You do not have to be an engineer to work in engineering

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You do not have to be an engineer to work in engineering: Sue Forrester AM gets her feet under the table as the first female Chair of WGA

In December 2021, Sue Forrester took over as Chair of WGA, having sat on the board for the previous 12 months and has the notable claim of being the first-ever female Chair at the company.

Forrester’s CV is impressive, to say the least. A qualified lawyer, she kicked off her career as a solicitor in Queensland, but it is her achievements in executive leadership that is quite remarkable and signifies a coup for WGA. But how did she get to the position of one of Australia’s most sought-after board members and business executives? Through a lot of study, hard work, and a brave tenacity that marks her out as someone we can all admire and aspire to emulate. 

Starting as a banking, finance and commercial lawyer in 1989, she transitioned to a corporate legal role with a national financial services regular. In a serendipitous moment, a corporate psychologist indicated that she may be more suited to a commercial /managerial career. She took a leap of faith and completed an EMBA through Melbourne Business School, beginning her career specialising in strategy and strategic HR. She’s sat on over 20 boards in sectors as diverse as the arts, technology, health and community care, health and leisure and commercial architecture.

Forrester is motivated by the sheer diversity of thinking that comes from sitting on boards at companies from different industries with differing objectives, audiences and cultures and thrives on this variety.

She comments, “I get to work with brilliant people who are passionate about their own businesses and achieving success!” She’s not ignorant of the challenges of being on company boards in today’s climate. Both in terms of the personal responsibility and the inevitable difficulties of disparate individuals bringing different perspectives to the table once a month, but believes “some of the initiatives being put in place to enable boards to be more dynamic and support management to promote shareholder value have been useful.”

Being the first female Chair of WGA is something Forrester is taking in her stride, but she’s aware she is one of very few women in such a position in Australia. She’s not shy about sharing her perspective on how to address the balance and calls for mandated quotas for companies on the ASX 200 to ensure more women join boards and make it to Chair. Achieving gender parity in business as a whole, not just at the board level is an issue Forrester is regularly called on to provide insight.

She believes this starts young and that more can be done to encourage women to study fields that have traditionally attracted men. She’s also positive about the future of work being flexible and how one benefit of the pandemic is that people now realise that it is possible to balance work and family commitments without jeopardising one another. She’s aware that many women – for whatever reason – aren’t keen to put themselves out there and apply for that promotion and do often need an extra nudge, which she is only too willing to give.

Forrester sees mentoring programs as a tangible way of helping women with their career progression and encourages others to seek out their own mentors, looking outside their field or location to ensure they’re expanding their professional networks and perspectives. She comments, ‘The key to successful mentoring is that it must feel reciprocal, and it must never be a burden on the mentor.” Forrester has learnt a great deal as a mentee, and now as a mentor, finding it incredibly rewarding to be exposed to the next generation of leaders and be connected to many different industries.

On Australia Day 2019, Forrester was awarded a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for significant service to business through governance and strategic roles, and as an advocate for women. She believes her mentoring played a strong part in her nomination – having mentored around six women formally each year, and ensuring she is available for an ad-hoc cup of coffee for numerous others. She states, “I do believe strongly that as a woman once you are appointed in a leadership position, you do have an obligation to bring others with you, whenever you can.” 

Forrester is excited about the future at WGA, as it celebrates its 40th year in 2022 with several significant leadership changes and expansion into new sectors. She sees her appointment as part of the evolution of WGA, as it has ‘put its money where its mouth is’ to prove it welcomes diversity and inclusion to contribute to the company’s strategic direction.

She concludes, “WGA prides itself on its long-term collaborative client relationships based on respect performance honesty and trust.

We take pride in our technical excellence and in attracting and retaining great people. How they’ve made this real is the term ‘we care’. I have seen this demonstrated on many occasions at all levels throughout the organisation – how the leadership team really take the time to work through an issue and understand the relevant staff member’s position with empathy and respect.”

WGA News: You do not have to be an engineer to work in engineering Article Image
You do not have to be an engineer to work in engineering
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