10 boys said to me, ‘You can't be an engineer, you're a girl’. Needless to say, I became an engineer.
It allowed me to use that practicality, my love of maths and science, and engage with the natural world as well.
I’m not sure if my career was accidental or rather me being bolshie at different times. I finished university as an agricultural engineer, and the company I was going to work for went bankrupt in my final year so I found myself looking for a job.
I went for a job as a sales graduate and in interview number three, told them I hated sales because my dad was a salesperson. I ended up in the factory. But they had enough trust in me to give me a go, andI ended up heading up sustainability for that business globally.
I’ve done lots twists and turns in different businesses. For me, it was always about ‘How can I make an impact?’. And if I've got to the point where I've made the impact I wanted to, or I can't, it's time to move on.
One piece of advice I'd give is if somebody trusts enough in you to give you a go at something, embrace it. Have a shot at it because you learn so much. It's amazing the impact that can have.
MS: I’ve also never had a career trajectory, it was more of an ambling pathway.
My mother is an architect. She was the third woman to graduate architecture in South Africa. My father is an accountant. He's also a Scot and Scots make best use of their resources.
I was stronger than my brother, so I was the one that carried the heavy stuff up the hill. There were never gender barriers in my family. If you were able to do it, you did. That's the attitude I've brought to a lot of decisions.
I was also told girls don't do engineering. I'm sure all the women in the room who have tried to forge pathways in STEM have memories of hearing those comments; they were told they couldn't and therefore they did.
For me whenever there was a difficult decision to take, I took the path less travelled. I have always taken what other people would suggest is the difficult decision. But for me it was the exciting one.
Take the big decision when it faces you and never second guess yourself. Once you've taken the decision it's in the past. Deal with what's in front of you and move forward.
And when you've done what you set out to do, don't be afraid to move on and find the next challenge because there are a lot of challenges out there.
Get on top of your money with the new ANZ App