In our latest Corrs High Vis podcast, we take a closer look at building positive cultures, particularly for younger women, in the construction and legal industries.
Alice Hayes talks to Atelier Projects’ Corporate Director, Lisa Loschiavo, Lendlease Senior Development Manager, Lisa Gordon and Corrs Construction Partner Jane Hider.
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Lisa Loschiavo: Corporate Director, Atelier Projects
Lisa Gordon: Senior Development Manager, Lendlease
Jane Hider: Construction Partner, Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Alice Hayes: Lawyer, Corrs Chambers Westgarth
ALICE: Welcome to Corrs High Vis. My name is Alice Hayes, lawyer in the Corrs Construction practice. This week we have a special episode. We were fortunate enough to host a panel based on how leaders in the built environment can foster a positive culture, particularly for younger women in both the building and construction industry and the legal field. The panel, comprising of Atelier Projects’ Corporate Director, Lisa Loschiavo, Lendlease Senior Development Manager, Lisa Gordon and our own Jane Hider, Corrs Construction Partner, explore questions including how companies can best foster a positive culture and what the benefits to business are. Now let’s go to the panel.
MC: This evening’s discussion is about understanding how we as leaders in the built environment can foster a positive culture. In your opinions what are benefits to business of fostering a positive culture?
LISA L: I think the benefits are really clear and particularly if you’ve been involved where you’ve had a change program or a transformation program. The key benefits that we found, or over the last 20 years, is it reduces all the other time that you spend that’s not driving your business going forward. But if you don’t have a positive culture, what you end up doing is managing all of the problems that sort of get in the way of your business moving forward that we’ve seen or I have seen and particularly at Atelier Projects what we’re seeing is our retention is really high. We have a real high level of engagement so we’re no longer having to give people – we don’t have position descriptions, we don’t do performance reviews, there’s honest conversations every day. It’s an open door policy. We talk about our “why” and it is really important for every business or every business group to establish their “whys” and to really share that with the team so everybody knows exactly what you’re doing at every sort of point in the business. So we’ve seen our – retentions will be great. We’ve got an employee referral program and that sort of thing is a real good measure of what your engagement level is. And every time we go to recruit we generally get about ten CVs from the internal group. Yes. So there’s no absent – well, there’s very little absenteeism. So for me, and in particular from my background, having a positive culture is absolutely key.
MC: What are some of the better ideas that you’ve implemented at your workplace that you believe have contributed towards fostering a positive culture?
JANE: Well I tend to – I’m with you, by the way. I think culture is just everything. Culture is the thing that drives business efficiency and improvement and it’s very interesting in law firms. You have separate teams and you can really see quite clearly in a team that has – and bizarrely you can often have different cultures within an organisation and you can see the areas or business units or teams that have core culture; can really see how that impacts on their day to day business in terms of engagement and staff turnover and things like that. But for me, the best way to try and lead and create a good culture is to be totally, totally transparent and non-hierarchical and to communicate clarity. And that’s about managing expectations. Because if I – I think that if people – and to treat people the way I want to be treated. So if people know what is expected of them and it’s about your point about having those daily discussions. We all get told “you’ve got to have daily discussions with your people”; you don’t need to have this stupid yearly PDR thing because you are actually managing the process as you go through the year and it doesn’t become that formal thing. So, I like to be very clear about what the expectations are in terms of outputs and I think that leads to clear understanding and therefore no confusion and therefore happier people. Because confused people are unhappy people.
LISA G: So I am very strong with my team and I insist on it. Which is, you talk to people about issues. You don’t email. You get up out of your chair and you go and have that conversation at the time in the moment when it’s happening. When I got to Lendlease, we brought the building group who we had been in conflict, I think, since the beginning of time with. So development and building whilst we’re – we’re a vertical integrated model. But we’re separate businesses; separate profit centres; different drivers; different levers. You know they pull the lever that way, we go backwards. So that is a really difficult environment to work in and maintain good relationships. And so I put everybody together. We used to sit on different floors. And make people talk to each other. And catch people when they’re doing well and when they’re behaving well. So my view of the world is: culture is behaviour driven. And behaviour is everything. And when people behave well, you’ve got to tell them. And when they behave poorly, you’ve got to tell them that too. And that’s how you drive great culture.
