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GHD’s Sponsorship Journey: Behind the Scenes of the Cultivate Program With Phil and Monica

In 2018 Phil Duthie sponsored his GHD colleague Monica George, marking the beginning of a professional relationship founded on mutual respect and numerous “aha” moments. Fast forward two years and they still meet for regular coffee catchups.

PHIL – GHD Executive General Manager (Australia)

When I was studying engineering there was only one woman in my university degree so that gives you an idea of how it was for my generation.

I remember the first time a woman joined our GHD leadership meeting. The difference her presence made to the dynamic in the room was palpable. She influenced the conversation, and the issues we addressed became so much richer.

Gender diversity for GHD is a critical part of being an effective consultancy firm. We know we need not just a diversity of views, but a diversity of experiences at the table. Following Monica’s journey through the Cultivate Sponsorship program was a great opportunity to test the initiatives we’ve put in place.

On one of our ‘shadowing’ days I observed Monica presenting a tutorial on project management and realised she was an authority on the subject and had real stature. I realised I’d been viewing Monica as a graduate – that I was looking at her through a lens of past experience. That was a real “aha” moment because I knew I needed to see Monica as, not just an emerging leader, but an established leader in her own right. This is a big lesson for all sponsors, they need to understand their people in a contemporary way and not rely on outdated perceptions.

Sponsorship is similar to mentoring but with the important inclusion of advocacy. I saw my role as an advocate for Monica and I could do that with complete confidence because of the time we spent together.

How do we achieve gender equity in the workplace? Well, the issue needs to be tackled on multiple fronts. It takes intentional leadership to make sure your business is conducive to attracting and retaining female talent. Ultimately, we’d like more of our senior executives to participate in Cultivate Sponsorship so that we have greater awareness of the potential of our emerging female leaders.

MONICA, GHD Manager – Urban Development (Victoria)

I started with GHD as a graduate civil engineer in 2008. Five years later I went to Ontario, Canada and worked as a project manager, and now I’m based in Melbourne as Manager of the Civil and Urban Infrastructure team in Victoria.

I always felt a bit different as a female in the industry. There’s a feeling of separation and occasionally loneliness, but that’s definitely lessened in the last five years.

I was given some advice very early in my career from one of the few senior women who worked at GHD at the time. She said, “When you come across an obstacle in a male-dominated industry don’t always assume it’s because you’re female. Obstacles are obstacles and ultimately you just need to find a way to get through them.” That always stuck with me.

When I started the Cultivate program I knew it was a really unique opportunity to spend time with Phil who was so senior in the business. He was the head of Victoria GHD when I started as a graduate so I was aware of his reputation. I learnt one of the best leadership skills from Phil and that’s listening, and I mean properly listening, not just sitting and waiting for your turn to speak. Phil is considered and calm and I’ve always thought that’s an admirable element to his leadership style. I thought that before the program but even more so now.

I didn’t fully understand the difference between mentoring and sponsorship before I started with Cultivate but sponsors definitely play a more proactive role.  Phil has been very invested in facilitating my career progression and our sponsorship worked really well because he was so open about sharing his career stories, so I felt more comfortable sharing things about myself.

Prior to Cultivate I struggled to articulate what I wanted to do with my career but now I feel completely comfortable with what the future holds. Phil taught me that I can have numerous, flexible, career goals rather than one fixed goal. As I progress in my career I’d like to cast a net to scoop up all the women who come after me so I can help them achieve their goals as well.

My advice to emerging female leaders? Use your networks, both internal and external. If you’re not known, you won’t be considered for roles so develop a good network of sponsors to guide you through. Phil encouraged me to reach out to people in the industry and its incredible how receptive and generous people are if they’re approached for advice.