Louise Weine CEO NAWO has over 25 years experience in leadership, diversity and inclusion and 10 years management consulting with her own business Equilibrium Consulting. Her track record as a senior HR business partner to Manufacturing and Supply Chain customers has deeply informed her understanding of the opportunities and challenges faced by women in operational environments, and forged her commitment to bring greater inclusion and gender equality across industry. Louise is a Board Member of the Australian Gender Equality Council.
Tell us about NAWO, and its objectives.
NAWO is the leading national network for women in operations, combining digital-first ‘conversation shifting’ webinars, networking forums, resources and professional development opportunities within an inclusive multi-industry community of professionals.
Driven by a strong vision to see gender diversity valued and balanced at every level in operations, NAWO advocates for a target minimum of 40% female representation at every level, with a shared understanding that gender diversity is a desirable outcome that positively impacts business metrics. This is our tenth year as an incorporated association and we are super excited about our growth trajectory.
NAWO works with businesses in traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as mining, manufacturing, transport, agriculture, and construction. By focusing on the attraction, retention and development of female talent in operational roles (including logistics, technical, production, procurement and engineering) from entry to mid-career, we help strengthen the pipeline of women moving into P&L responsible management positions.
NAWO supports people to lead more inclusively, providing a safe space to ask questions and have conversations that help achieve greater gender balance. We support all women in in their career by providing meaningful connections, inspiring role models and offering development opportunities to really build and capitalise on their strengths. We connect businesses through membership; facilitating dialogue, sharing ideas and progressing actions to achieve greater inclusion and gender balance in operations.
What are the main gender equality challenges specific women working in Operations?
NAWO’s Nine Levers for Gender Balance point to the many areas still requiring focus to better attract, retain and promote women in operations. Here are two of our Nine Levers and some specific examples that I’d like to draw attention to.
Lever #9 : Actively identifying and supporting Flexible Work
Whilst we have seen dramatic shifts in the last 12 months to more flexible work practices, this continues to be one of the key challenges faced by women wanting to grow their career in operational environments. There is still a very strong bias for professionals and leaders in operations to be on-site and physically accessible to their teams, and this can be very difficult for women to manage if they do not have adequate support systems and resources. FIFO, rotating and 12 hour shifts are also prohibitive.
Lever #3 Clearly articulating the benefits of diverse teams at all levels
This includes getting to the heart of what leaders at every level truly believe about women and men and the work they are suited for.
There are still strong perceptions and assumptions that must change around the work ‘women want to do’ and work that ‘women can do’ – and these are very hard to shift. There is not a day that goes by where I do not hear, ‘women just don’t want to work in this type of environment’ – ‘it’s not very glamorous’ or ‘they have to lift x kg’ or it’s just too ‘blokey’. Sometimes these beliefs are stated, sometimes they remain unsaid – but they drive behaviour and come from deeply held bias by women and men.
If we could start form this position: ‘what do we need to change to attract more women to these jobs – because we know at the core of it, many women would love to do these jobs and would be awesome at them’, we would be so much further forward. In fact the leaders I see take this approach are further forward, whether they be small manufacturing companies like LA services or huge ones like BHP.
Related to this – there are many misperceptions about operations and a real lack of knowledge about the super careers and opportunities available in operations.
Many companies in the NAWO network have amazing environments and workplace cultures and my favourite motto is “there is no better time to work in operations”.
25 years ago when I was working in heavy manufacturing, the workplaces were very different to many of those I walk into today. Attention to safety and training has improved out of sight. Technology has removed many manual processes and enabled more workplace comforts to be extended into ‘sheds’ such as better ventilation, sometimes climate control and certainly better facilities for rest and personal hygiene.
The commitment to diversity and inclusion amongst NAWO member companies is obviously higher than most. That’s why they are members and while they know they have a lot to continue working on. I am super proud that we have already come a very long way. Seriously, we need to get operations on the career radars of many more women. Particularly at the moment when women with transferable skills from hospitality, tourism, the airline industry could be coming on board and finding very well paid jobs in ops.
Lever #5 – Getting the basics right
Whilst many NAWO member companies are getting better, industry wide there is still a lot more work to be done in ensuring women are catered for in operational workplaces. This includes basics such as comfortable and appealing uniforms, clean and well equipped change and toilet facilities, child care facilities or support, clean safe facilities for breast feeding, safe workplace cultures free from harassment and gendered violence, respectful behaviour from leaders and colleagues, options for flexibility and an importance placed on attending to caring responsibilities.
How has NAWO had to adapt its offering to member organisations as a result of COVID-19?
COVID has been great for NAWO. We have wanted our membership to adopt digital delivery for quite some time and it is just as awesome as we thought it would be.
All NAWO’s activities are digital. Progressively we will bring in person activity back as well to ensure our members can extend their digital network into meaningful opportunities for in person connection. We are thinking creatively as to how this can be done for example site tours, lunches and dinners, walking groups etc.
What’s needed to accelerate the progress of gender equality in Australia?
Your greatest challenge?
Maintaining and reinventing my career while raising three wonderful children with my partner Reg.
Most proud of?
Advice for future female leaders?
Know what you want, look for opportunities, build yourself a very strong network, take some risks – ‘give it a crack’ – and most importantly see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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