Diversity on boards.. isn’t just about gender or age. Only about 3% of directors come from STEM, and without this there is a real risk of boards not performing at their highest potential. Stacey spoke to Mel and Dom about her journey in engineering through to her new book.
Stacey Daniel is one of the 2020 Most Innovative Engineers.
It’s fair to say that if we have a few more engineers on boards, then perhaps we might be able to make some more efficient and effective decisions.
Extra discussions during the episode
Future: Stacey is excited by the potential in the future for engineering. But work does need to be done to promote engineering to the wider audience..
the future of engineering is making sure that the non-engineers really understand the capabilities and the capacity that engineers can bring
Advice: Your career path as an engineer can take you in any direction
You may land in your first job and you might be a little bit pigeonholed
The really long span suspension bridges I find very impressive.
Stacey is a business and engineering leader with experience across many sectors and landscapes.
She has fulfilled various roles working with and alongside multi-national companies, State and Federal government, local government, not for profit and small to medium enterprises.
Stacey has also sat on numerous Boards and Committees including statutory authorities, a peak industry body and local community groups.
She is the founder of Board Presence which provides advice, coaching and support to Boards, Committees, Directors and Members.
Fly to the Boardroom… book by Stacey Daniel
Stacey spoke at the World Engineers Convention 2019 on ‘Engineers on Boards: Your opportunity to make a difference’ and recently became a published author with the release of her book titled ‘Fly to the Boardroom: Your Essential Guide to Getting on a Board’.
Stacey is a Fellow of Engineers Australia, a Chartered Professional Engineer and a Registered Assessor for Engineers Australia’s Chartered program as well as serving as a judge for the Banksia Foundation’s National SustainabilityAwards.
And in 2020 she was recognised on the 30 Most Innovative Engineers list.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 4 Episode 9
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Stacey Daniel
[00:00:00] Stacey: [00:00:00] I came out of an elevator at RMIT and I saw this sign and it said, geological engineering.
[00:00:08] And then just bang something just clicked and there was like a big light and a big aha moment. It was like. It was actually the only course of its kind in Australia. And what it did was it was a branch between geology and civil engineering. When I asked the lecturer a few questions, I came away thinking, you know what, there’s a job that I could do, which is both indoor and outdoor.
[00:00:38] Mel or Dom: [00:00:38] How awesome is your mother to basically dig in to give you that experience? How did she know? And my understanding was…
[00:00:46]Stacey: [00:00:46] it does baffle me and, I really should ask her what made her think of that?
[00:00:50] Mel or Dom: [00:00:50] It sounds like she had a real profound effect on your career and your adult life by pointing out what engineers do and putting you in front of engineers. What an amazing mum.
[00:01:03] Stacey: [00:01:03] Yeah, absolutely.
[00:01:04] Mel or Dom: [00:01:04] So you went through RMIT and got your degree. What was your first project that you worked on as an engineer?
[00:01:12] Stacey: [00:01:12] So I moved across to Western Australia from Melbourne and I was actually in Kalgoorlie of all places. I was working at a mine site called, Paddington goldmine. And it was about 30 kilometers North of Kalgoorlie. What my first project was, was basically having to map the geology and the open pits and also underground. , I also had to monitor any cracks that were opening up behind the pit walls and basically have a look at the stability of the walls as a geotechnical engineer.
[00:01:51]And what I also got the opportunity to do was to work alongside a lot of the mining engineers and also the geologists. So as a geotechnical engineer, I was the midway point between those two occupations and working alongside those guys to make sure that as that mine, deepened, that we were obviously able to sustain the angles of the walls and be able to extract the rock as we needed to.
[00:02:18]But I worked with contractors as well and we had to do some de-watering and install some ground support to make sure that the walls stayed up.
[00:02:27]Mel or Dom: [00:02:27] Is de-watering removing water from the site,
[00:02:30] Stacey: [00:02:30] That’s right.
[00:02:31] Mel or Dom: [00:02:31] or something.
[00:02:31] Stacey: [00:02:31] That’s right. So the groundwater would otherwise normally be a bit higher. And what I needed to do was to help reduce the groundwater that might have been putting a bit of pressure on the w alls in the mine.
[00:02:46]Mel or Dom: [00:02:46] how did you to go from Melbourne to WA?