MC: Do you believe the experiences of women starting in a legal practice as young graduates today is any different compared to when you started?
JANE: Well I started a very long time ago. It was so long ago, as I said, that I was an articled clerk. Yes. The short answer is “yes”. I think that when I did my articles, there were still – it was the 50-50 balance pretty much that you see these days in terms of law graduates so that hasn’t really changed. And there was also a pretty square 50-50 and kind of a solicitor level and there was then the challenge that we still have now which is not enough women in leadership positions - in partnership positions and leadership positions. So some things have stayed the same unfortunately but it is a much more informal environment to be in. When I did my articles, I had to call the partner that I worked for – let’s just call him John Smith – I had to call him Mr Smith and he would have been, looking back on it, he might have been 40 years old. And I was 20. I had to knock on the door and say “I’ve got this letter for you” and he would mark it up in red pen. So that doesn’t happen anymore and of course we have computers now. We did have computers when I did articles but barely.
LISA G: I don’t believe you.
JANE: I know it’s hard to comprehend. I think that the war for talent, if you like, is much more full on these days and I think there is now recognition in law firms that we are a people business. People are everything. It’s very expensive to lose people. Retention is everything. You have to have engagement. And so we try really, really, really hard with our graduates to make them feel engaged in the process and there is certainly none of that running up to the County Court and picking up people’s dry-cleaning and doing that kind of stuff. So, to that extent, yes, it has changed a lot. And there are some areas that have not changed. But I would like to think that it is a more – I think the law’s done a lot of growing up in the last couple of decades. It’s become much more – been dragged up to some extent by its bootstraps. So it’s become a more modern working environment and that people are given better – better and more opportunities. There are still structural impediments to women progressing into leadership roles. That is still the case.
MC: Yes, and I am interested in that construction aspect because I guess that sort of leads on to the next question. I mean, yes, tell us a little bit about that because I mean …
JANE: Yes, it’s very high point, but it’s kind of a very male dominated industry but I think the statistics again would show that there have been – it coming through engineering and architecture for decades now has been pretty much squarely 50-50. So again, the male domination perhaps has been at the more physical side – the physical working on site. I think that has changed a lot. And also at the higher leadership levels. And people probably would have heard of NAWIC - National Association of Women in Construction. That began in 1996. The person who started that organisation had a lot of foresight because she realised that the networking opportunities perhaps were not there and they needed to be created. I think I’ve been pretty lucky in that I haven’t been exposed to a lot of that behavioural issues that you hear about anecdotally working in the construction industry. I have not seen that at all.
MC: As a senior lawyer, what sort of skills are you looking for when you employ?
LISA G: Look, I think the given is that all grads who are coming out of university now, they can all technically understand the technicalities of doing their role at the level that they’re coming out at, which is a grad level. I think that the important thing for me is to – I really test their communication skills and their ability to manage multiple stakeholders. I mean everything we do and every day we work, every one of us, it’s all stakeholder. Stakeholder, stakeholder. You’re a stakeholder, I’m a stakeholder. Individuals in terms of your company are. And everybody is pulling you in different directions and it’s how you are able to handle that; navigate your way through it; think clearly; think on your feet. All of those things are the things that I really look for and, you know, having that sense of calm when everyone’s going silly. Can you be calm? Can you look at the situation and weigh it up and say is this a signal, or is this just noise? And so I look for people who can handle themselves in that situation. Because I wouldn’t be interviewing people if they didn’t have the technical capability and those sort of things.
