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Alison Andrew, Transpower

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Welcome to our Beyond Recruitment Women in Leadership series, dedicated to the journeys of women in leadership across New Zealand businesses. There’s currently a lot of discussion around women not being in leadership roles, not joining the executive ranks or not serving on boards. We’ve found however, that there are so many stories to share of women who have done well in leadership, and so many organisations that are running fantastic programs to allow women to grow in leadership roles.

This week we’re joined by Alison Andrew, Chief Executive Officer at Transpower, to share her journey from a young engineer to the strong business leader she is today, and her experiences and challenges she faced along the way. To discover her advice for women looking to expand their careers and leadership potential, watch the video below.

From Engineer to Executive

Alison has held many leadership roles across multiple industries, with a strong focus on business operation, development and turnaround. Before that however, her humble roots began as a Chemical Engineer, working in an environment that was sometimes challenging for a young female professional.

After four years of hard work and a year of overseas experience in Europe, Alison realised that she wasn’t on the right path just yet. Returning to education, Alison went to business school and secured her MBA, before beginning her leadership journey with Fletcher Challenge. From there, Alison’s leadership career progressed, from spending 11 years at Fletcher Challenge in a variety of separate roles, to seven years in various business management positions with Fonterra and now coming up to three years’ as Transpower’s CEO.

How Have Things Changed?

Alison acknowledges that whilst the workplace for women has changed over the last 30 years, she’s not sure if it’s necessarily any easier. The industries Alison has worked in have been particularly male dominated, which has posed a few challenges with gender discrimination.

“It’s fair to say in the beginning you’re odd. But after a while when people work with you, you become more of a person as opposed to your gender.” Alison reflected on her time as young engineer.

“I still think it’s hard for women but it’s probably more insidious now, as opposed to so overt. People are aware of the issues as well.”

Alison believes that society could still be doing more to change this hardship for women; “I’m very proud to be a part of the Champions for Change network, we’re trying to drive diversity with not just gender, but also Māori, Pacific Islanders and others. [But] the statistics are not flash [and] we don’t have enough women on boards, women in senior management. The pipeline is not coming through. So, when you say to me: ‘Are we doing enough?’ Clearly not.”

So, what can we do to further drive better diversity in the workplace? Alison suggests paving the way forward involves having that dialogue, addressing these issues and getting men to talk about it and want to be champions for change themselves.

Advice for Women Leaders

When it comes to what advice Alison would give to women looking to move into leadership roles, authenticity was the first thing she spoke about. “Be an authentic leader. Bring your whole self to work. People want to work for [leaders] who are authentic.

“For women that’s about not trying to be a super-person. They’re too scary. No-one wants to work for someone who is a superwoman.”

Alison went on to state that being resilient was equally important. “I’ve had to learn over my career when to pick fights, when to pick battles, and when [there are] things you’ve just got to let go.”

Self-confidence, and having others to rely on was also a crucial component Alison expressed women needed. “Be strong in yourself. When you get bad feedback, have a good network of trusted advisors that you [can] calibrate that feedback with.” She stated that having that trusted network to consult with helped put things into perspective on if the problem was with her, or others.

Alison finished with some simple, but important advice. “Have a go. Be prepared to look at different things. I remember when I was at Fletcher Forests and I was Manufacturing Director, and a phone call went; ‘Alison, I want to talk to you about being my Finance Director for Fletcher Paper.’

“And my first comment was, ‘I think you’ve got the wrong Alison, I think you need to talk to Alison in your Finance team.’

“‘No, I want you to come and do it, an Engineer.’

“Why would I want to do that? [Well, it was the] best thing I ever did. Take a leap, have some confidence and have a go!”

With Thanks

We’d like to thank Alison Andrew to take the time and contribute her experiences and advice to our Women in Leadership series.

Watch this space for the next edition of the Women in Leadership blog series, and if you have a great story you’d like to share, then feel free to get in touch.