In the first of a series of four interviews with women leaders who will be speaking at the Women, Management and Work Conference later this month, we meet Helen Newell, Director of Corporate Development & Government Relations for Asciano, one of Australia’s leading transport infrastructure companies and the owner of leading port and rail operations companies, Patrick and Pacific National.
As a woman working in the male dominated transport industry, Helen Newell believes she has had a blessed run. Not only has she outpaced most of her male colleagues in the career stakes, she’s managed to do it without compromising her role as a wife and mother.
After five years in North America, working on projects in Mexico, the US and Canada, Helen Newell returned home to Australia in 1996, joining TNT Australia as Corporate Development Manager. Through acquisition, Helen joined Toll Holdings in 1997 and in early 2001, was appointed Divisional General Manager of Toll Transitions, the newly formed relocation and transportation management sector of the Toll Group.
Helen then transferred within Toll to Pacific National in July 2006 as General Manager of Development. With the establishment of Asciano, through the de-merger from Toll, Helen’s Corporate Development responsibilities expanded across both the Pacific National and Patrick businesses in the current portfolio. Since April 2008, Helen has also taken on responsibility for Government Relations and the Environment for Asciano.
Helen attributes having a high level of job satisfaction to the fact that she has a forward-thinking boss in CEO and Managing Director of Asciano, Mark Rowsthorn.
“The fact that he has six kids is fantastic,” Helen told Australian Women Online. “Mark has a fantastic relationship with his kids and he’ll say he can’t do a call before 9.30 because he’s dropping the kids off, or he’ll say that he’ll take that call on his mobile because they’re going away for a long weekend.”
“The leader of an organisation can have such an enormous influence and I think it’s important for anybody selecting a job, to do your due diligence on the leader of that organisation, no matter where you are in the hierarchy.”
“When I came back to Australia in 1996, I was 29 years old and I made a conscious decision to find a role in an organisation that would provide me with a career that meant that when I wanted to have children, I could have children without it completely stopping any career progression. I was very fortunate in that Mark Rowsthorn was quite accommodating when I wanted to work part-time. He recognised that it was all about the outputs and not the face time.”
“I also think overall, blokes are actually better at supporting women in work life balance, than women are. I’ve always been very open and honest with my colleagues and my boss about the fact that I want to be able to go to parent teacher meetings and that I want to go to the swimming carnival or the concert. And I find that the blokes have been incredibly supportive of that.”
“As professionals, it’s about being very self-aware and being very clear in what you really, truly want. You have to have a very good understanding of your values and ethics and integrity and what you stand for as an individual – and a real knowledge of what you can do and what your weaknesses are. Once you have that, I think the most important thing is to be really very selective about the company you choose to work with and the leader you choose to follow.”
When asked if she had faced any discrimination or difficulties in her career because of her gender, Helen Newell said, “I’ve always taken the view that I will contribute the best I can to the organisation in the role that I’m currently in and when given opportunities, to take them and to be brave. I think women, more so than men, tend to feel that they have to do the job brilliantly before they can take that leap. But you learn some of the job as you go.”
“Others think they should be given opportunities because of who they are. I’m one of these absolute believers in meritocracy. I hate tokenism, I hate the concept of being given a roll because I’m a female. I’ve always maintained that if I’m ever given a role because I’m a female, I’ll decline it because I want my gender to be seen as a positive and I want my way of thinking to be seen as a positive. I’ve typically been ten years younger than most of my peers in the teams that I’ve worked in. So I also want my age to be seen as a positive, but I don’t want it to be the only reason that I got the job.”
“I’ve come up through the transport industry where I was the only female in the Toll senior leadership team. In some ways it makes it harder. But ironically, in some ways it also makes it easier because there are no rules and you get to make the rules.”
“I don’t think that you need to necessarily find an organisation that’s got whole programs set up to support the development of women. I think in some ways you can make more of a difference if you’re in an organisation that doesn’t.”
Helen Newell will be speaking at the Women, Management and Work Conference (WMWC) in Sydney, 29 – 30 July 2010. For more information or to register, visit the Women, Management and Work Conference website at: http://www.lmsf.mq.edu.au/wmwc/home
This interview with Helen Newell was conducted via Skype. Make cheap calls to landlines and mobiles – Buy SkypeOut credit here