[00:02:49]Stacey: [00:02:49] so the story behind that a little bit more Dom is actually my father lived in Perth and there wasn’t, he’d been there for a number of years and, my Partner at the time , my boyfriend, who is now my husband, we met at university and he had actually gotten a job over in Kambalda, working for Western mining.
[00:03:11]And it seemed to, with not a whole lot of opportunity in and around Melbourne at that time, was a great chance to go over and be able to, , embark on a career. chances of finding work was a lot higher and to be able to hang out with my boyfriend and also to also have the opportunity to see more of my dad.
[00:03:34] So it was a good win-win.
[00:03:36] Mel or Dom: [00:03:36] Is it a case so that you would have always ended up in the mining area, with that kind of engineering degree?
[00:03:43] Stacey: [00:03:43] Not necessarily, there are actually a lot of people who branch probably more into the civil and civil construction , so tunneling, but not necessarily in mining. Also my interest was actually more in environmental engineering, so although I’d worked as a geotechnical engineer, I then moved on from that position after about 12 months to an environmental engineering role at the Super Pit, which was right next to Calgoolie. Uh, so there was a lot of environmental issues associated with that. So that was a really interesting experience.
[00:04:19]Mel or Dom: [00:04:19] So you’ve come a long way since your mining days. So whereabouts are you now? What are you up to now?
[00:04:24]Stacey: [00:04:24] Oh, that’s a very interesting question. I actually wear two hats these days. one of those is as an advisor to boards and directors. so working with committees as well. Providing support in terms of training, but also coaching directors, but also those aspiring to be on boards. And that’s across a range of different sectors.
[00:04:46] but also I get the fortunate opportunity of being connected as an engineer in working with Engineers Australia as a registered assessor for chartered applications.
[00:05:00]Mel or Dom: [00:05:00] I can definitely see the two hats there. Was there a temptation to sort of go, right? I’m just focusing on board work now.
[00:05:06] Thank you very much engineering degree for getting me here. See you later. So why are you still connecting yourself with the engineering side?
[00:05:13]Stacey: [00:05:13] Another really interesting question. So part of my journey is that I took a bit of time out to be mum, that was pretty important to me. And in that I became probably a fairly typical female engineer who it becomes quite disconnected to the sector. To the point of almost not working any further as an engineer, I spend a little bit of time whilst I was raising my kids on boards, actually sitting on boards and also committees. And I found that really interesting , but I guess there was still, and I sort of tap back into that. Girl who picked up rocks and loves the outdoors. And, you know, there’s a technical mind there that I guess , probably wanted to still be a bit of an engineer and be connected to the sector.
[00:06:04] And I feel like having had that journey that I could at least Provide a bit of guidance and be able to add to engineering for others who were coming up through the ranks and having both a personal and professional journey where they’re not separate. They’re very integrated of course. And. There was an opportunity to get involved, just a day or two a week in being able to assess chatted applications. And I thought, well, I reckon that’d be pretty interesting, I feel like I can get involved with that. I’ve been involved in a few different disciplines of engineering. and I’ve also been able to work at various levels of organizations. So I understand where engineers can be at different points in their career. And I just felt like I probably had unfinished business, let’s say, as an engineer.
[00:07:07]Mel or Dom: [00:07:07] And so the other side of the fence where you’re advising and had been sitting on boards, how did you get involved in that? it seems just like it’s one of those areas where I think a lot of people don’t know how to take that path out there to actually be involved in advising on boards.
[00:07:22]was there a path that you took?
[00:07:24] Stacey: [00:07:24] I got involved back in about 2005, I think it was so we’re going back about 15 years ago. So it was a bit odd for a young female to be looking at board work. I had a meeting with my mentor. Well, I think a year or two prior, and I said, Oh, look, I’m really interested in advancing, you know, my career, I’m thinking about an MBA.
[00:07:53] And he said, well, have you thought about the company directors course, which is offered by the Australian Institute of Company Directors. And I said, well, what’s that? And he told me about it and I thought, wow, that’s really interesting. That strategic stuff, governance, risk that’s stuff that probably I’d be more interested in than maybe a, a sort of traditional management sort of stuff.
[00:08:19] And so I ended up doing the course, but what was interesting Was I had actually thrown my hat in the ring for a peak industry body called Local Government Professionals, Victoria the number of vacancies for this board actually equalled the number of applications. And as a result I was appointed. So I did not expect to be involved. I thought, well, what chance do I have? Cause I’m not a CEO, I’m not a director and this is going to a member vote. how would I even have a chance of getting involved? And that was the outcome. And I felt right at home. I just felt I could get my teeth stuck right into it. And I was able to contribute to the training and networking and upskilling of professionals who were employed within the local government sector in Victoria.
