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Diversity and innovation go hand in hand

Every kind of diversity, be it gender, race, socio-economic status or age, is critical to a business and our industry’s long-term sustainability, according to Julie Whitcombe, CEO of RDO Australia Group.

Dannielle James, Director of Pipe Pro Directional Drilling

Diversity and innovation go hand in hand

Every kind of diversity, be it gender, race, socio-economic status or age, is critical to a business and our industry’s long-term sustainability, according to Julie Whitcombe, CEO of RDO Australia Group.

RDO Australia Group is one of the world’s largest Vermeer and John Deere equipment dealers and encompasses Vermeer Australia, agri machinery dealer group Vanderfield, and RDO Equipment. The Group proudly employs over 550 staff and operates out of 18 dealer locations providing sales, parts and service support for the agricultural, roads, civil construction, landscaping, mining and forestry sectors.

Julie, who stepped into the Group CEO role late in 2019, has spent most of her career in and around traditionally male-dominated industries.

“I have always enjoyed the directness of primary industries, and the feeling of being part of a business that contributes something real and tangible to our society and economy, be it roads, infrastructure or raw materials for manufacturing or food,” she says.

“I’ve learnt that diversity in these typically male dominated industries ensures that the ideas going into the hopper are as varied as possible, and this delivers when it comes to execution, because we are taking on the best ideas of everyone involved, and utilising diverse backgrounds and skillsets to ensure a successful outcome on projects.”

Dannielle James, Director of Pipe Pro Directional Drilling and a long-standing Vermeer customer, agrees with Julie.

“I have worked in male dominated industries for nearly my whole career, in both the pipelining industry and the mining sector, and I’ve learnt that a diverse workforce gives you a team that has a great deal of depth, as they all bring different strengths and ideas to the table,” Dannielle says.

“Throughout my years working in the mines in Western Australia, I saw more and more women take on roles and really owning them, and I try to promote that in my directional drilling business. The diversity I’ve seen has made each workforce more successful in productivity as well as creating an enjoyable place to work.

“I do see that a lot of women feel they need years of knowledge and experience before applying for an operator role, and that makes them reluctant to apply. So, I’m a big advocate of getting out and about and to speak to women about moving into this industry or any type of trade industry that they may think has traditionally been male dominated,” Dannielle says.

Julie adds, “in the end, all industries must innovate to thrive, and diversity of thought is critical to the ability to innovate.

“Seeing women step into non-traditional roles is just one sign that the pipelining industry, and many other male dominated industries, are evolving and opening their collective minds to new ideas and perspectives that continue to see them thrive,” she says.

“Women have a lot to offer in creating and leading high performing teams that harness the strengths and talents of an increasingly diverse, and sometimes transient workforce.

“Our team at Vermeer Australia features some great women making their marks in the company. Our Operations Manager in Victoria, Christine Meilak, for example, worked her way through the ranks from administrative roles to take on a branch leadership position, and over recent months we’ve seen the benefit of her authentic leadership style especially as we navigate the daily challenges of COVID-19.

“Our National Parts Manager, Nellie Smit, similarly changed industries and has worked her way up in a short period to a senior national role in our business. Her respect for her team, willingness to get to the bottom of problems before proposing solutions and sharing her thoughts and perspectives are hallmarks of her style. We

have many other talented women across our business that I don’t have the space here to call out separately – but I will say that I love the quality and authenticity of the conversations that flow from the different backgrounds coming together across our team, and I’m excited to continue to add and build to this to ensure we always are fostering innovation.”