Developing Inclusive Leadership at Transport for NSW

Transport for NSW’s senior leaders have played an important role in championing its diversity and inclusion agenda. Last year, Deloitte assisted Transport for NSW (TfNSW) with the delivery of an Inclusive Leadership Assessment and development intervention. Elizabeth Mildwater – Deputy Secretary, People and Corporate Services – was recently interviewed by Deloitte and shared her thoughts on how TfNSW has been developing its inclusive leadership capability.
Why is Inclusive Leadership important at TfNSW and what was the catalyst for focusing on Inclusive Leadership at TfNSW?

Inclusive leadership was a logical next step in something we started a few years ago: putting the customer at the centre and putting our own people at the heart. To get both, we need to change what we look like and how we work. It’s about more than just putting the right team together – it’s about how you work together. That’s what the inclusive leadership piece is aimed at. Inclusive leadership was addressing the essence of what we need to achieve as a workforce at Transport.

We have been really focussed for the last couple of years on increasing diversity and we do already have a much more diverse workforce. To go to the next level, we have to work reasonably hard on the environment and behaviours – both to get the best out of the diverse workforce and to make it more attractive to new people to join.

What role do Executive leaders at TfNSW play in building an inclusive culture?

Building any sort of culture starts right at the top. From our Secretary down, we are very conscious about: talking the right language; talking about diversity and inclusion; and also leading by example. Like a lot of organisations, we know we have a long way to go. We started the inclusive leadership work with the senior leaders as a cluster, now we are rolling it down.

We found that our senior leaders got on board very quickly. The feedback we received after doing Deloitte’s Inclusive Leadership Assessment (ILA) and the subsequent one-on-one meetings was overwhelmingly good. We all learned something through the feedback process – which was very useful and insightful. I think probably we all learned things that we didn’t expect – so in that alone – the process really proved itself.

Also, the process helped our people realise that inclusivity is quite a wide concept. People think they are being inclusive at a certain level, but what the (ILA) tool tells you, is that being inclusive means a lot more than what people traditionally think.

Since the Inclusive Leadership Assessment and Development activities conducted in 2017, what changes have you seen or heard in the business?

At the most senior levels, we had our original session to make some commitments and then a follow-up. With these sorts of things, often everyone sets off with the best of intentions, but we don’t necessarily follow through with everything we say we will do. Nevertheless, this exercise has led to some tangible changes.

For example, one of the things we were encouraged to do was to buddy up, so that we could keep each other on track with our commitments. My buddy and I met up and we quickly discovered we had a few practical things we could work on together. This has led to broader improvements in the ways our teams work together, not just things we agreed at our original sessions.

At the top leadership team level, we are now better positioned to engage with each other in an even more honest and open way. The inclusive leadership work taught us how to ensure we get everyone contributing in a meeting, which improves the level of robust conversation. We also assess ourselves at the end of each meeting as to how the conversation went. The ILA tool has been really instrumental but it needs to be part of a broader cultural shift in the organisation. As of the end of the last financial year, we were well and truly hitting our diversity targets, but to go to the next level requires real changes to the way we do things.

What was your personal experience of the program as an Executive leader at TfNSW?

The ILA gave me an immediate piece of feedback on how I was travelling, being new to the role. When you move to a new environment, it’s hard to completely understand the history and how your communication is perceived. So the ILA immediately gave me practical feedback as to whether I was being understood and whether I could do more or less of something.

One of the tips personally given to me was: as a new person, write down all the things that surprised me and note the things that were different for me in my new environment. And then, keep referring back to that list, so that I was always aware of those observations. Rather than to absorb them and normalise them, which can often be the case. I thought that was such a valuable piece of advice and one that I’m also passing on as a tip for new people as they come in.

What ways (if any) do you plan to continue the conversation around inclusive leadership (and building an inclusive culture more broadly) in the future at TfNSW?

One of the things we have started doing since we started the inclusivity work is focused on behaviours. Using data analysis, we look at our organisation by layer, by location, and by function, to see what’s happening to different types and cohorts of employees. For example, for women, we look at the statistics for different layers and locations, and see whether that changes things. We can then drill into the environment there. That data is being produced and we are determining areas of focus.

One of the things I’m really interested in exploring more is cognitive diversity. We need to mix things up in terms of people’s ways of thinking. We have to keep challenging ourselves on our ways of doing things, for example mixing up recruitment panels, rotating staff around different areas. That’s the next level that we have to take it to.


For more information, contact Amy Zhu.

Read more about Deloitte’s Six Signature Traits of Inclusive Leadership here.

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