[00:09:15]Mel or Dom: [00:09:15] for me, the real pickup point out of that was you had a mentor kind of guide you on that journey or point you in that direction. So where did you get the mentor from?
[00:09:26]Stacey: [00:09:26] So I was involved in a leadership program and part of that was to go and get him a mentor. So I hadn’t had a mentor up until that point. And I guess, because I was focused on having a family soon I didn’t think it was particularly important to do it at that time, but a CEO who I had worked with had previously moved on to another position and was working in another organization and I contacted them and then said, Hey, look, you know, would you be happy to perhaps be my mentor? you know, we have a catch up I don’t know periodically. I haven’t done this before, so I’m not quite sure how it works. So he agreed and we worked out what would work for us and he was great in obviously giving me some guidance, which put me on the pathway to board work.
[00:10:21] Mel or Dom: [00:10:21] Yeah it was like what your mom did for you. That mentor was like what your mom did for you in that he showed you a path and you investigated it and you looked at it and then you went and you’ve gone down that path. So like another mother. It’s also interesting through all your education as well, or the courses that you’ve been doing.
[00:10:42] It just goes to show how important that is. They’re continual building. That seemed to be the stepping stone to get you into all these other exciting new areas.
[00:10:54]Stacey: [00:10:54] I guess the reason why I’m passionate about it is because I see that the value that engineers add to decision making and the outcomes that boards and committees can get out of it.
[00:11:06] Mel or Dom: [00:11:06] Why is it important for engineers, specifically engineers to be on boards?
[00:11:12] Stacey: [00:11:12] So it’s important for engineers to be on boards because there really is a need for diversity on boards. And we’ve seen that there’s sort of been a need for diversity in terms of perhaps age, agenda, culture, different backgrounds, which provide different perspectives, but there’s a real need for technical diversity as well.
[00:11:35] And, what’s been found is that really only about 3% of directors come from a STEM background. And this was a study that was released earlier this year which was the combination of work done by the University of Sydney business school and the Australian Institute of Company Directors .
[00:11:56]So it’s actually a lot less than what I thought it was and probably what most people would think.
[00:12:02]Mel or Dom: [00:12:02] Yeah I would have thought it was
[00:12:02] much higher.
[00:12:04] Stacey: [00:12:04] yeah, if you take that as a bit of an indicator and you look at sTEM where engineering is one of four things in that acronym. Then that’s going to relate to even fewer engineers on boards a whole lot less than 3% potentially. So I guess why,
[00:12:26] yeah, why
[00:12:26] Mel or Dom: [00:12:26] engineers?
[00:12:28]Stacey: [00:12:28] engineers have awesome characteristics and traits.
[00:12:32]not really biased there at all, but, um, I
[00:12:35] Mel or Dom: [00:12:35] agree with you completely. So that’s fine.
[00:12:39] Stacey: [00:12:39] But it’s been reported and a few years ago, the Houston Chronicle in the US actually had done some work. And, and I said, the engineers are ideal for the boardroom because they are collaborative. They’re analytical, they’re solutions based, helping with information based decisions.
[00:12:56]But there’s also been some other work that has been undertaken. And this was by Ipsos in the UK and Roy Morgan here in Australia in the last few years. And basically also highlighting that engineer’s are amongst the most trusted professions behind doctors, nurses, and teachers. And further work has also revealed that there is a lack of trust in leadership out there of institutions and government. So some work, pre- COVID of course, by the Edelman Global Trust Barometer indicates that there’s a real need to boost that.
[00:13:37]that was really around various institutions and governments not delivering as society expects. There’s also some reasonable evidence out there that there’s a number of decisions that are done with our engineering input at least at the highest levels as well.
[00:13:57] So I guess with all that in mind, it’s Fair to say that if we have a few more engineers on boards, then perhaps we might be able to make some more efficient and effective decisions.
[00:14:10]Mel or Dom: [00:14:10] Yeah, I can sort of see what you were saying there, is a boards or that leadership level are suffering from the general public being disillusioned with them and their failure to deliver. Whereas if you wack an engineer or so on those boards, because it’s a trusted profession and they’re used to delivering, then you might actually tick a few of those boxes and move the perception of leadership forward in the eyes of society. I was just wondering … the first question I asked was why is it important to have engineers on the board? My follow on is why boards? why is it important to have engineers on boards? Could they do better going into politics or something like CEOs of companies or something, or why what’s a special reason?
