Article: View from the Top | Jan O'Neill of Downer New Zealand


View from the Top | Jan O'Neill of Downer New Zealand

Not all people are given leadership development opportunities. Here's how Downer New Zealand changed its approach.
View from the Top | Jan O'Neill of Downer New Zealand

Offering leadership programmes that are targeted to a specific gender or ethnicity is a huge boost in speeding up efforts to promote diversity and equality in the workforce, a seasoned HR leader said.

Jan O'Neill, Executive General Manager - HR at manpower service provider Downer New Zealand, said companies must recognise that people from marginalised genders and ethnicities do not necessarily have the same leadership opportunities compared to other people.

“It is important to recognise that not all groups of people have had an equal opportunity to develop as leaders. To grow a diverse leadership talent pool, you sometimes need to target specific groups,” Jan said.

In 2014, the company realised that their core leadership programmes hadn’t been meeting the needs of their Māori people, who were severely underrepresented in leadership roles.

To resolve the problem, Jan said they created targeted leadership programmes and saw positive results immediately. They developed more than 100 confident and empowered Māori leaders within the organisation.

Under Jan’s guidance, Downer also recently piloted the Women In Leadership (WILD) programme to develop more female leaders in a typically male-dominated business. While the number of female staff within the company had increased, they wanted to have more women as decision makers.

“The support the group provided each other ensured everyone stretched and challenged themselves. Most importantly, the team left with clear action plans to become more effective, authentic leaders with a network to support them on their journey,” she said.

“We are seeking to be a diverse organisation that enables the full contribution of all its people. We know that this will deliver the diversity of thought essential to success in complex changing environments and shape our workforce for tomorrow,” she added.

Jan has been leading the HR department at Downer for seven years. Before that, she spent over 20 years in various HR leadership roles for different companies, including Telecom New Zealand, one of the country’s largest listed companies.

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Topics: Leadership, Leadership Development

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