MC: Yes, they’ve jumped that hurdle to get –
LISA G: They’ve jumped that hurdle, that’s right. So, to come and work in my business, you’ve got to be able to figure out what is a nonsense and what is something I need to concentrate on and deal with quite quickly. That’s what I look for. And I look for fun. People want to have fun at work. Because it’s too long a day, you know, to be not enjoying what you’re doing and enjoying each other. So friendly – friendly people are important.
MC: How have you managed to overcome the barriers of hierarchy to – sorry, in the law practice, and I don’t know whether this is a cliché but did you fight the way to the top in a hypercompetitive environment?
JANE: Well I think, look the law firm I’ve mentioned - that was a very hierarchical environment and ironically it still is. That law firm shall remain nameless. I don’t feel that I had to fight really much at all. I didn’t enjoy the first four – three or four years of my career at all. I hated it. It was boring. And then just bang one day, it totally clicked and I thought “wow, I get to draft contracts where a physical thing is built” and then a couple of years later I did the managing contract, contract for Federation Square. And that was amazing, in the late 90s. And so I have been incredibly lucky and all I – the only kind of rules of thumb I’ve had is that I’ve said yes to every opportunity. I think the opportunities do not grow on trees necessarily and you should grab them when you can. And I have been very fortunate that I had a champion, I think is the right word. There were two male partners in the firm I spent 20 years who were totally amazing. And they were push, push, push. “Jane you can do this” and “you can do that” and “you can come back to work” and you can – and in those – in the early 2000s when I came back from my first child there weren’t many people working part-time and they were like “you can do it, you can absolutely do it”. And then I said “I’m feeling really annoyed because I’m doing five days’ worth of work and I’m only being paid for three” and he said “well, we’ll just put you back to fulltime and you can only come in for three days”. All of these things that are quite common now, to some extent, but were unheard of then. So that is what has enabled me to progress. I think grabbing the opportunities and allowing people to support me. And not saying “no”.
MC: Those experiences, how have they informed the way you lead today?
JANE: Well, I would like to and hope to think that I am [fuller] and that I afford the people I work with similar opportunities and I would like to think that I push people forward. Sometimes people do need a push. I won’t generalise and say women need a push. I think just sometimes people need to be pushed and told “you can do this” and “you are up to scratch” and in terms of the often talked about issue with regard to women and flexible working and all of that, I couldn’t care less where my team is physically. I mean if they have to meet a client obviously they need to be at the client’s. But work is very output based and we are incredibly lucky that we have phones that we can send emails from in my view and if you get the job done, you do it well, then that’s what I really care about. So I like to think that I afford those people the same opportunities that were – and flexibility – that was offered to me.
MC: Do you think women require a certain amount of aggression to compete at the top levels of the industry?
LISA G: No. I think if you – I mean, you’ve got to just ask yourself how you feel when people are aggressive towards you, what result you think you might get from that. If you’re aggressive towards people, they’re highly unlikely to want to help you. They’re most likely to avoid you. And you’ll end up being that person in the office that no one really wants to deal with. So, no, I don’t think you need to be aggressive. I think you most certainly need to be assertive but assertive is not aggressive. There is a distinct difference. I think you’ve got to be yourself and, you know, if my style is different to somebody else’s style I think, you know, I’m a more casual type of person, the way I like to communicate; I like to have fun at work; I think that works for me. That definitely suits me. And I think being myself is probably the best approach because that’s what I’m good at, being myself. So I don’t want – I don’t ever – I don’t like that aggressive style. I think women who feel they have to do that – I don’t think you’re on the right track.
LISA L: Yes, I totally agree. I think when you can’t be your genuine self and you try and meet the boys’ behaviours, I think you come off, unfortunately, second best.
LISA G: I don’t think the boys are like that so much either. I think things are – you know, people are evolving thank goodness. So that that aggressive sort of behaviour is very much frowned upon. You know, it’s just not on. And so women don’t need to do it; men don’t need to do it. It’s just clearly unproductive and it doesn’t – you catch more bees with honey. You don’t need to be aggressive.
This podcast is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should always obtain legal advice about your specific circumstances.
The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.