[00:14:55] The large number of engineers holding the CEO positions. It’s just, they don’t seem to be on the board. Yes, exactly. So, yeah, I’m just trying to work out why boards?
[00:15:04]Stacey: [00:15:04] because of my experience I’m narrowing in on the concept of how engineers at board level can make a difference.
[00:15:12] but absolutely leadership, whether that’s of a CEO, so managerial leadership or whether or not politics. Absolutely. And I see that is in itself potentially a pathway that people will have experienced.
[00:15:28] Mel or Dom: [00:15:28] so, while you’ve been on boards, have you been on boards with any other engineers or has it been the case of all the boards that you’ve sat on your the engineer? Have you been the only engineer or have there been other engineers working beside you?
[00:15:40] Stacey: [00:15:40] In most cases, I was the only one. And that was one of the reasons why I was appointed was because of my engineering background. I think if I took a snapshot and technically speaking, I think I’ve only had one other on a board with me and I’ve probably, I think I’ve set on 10 different ones now. So I guess anecdotally for me that tells me something. And that’s why I was interested to find out more, is this representative of what else is out there? So that was probably about five years ago now. so here we are, a few years down the track and we’re hearing, you know, there’s only 3% of directors in Australia are from a STEM background.
[00:16:26]Mel or Dom: [00:16:26] Considering engineering is just one quarter of that STEM. it is Really quite a depressing number. So, how do we up this? How do we increase this? How do we encourage engineers to take up the positions of being on a board?
[00:16:44]Stacey: [00:16:44] absolutely. I think it’s two fold. So, what we can do about it is to raise the awareness both with engineers and also with boards themselves and others who are responsible for making appointments to boards. it’s important that engineers realize that there is been this opportunity for them, that they can get involved with boards and committees at any point in their career. They don’t have to wait until they’re retired. I think there’s a lot of perception, the boards are for those who have had a longstanding executive career, and that’s not the case.
[00:17:23] Mel or Dom: [00:17:23] I liked what you were saying in that it’s very much an education piece that it’s I was gonna say two-pronged but it’s actually three pronged. Cause it’s one that an understanding for an engineer to understand that their career path can actually involve being on a board, like it’s not, you’re an engineer for your life.
[00:17:44] You’re you can actually move your career into being in that leadership role at the board level. Second prong is you don’t need to wait till you’re old and grey to do that. You can do that at a much earlier point in your journey. And then the third prong is to, as you were saying, is to educate the boards themselves, that.
[00:18:06] Check out this pool of engineers here, they’re going to offer something really special to your boards, your, your leadership team.
[00:18:14]Stacey: [00:18:14] Yeah, absolutely. So it is really important that boards understand the value that engineers can bring. Historically there really has been quite a focus on the need for accountants and legal professionals to be involved because of compliance. And obviously because of finance.
[00:18:32] But when you think about it, there’s a lot of boards and committees who actually have responsibility for physical assets, or they are involved in particular processes that might involve infrastructure. And especially now as we’re going down the track of digital communications that it’s not unreasonable that engineering is considered in amongst that mix.
[00:18:57] So when we’re thinking about a skills mix on a board that engineering really should be considered amongst that in a lot stronger than what it has been historically. And so the value that engineers and the engineering mind brings to that dynamic is an important one, because as we’ve seen engineers have good characteristics and traits in terms of that collaboration and evidence based decision making.
[00:19:31] Mel or Dom: [00:19:31] And it was interesting how you saying as well that , age isn’t really a barrier and kind of need to get over that mindset that it’s retirees that basically stopped getting involved. I can remember an engineering firm that used to have a requirement that the board members weren’t allowed to be over 50.
[00:19:50] And so
[00:19:52] Stacey: [00:19:52] they weren’t allowed.
[00:19:53] Mel or Dom: [00:19:53] Yeah. So then yeah. What happened was they didn’t once they got over 50, it wasn’t as though they went, yeah, thanks. See you later. Bye. But they, they basically became mentors for the board and they brought in younger people to take over. And because there were all these fresh ideas constantly coming through the company thrived during these periods, actually it was really successful for it.
