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September 22, 2019

Driving Diversity at nbn

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John Parkin is the Executive General Manager Customer Field Operations at nbn, and is a passionate, vocal supporter of building a diverse workforce.

We chatted with John about achieving 50-50 gender balance in his leadership team, strong targets for diversity at nbn and why it matters.

nbn’s Track Record of Diversity

John has a life time career in Telecommunications in many parts of the world and joined nbn just over a year ago. He told us there is a noticeable focus on diversity at nbn, and significant progress has been made.

When we asked why diversity is important to John, he said,

“Half the world’s population is female. It’s very important when you build an operational workforce that your team reflects your customer base.”

nbn has customers all over the country and service every possible demographic, so that’s what John wants his workforce to look like.

“Diversity just doesn’t happen overnight, you’ve actually got to focus on it. There’s no magic bullet.”

Diversity in Leadership

When John arrived at nbn 12 months ago, the general management team who lead the field workers were 100% male. Now, it is 50-50 men and women and the team is stronger for it;

“We’ve got a fantastic team. It allows us the richness and diversity of thinking, ideas, different opinions, and diversity of the sum of their experience. That’s allowing us to truly transform the Field Operations Group.”

John took his time to ensure he secured the best candidates, telling us,

“I just filled my two final GM roles and it took about seven months to find the right people, – in the end the successful candidates were both women.”

Having achieved an equal mix in senior leadership, John’s attention is moving to lower levels, with a concentrated focus in areas where nbn need to increase the number of women in the workforce.

John acknowledges that diversity extends beyond gender and is keen to ensure that the workforce is diverse in all aspects.

Developing Diverse Talent

They have created a talent program for high potential individuals across customer field operations and ran a pilot with a deliberate 50-50 gender split.

“I always provide that proportionality in terms of how I’m building future talent, we have a more diverse mixture of men, women and Indigenous people. This new group sets a new tone of what we expect to see in our training cohort.”

To boost HR’s role in hiring, John supported the HR Business Partner in running a Victorian field region for several weeks. This was a development opportunity, assisting her to gain insight into what it’s like at the operational coal face and presenting her a clearer view of some of the operational problems.

To further enable the talent pool mix, he says they are:

“Ensuring we give every opportunity for a female candidate to put their best foot forward if they can’t reach the technical threshold yet but otherwise tick all the other boxes. Once they’ve got the will, I know I can build the skill.”

They are looking at ways to rapidly train people who have the right attributes but are missing the technical skills.

“If I can’t quite see the right people, we’re going to take responsibility to develop candidates and get the right capability.”

Preventing Tokenism

An objection people sometimes have to a diversity agenda and targets is that you will end up compromising skill for diversity – the ‘token female’ accusation.

“The only discriminating factor I always use is capability.” John tells us, “and when you look at someone through capability, you typically end up with a diverse workforce.”

He told us about a recent conversation with a female trainee,

“She said to me, ‘we want gender diversity, but I always want to know I’m here because of what I’m capable of, not because of my gender.’ I never want anyone to be appointed based on tokenism.”

We asked John how he ensures he’s remaining unbiased when assessing capability, as research tells us believing yourself to be fair isn’t enough to override our inherent unconscious bias; formal checks and balances are required to help us assess equitably.

“Yes,” John agreed, “attention needs to be applied to making sure you are spending time really looking at the candidate pool. If you search for capability, the opportunities are boundless. As hiring managers we need to think seriously about how diverse our teams are and what we can do to welcome and support more diversity into our workforce.”

Diversity in Teams

One of the things John says he looks for when creating a team is chemistry. Homogenous teams promote groupthink, so John looks at how to bring points of difference into his team.

“I am never shy about calling out, ‘it looks like we’re short of a bit of diversity in this group,’ and when we have vacancies I put enormous pressure on my team to really look at the candidate pool and consider every possible option to generate more diversity.”

John has filled his leadership team, is on a crusade to shift the field operations gender mix and is excited about the future again recognising diversity beyond gender.

“The more diverse the team, the better the business outcomes. I said to the team here, I’m not going to take you on a journey, we’re going on an adventure – so strap yourself in.”

Maria Sarmiento, Internal Field Workforce, talks about what drew her to nbn and her experience with nbn so far. Have a look at what Maria has to say here

nbn is recruiting Customer Field Specialist roles right now. Click here for more information.

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About the Author
WORK180 promotes organizational standards that raise the bar for women in the workplace. We only endorse employers that are committed to making real progress so that all women can expect better.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.