One of Australia’s largest water distributor-retailers, Queensland Urban Utilities is responsible for delivering drinking water, recycled water and sewerage services to over 1.4 million customers in South East Queensland.
It’s no secret that the water industry has long been – and continues to be – dominated by men, which can make it particularly vulnerable to masculine stereotypes.
Nobody is more aware of this than Queensland Urban Utilities’ CEO, Louise Dudley.
“More often than not, people are surprised when I tell them that I’m a CEO, and even more surprised that I’m the CEO of a utility, because neither are roles traditionally held by a woman,” Ms Dudley said.
“To overcome this stereotype, we need to change the perception that CEO roles are held exclusively by men. But we can’t expect women to break through the ranks unless there’s a strong pipeline of female talent behind the CEO.”
Queensland Urban Utilities is striving to build this pipeline at all levels of the organisation, and to put in place a consistent network of support as women rise through the ranks.
“It’s about establishing role models and mentors for younger women in the workforce and setting them up for success,” Ms Dudley said.
“At the end of the day, we want women to feel confident and empowered.”
In April 2018, Queensland Urban Utilities was proud to partner with WORK180– a unique jobs board that exclusively supports companies with female-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave, pay equity and flexible work arrangements. This information has become an essential tool for women to assess prospective employers.
“It’s important to create a work environment that is sensitive to work/life demands – one that encourages people to perform work they value, while offering the freedom to enjoy the things that matter most in their lives,” Ms Dudley said.
“At Queensland Urban Utilities, we’re mindful of promoting work/life balance, which is why we offer a range of work options including job sharing, flexible hours, remote working, and access to various paid and unpaid leave.
“The fewer hurdles there are for women to progress their career, the more likely it is that we’ll retain quality talent. It’s a win-win.”
In mid-2017, the utility launched an enterprise-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which outlines specific initiatives to foster an inclusive culture and increase female representation in both leadership and non-traditional roles.
Initiatives in place include unconscious bias training for all leaders, and the adoption of recruitment practises that ensure potential bias is minimised.
Another successful initiative is the ‘Women in Leadership’ mentor program, which supports the professional development of young women. To date, the program has paired up 29 mentor/mentee duos, including a number of male mentors, and has received high praise from participants.
In the near future, the utility plans to implement scholarship opportunities for women in STEM fields, and develop targeted retention strategies, such as graduate programs and work placement programs.
Ms Dudley acknowledges that fostering a diverse and inclusive environment takes more than just individual initiatives – it takes a cultural movement.
“In 2013, we launched an organisation-wide culture program, which focuses on building constructive behaviours and minimising passive, defensive and aggressive behaviours,” Ms Dudley said.
“The program focuses on giving our leaders the tools they need to improve their self-awareness, their willingness to learn, and their ability to communicate and coach their teams more effectively.”
“It also encourages all employees to discuss their career aspirations with their leaders and identify appropriate development options.
“This is really important to help us identify those with the talent and drive who can be groomed to take on senior management roles, regardless of gender.
“We haven’t bridged the gender gap just yet, but we’re on our way and I’m excited to be part of the transformation.”