Fiona Smith has lived in cities around the world but couldn’t be prouder to call Australia home once again. After travelling the wild and beautiful landscapes of other countries, the General Manager of People and Safety at Water Corporation, has returned to her roots to help protect the remarkable people and precious resources of her Western Australian home.
With a childhood spent among the bush and orchards of Roleystone Perth, it’s no wonder Fiona developed a deep appreciation for the natural resources of our country. She’s spent many years abroad in New Zealand and the UK – where she was the Global Head of Human Resources for Électricité de France (EDF) Trading. Now she’s back home and raising her family among the same streets she herself grew up in.
Fiona has fond memories of her time with EDF but seems to have really found her calling at Water Corporation, commenting on what a gift it is to serve her community.
“I loved being surrounded by committed people [at EDF] and that’s what I have found here at Water Corporation too. Here everyone is passionately connected and dedicated to protecting water now and for the future.”
Advocating Water Corporation’s diversity
Fiona admits that prior to starting, she stereotyped Water Corporation as an old-style engineering organization – but quickly learned that this perception couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Of the entire Australian population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make up 3.3% of the population. Yet, Fiona beams, 5% of the workforce at Water Corporation are First Nation people, highlighting the inclusivity Water Corporation has worked hard to foster.
One event Fiona is proud of is Water Corporation’s Kambarang. This 3-day conference saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees come together from all corners of the state to forge peer support networks and engage, learn, and yarn with each other. The feedback received was overwhelmingly positive.
“The highlight for me was seeing all of our mob together and empowering each other.”
Thierra Clanton, Environmental Engineer
In 2019, Water Corporation also participated for the first time in PRIDE celebrations in Perth, even winning best choreography for the routine performed by the employees and supporters who marched. International Women’s Day was another big event for Water Corporation, with a working group running an entire week of events showcasing the role of women in STEM and technical careers.
“Over the 18 months I’ve been here, I’ve watched the celebration of diversity become just how we roll here at Water Corporation. I think it’s fantastic because everyone should be able to bring their whole selves to work. We have a wonderfully diverse organization with people from all backgrounds, and it’s been really positive to see how open our colleagues have been to these celebrations.”
Work experience and traineeship programs for youth with disabilities
It’s inspiring to hear Fiona’s heartfelt vision for the future as she discusses her commitment to create career pathways for young people with disability. She explains, employment numbers significantly drop in the years after graduates with disability complete high school. To reverse these alarming trends Fiona has stood up a work experience and traineeship program for youth with disability. Water Corporation will offer ten work placement programs for year 11 students, and five 18-month school-based traineeships.
“Our People and Capability team has done a fantastic job partnering with different areas of the business to develop this program. People with disability is a talent area that too few organizations are looking into, and we don’t want to miss out on the immense value these individuals have to offer our organization.”
A commitment to mental health
With safety a key priority for Water Corporation, Fiona speaks passionately of their work on ensuring and promoting mental health, and the recent introduction of Mental Health Champions within the workplace. The program partners with Blooming Minds and is designed to provide quick and easy access to wellbeing support for employees. Over 100 colleagues have already been trained as Mental Health Champions, with more to be trained shortly.
“Our Safety and Wellbeing team have done an amazing job in standing up this incredibly important initiative aimed at ensuring our colleagues can get early support for their mental health in the workplace. I am so proud of all our Mental Health Champions for their commitment in supporting their colleagues when they need it most.”
Working flexibly with Water Corporation
Starting at Water Corporation in October 2019, Fiona noticed a huge opportunity to implement flexible working following Water Corporation’s response to COVID-19. This way of operating continues to be well received from the entire workforce.
“We took the opportunity to implement real changes. Our default position now is there should be some form of flexibility available for all roles, whether that be a change to start or finish times, remote working, compressed hours or one of our many other flexibility options.”
As there are countless interpretations of what flexibility looks like, rather than writing a flexible working ‘policy’ per se, a set of guidelines has been introduced instead. Fiona explains this puts the power back in the hands of individuals, their leaders, and teams to determine what will work for them. The result has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve received lots of positive feedback from employees for implementing these guidelines. One person said, ‘I didn’t think I could combine work and having a family. Now I can. I can actually make both these things work’. And another individual just simply said ‘Thank-you for trusting us’. Fundamentally that’s what flexibility should be about – trusting our employees to do a good job and deliver outcomes, whether we can see them or not.”
Committed people working for the community
For Fiona, while the events and border lockdowns of 2020 have meant she can’t travel overseas again just yet, it has provided a chance to visit the magnificent locations around her home state. Her last few holiday breaks have seen Fiona spending time in Mandurah and Busselton, with future holidays booked for Broome and Exmouth. Kayaking with her family and spending time around water has only reinforced the connection and passion she has for preserving and safeguarding this important resource.
“Water sustains life, and it’s a unique opportunity to work for an organization that is a custodian of this precious resource.”