Interchange Meets: Tanya Eales
For the third episode of our ‘Interchange Meets’ series, we had the absolute pleasure of getting to know WesTrac’s General Manager of People and Culture, Tanya Eales. Tanya talks about gender equality in the workplace, what makes for a positive workplace culture and she even offers up some valuable advice to young women just starting their careers.
Tell us about your professional background.
I’ve spent the last 30 odd years in the retail sector, and when I think about my professional background, it started through operational type activities within supermarkets that then led me to do some study and become qualified in training and assessing, so that I could work as a trainer and facilitator.
I then progressed onto a career in HR, which spanned a variety of different roles, including HR generalist roles, corporate support positions and then eventually, I became head of HR and worked across a few different business units within Woolworths Ltd. My last position was the Group Head of HR Shared Services, delivering HR Services to over 200,000 team members across a variety of businesses.
That now brings me to my current role at WesTrac, where I am the General Manager of People and Culture and have been for the last 2 years. This has been my first experience in the Resourcing sector and I must say I am thoroughly enjoying myself.
Did you always feel passionate about a career in HR or was it something you fell into?
Well, I have always had a great deal of passion for delivering great service through people. I think that has stayed with me from my early days of working in supermarkets through to now.
I have always been interested in team dynamics, helping people to develop their skills and then seeing a service improve as a result of that development.
So I think that’s why I was so drawn to HR.
What do you think makes a positive workplace culture?
I think that for me, a positive workplace culture stems from having a shared set of goals and purpose. When everybody knows what we are here to do and why we’re trying to do that, it:
One – It helps them to connect with the identity of the company and go ‘absolutely, that’s why I want to be here and I believe in those things as well.’
Or two – It helps them to self-reflect and think, ‘actually this is not for me and no I’m not on board with that.’
If you make those things clear from the beginning, it helps to immediately attract the people who will bring a positive, energetic and inclusive essence to all that they do and consequently, to the organisation.
In your opinion, what makes a good leader?
When I think about what I want to see in a leader and what kind of leader I try to be myself, I think about how important it is to be real.
A good leader is someone who is authentic, someone who makes mistakes and is not afraid to own those mistakes. They also have emotions and can display and share them in the right way.
They should also be inspiring and engaging and can always make sure communication is at the forefront of their mind.
These kinds of things make a great leader because they seem human. The team will find it easier to trust and open up to them without fear of speaking up.
So, do you think there is power in vulnerability as a leader?
Absolutely, 100%. I have a few framed pictures at home and one of them is ‘be real, not perfect’. Because I think we spend too much time striving for perfection, which then can manifest as either controlling or micromanaging behaviour.
Seemingly being across everything doesn’t necessarily empower everyone. When you realise that perfection is impossible and that no one actually wants you to be perfect, then I think that’s when you open yourself up to being real.
It’s okay not to know the answers, it’s okay to be open and honest, it’s okay to show the team when you’re upset or when you’re excited, it feels great to share that, and makes the team stronger.
What makes a successful team?
I think that a team is like any relationship that you have. For example, when you look at all of the relationships in your life, whether it be with family, a partner, children, whoever it is – those things don’t just happen by themselves. You have to actively work on those bonds in order for them to be successful.
If you want a team to work, you have to put the effort in, and it has to be purposeful. So whether it is a 1 on 1, a meeting, a team offsite, the sharing of vision or goals – whatever it is, you have to approach it with purpose.
If you are doing that, naturally, concerns will be brought up. So, you must create an environment where the team can communicate openly, and things can be discussed and then addressed. From there, you work on those concerns until you can move past them. Then, you should take some time out to reward the team, give recognition and have some fun together to say thank you.
I think that if you do those things, like with any relationship you have, it will be a successful one.
As a successful senior female leader, what advice would you give a young woman that is just starting out in her career?
The first thing that I would advise them to do is to show initiative, say yes to opportunities and to back yourself. Different opportunities will come along and they might not always be what you had in mind but say yes to them anyway. Even if you may think you’re not up to the challenge, someone has seen something in you, so grab the opportunity with both hands and have some confidence and faith in yourself.
I would also advise them to set some goals. I have been setting goals since I was 13 and it has really helped to anchor and reposition myself, especially when I get a bit lost thinking ‘where am I going, what am I doing and what is really important to me?’.
It’s also important to find someone to talk to that you can really trust to give you the truth. Whether that be a colleague, a mentor, a friend – whoever it is, you want them to be able to push back occasionally and pull you up when you could have done something better. There’s no growth in just hearing ‘yes I agree’ to everything you say.
Lastly, I would advise them to always speak up if something doesn’t feel comfortable. You can’t let those things fester. You need to be able to tell someone that what they have done, said, positioned, whatever it is, that you’re not comfortable with it and give your reasons for that.
How do you ensure gender equality in the workplace?
As General Managers of People and Culture or Heads of HR, it’s easy for us to ensure things like pay equity, a good parental leave policy, flexible working options and so on are available. These are the easy things; you can fix those straight away.
The harder thing though is to get the gender balance right and to provide the right environment for everyone, which can be a challenge in male-dominated industries. But the industry I work in is trying to grow and is putting a huge amount of effort into getting it right.
WesTrac has been trying to grow our female participation across the business for the last couple of years now and we’re making some good progress, but it’s slow progress. There are elements of that that I’m ok with though, because I would rather it be slow and correct than fast and having a negative impact on the people we’re bringing into the business.
So I think there’s a large part of it that people don’t understand – It’s about communication and education and you know, it’s not just a female problem or a company problem. It’s all of our problem.
In order to really make the big changes, you need to have the conversations, collate the data and then present that data back. Nothing can be fixed unless you talk about it and have people really understand the issue. Having the data helps because you can’t shy away from what the numbers are telling you.
So that if you could say to the decision-makers, this is our female participation, this is how many females applied for jobs with us, this is how many got knocked back and these are the areas of our businesses that do not have any women working in them. From there you can understand why and formulate a plan, but you have to have the data first, because no one can argue with that.
We have gotten to the point where we are having those conversations across all levels of the business and we have had a group of senior leaders out of the work environment for a day so that they can attend a gender equity workshop, led by our CEO.
WesTrac is 30 years old and has been a heavily male-dominated industry for all of those years. So I feel super proud that we’re taking such positive steps and have gotten to this point.
Predict the future, what would work look like for people in 2050.
I think that the workplace will be more balanced in terms of gender and ethnicity. I think we will also have an increased level of flexibility, providing more opportunities to work part-time, work remotely, conduct virtual meetings and so on.
I think we are definitely going to have more of that, and it will just become the norm.
I also think there’s going to be a greater focus on service and service delivery as a critical skill. I think that service skill, whether that be frontline facing, retail, hospitality, healthcare, resourcing etc. can often be undervalued and overlooked.
If we could increase the amount of focus placed on service, whatever that looks like for your business, we would have happier teams that feel fulfilled and valued, as well as more satisfied customers.