Advancing Women in Transport across Victoria

Lynn Wang (Metro Trains Melbourne) and Jane Northey (AECOM)

The first of its kind in Australia, Victoria’s Women in Transport program combines fifteen initiatives to attract and retain more women in the sector. It aims to increase the number of women in transport from 16 per cent to 25 per cent by 2020 and senior role representation to 50 per cent.

One of its initiatives is the Women in Transport Mentoring Program, delivered the by Level Crossing Removal Project on behalf of Victoria’s Department of Transport. The 6-month program offers professional development and networking sessions, monthly guides for mentees and mentors, and a focus on face-to-face connections.

Initially, the mentoring program involved 62 women engineers – after overwhelming enthusiasm and positive feedback, the program has since extended to include almost 500 participants, across all disciplines within the transport industry. 

We sat down with mentee and mentor duo Lynn and Jane, to share their experience of the program.

Jane is currently the Vic/SA/Tas Cost Management Practice lead at AECOM working for several clients across all sectors, including transport. She attests to diverse teams performing exceptionally well and focuses largely on building teams as such.

Lynn, is a project manager in the Project Development team at Metro Trains Melbourne.

Why do you think the Women in Transport mentoring program is vital?

Lynn: The transport industry has long been described as being a ‘non-traditional’ employment pathway for women. This comes with multiple challenges that women face on a daily basis. I can immediately think of three: 

Source: WGEA (2019)
(Learn more about the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency via their GEA Data Explorer)

Lynn: Most initiatives that attract women to their industry starts from the recruitment screening process. However, this needs to start much earlier in a person’s educational path. The industry needs to influence young women to consider a career in transport early in their education journey and create the suitable working condition for adult women to see the reasons to stay in transport for the long run and progress their career in this industry!

The data is clear that women are severely underemployed in this industry. However, workforce surveys show that the female transport employees have, on average, higher education levels than their male counterparts, with 18.3 per cent achieving a diploma or higher, compared with 11.7 per cent of males. This translates to many missed opportunities to tap into talents and capacities that female workforce can provide to this industry.

I do believe there is a better focus on engaging women and encouraging women to take on leadership positions in the transport industry. This focus will be here for the long-run.
However, the WiT program or similar program boosts this focus to another level! It not only raises the awareness of the under-representation of women in this industry but also leads the industry by example for showing the practical actions that can be taken to address this challenge.

AECOM has also implemented a Mentorloop Mentoring Program, aimed at supporting graduates and developing them into the leaders of tomorrow.

Jane tells us more about her experience of mentoring and what drew her to the Women in Transport program.

Jane: I was encouraged by our Project Director, Helana Wretham to join. I had previously mentored via NAWIC and enjoyed the relationship I formed with my Mentee. I believe the only way the women will start to feel comfortable and get the support they deserve in the Transport industry is if we raise awareness and push for change. I would not have been able to survive without the female friends I had in the industry.

I started in the rail industry after many years in construction and noticed quite quickly how remiss it was in addressing diversity issues. Much of the problem lies in an avenue to provide an even playing field. Females need to be involved in the decision making and the conversations that happen before the decision making happens, this is often behind the scenes and does not get broader disclosure.

Have you had mentors in your career that have helped you along the way?

I started my career with a female boss largely working on cultural projects so early in my career I didn’t feel my gender was a minority. Sarah Slattery was a great role model, so I never doubted my ability to achieve anything I wanted to pursue. Working for a constructor I had a male boss who always looked out for gender equality in an environment where few people did. In terms of mentoring, I think for me it’s just been a support network of females at all my jobs.

Mentoring styles and approaches

With every mentoring relationship being unique, we spoke about their style and approach to mentoring. Whether it began as fairly traditional and hierarchical or more reciprocal and peer-to-peer.

Jane: Our connection is well organised by Lynn and she has been incredibly flexible to accommodate my timetable. When we catch up it is driven by Lynn and very conversational.

Lynn: Jane is very authentic in her mentoring style. She’s enthusiastic in supporting having female leadership in the rail industry, she’s generous with her time in our engagement and is honest with her opinions on challenges for female professionals in rail.

We’ve spent many quality hours discussing the general industry environment as well as some career development planning for me. She has volunteered her professional network in helping me develop a better understanding of what skills are required for a certain career path and what I can do to gain the necessary experience.

I’m just so very lucky to have met such a fantastic mentor! I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to meet such an inspiring female leader through this mentor program!

Goals, Learnings and Developing Skills

Lynn: People who come to this program have their individual goals to fulfil. However, one thing that these people have in common is we all want to encourage women to go further in their career in the transport industry!

With over 8-years experience working in education, mining and utility industries prior to joining the rail industry, I have found the best way to quickly develop an understanding of an industry is to connect and absorb industry knowledge through real people’s real experiences

The WiT program provided me with the perfect opportunity to connect with industry personnel and be in sync with the latest industry development. Most importantly, this allowed me to quickly find out what skills and knowledge that I can bring from my past experience to benefit the Transport industry.

And what did you hope to get out of it? Or what goals did you set?

Lynn: I went into the WiT program with very clear but simple goals in mind: get to know someone from this industry who also believes in promoting women in leadership; find out what I can offer to this industry based on my past experience and capability.

After meeting my mentor, I found her to be exceptionally motivational and have a tremendous wealth of industry knowledge and network.

Together with her, we are achieving a lot more than what I originally anticipated and are continually developing new goals and actioning on them.With the support of my mentor, I have not only achieved my original goals, but also continually develop new goals to aim for.

I’m grateful that this program introduced such an inspiring mentor to me! I’m very lucky to have this mentor to build this productive relationship together!

What types of things have you learned – about yourself, your preferred mentoring style or mentoring in general?

Lynn: I am an outcome-focused person. As everyone’s time is valuable, I’d always prefer to have solid outcomes when I ask others for their time to work with me. This is exactly what my mentor and I have achieved.

I usually prepare a high-level agenda for the face-to-face meeting with my mentor. This agenda allows us to use our focused conversations to stimulate our thinking and find out what exactly are the goals that are practical and suitable for me to achieve.

We agreed upfront to keep the mentoring meeting to be informal and face-to-face. It worked as it creates room for creativity and flexibility for both of us. A key principle that we both stick with is, to be honest, and open. This is also a good rule for the professional world in general.

Jane: I have learned that mentoring is best done with a handball…ha ha. I have created contacts for Lynn within the industry that have helped her with her pursuits.

I haven’t experienced everything in my career and sometimes my skillset isn’t a benefit, but I can always reach out within my network and find someone suitable to assist. My network has all been incredibly responsive to requests for help.

What kind of skills are you aiming to develop?

Lynn: The most outstanding skill that I have started to learn from my mentor is how to translate vague ideas into defined thoughts. When I have a new idea about how to achieve goals, she’s often able to focus me on the practical side of idea and filter it down to a well-defined thought. This is quite useful for strengthening my communication skills.

Jane: Through this experience I have developed my listening skills and I have tried to develop probing skills to help my mentee get to the core of what she wants in her career. 

And lastly, do you have any advice for others?

Lynn: Take every opportunity that you have to build your professional network. It helps you gain more professional knowledge and more opportunities to be part of the industry than you can ever imagine on your own!

Are you ready to start a culture of mentoring in your organisation?
Learn more about how Mentorloop can help, or:

Speak with a mentoring specialist

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Em is our Marketing Manager at Mentorloop. That's a lot of 'm's! | She is passionate about crafting messages, crafternoons and craft beer.

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