[00:20:15] It was purchased by another company. I know it was just, it was a really interesting concept to, to think that it did get a lot of younger engineers onto the table to, to discuss those issues that the older engineers probably wouldn’t have even thought about because they weren’t sort of involved in that component of their career.
[00:20:33] So I think it is something that’s really important that probably engineers out there need to, to think about that just because I haven’t been working as an engineer for years and years and years. And then sort of in the final stages of their career doesn’t mean that they’re what they have to say is an extremely important and can really shape the boards they’re sitting on.
[00:20:54] Stacey: [00:20:54] Yeah. And there’s different ways in which they’re structured as well. So there’s different types of boards. There’s the governing board, which is really sort of that high level non-executive that doesn’t have any managerial responsibilities. Then there’s more of a , uh, I guess those that have a hands on role. so they’re more like an operational type of board. so a lot of committees alike that, for example, where they make both the decisions. Plus they get involved with actually doing the work and then there’s advisory boards as well. So they don’t necessarily have a legal responsibility, but they provide a certain perspective.
[00:21:36] So. You know, boards come in all shapes and sizes. I think it’s important that people understand that and they do seek out what best aligns with this skillset that they’ve got and the knowledge and background that they’ve got.
[00:21:49]Mel or Dom: [00:21:49] I think one of the key things. As well as to demystify what the heck the boards do, because what you were just saying then about, you know, you have operational boards or you have a governance board. I mean, I’ve reported to boards all throughout my career and I’ve never really thought about it. It’s like, Oh my God, no wonder they were so involved in wanting to know every minute detail and or in that case.
[00:22:16] And it’s like, Oh, they just was UpToDate. So it’s, it’s really. Interesting to understand it’s demystifying, that level of leadership in a way would be really quite beneficial to promoting engineers or promoting anyone really, to the board. Those, that diversity that’s so greatly needed.
[00:22:36]So what are your thoughts on the future of engineering?
[00:22:38]Stacey: [00:22:38] I think one of the key things for the future of engineering is about how engineers are engaged. And I think there’s opportunity to use it, use them wisely. And when I say that, I mean that there’s a lot of project scopes and there’s a lot of solutions for engineering projects that are actually often determined by non-engineers.
[00:23:02] And what I find is that it doesn’t enable the engineer to really bring all that they’ve got to the job and. What that is also causing is obviously wasting resources and can be wasting time and things like that. And I think it’s a real shame if we’re not tapping into the full potential of an engineer with all that they can bring.
[00:23:28] And I think it’s really important that the future of engineering is making sure that the non-engineers really understand the capabilities and the capacity that engineers can bring and really finding the way to optimize them and work alongside them.
[00:23:46] Mel or Dom: [00:23:46] What advice would you give to somebody just starting out in engineering?
[00:23:50]Stacey: [00:23:50] What I’d say to somebody who’s just starting out in engineering is what do you imagine about the world or the future? Do you know that you can help create it?
[00:24:01]as an engineer, you can be involved in so many aspects of a project. you can be involved from the investigation, the planning and the analysis, the modeling, the design, the construction, the evaluation. So if you’re just starting out, you may land in your first job and you might be a little bit pigeonholed.
[00:24:28] But look around and say that there is a lot of opportunities for you to get involved in other aspects of engineering. And you might start out in one discipline of engineering, but then you might find that the more experience you gain and the more insight you get, that you may well find yourself moving to another discipline of engineering.
[00:24:50] Depending on what you’ve been exposed to.
[00:24:53] Mel or Dom: [00:24:53] Hmm. You were a perfect case of that from the geotechnical through to environmental, through the leaderships and stuff. Yeah.
[00:25:01] Stacey: [00:25:01] Yeah, yeah,
[00:25:03]Mel or Dom: [00:25:03] It’s amazing how broad the spectrum can be in regards to the opportunities.
[00:25:07]Stacey: [00:25:07] yeah, absolutely.
[00:25:09]Mel or Dom: [00:25:09] is there a piece of engineering that impresses you?
[00:25:14] Stacey: [00:25:14] Well, I’ve got to say what really impresses me are suspension bridges. I’ve been over the golden gate bridge in San Francisco. also been over a few of them in China and also seeing them build some in China. I guess what I’m thinking of is when you say about, is there a piece of engineering that particularly impresses me? The really long span suspension bridges. I find very impressive. I think that aesthetics , the use of the materials how they I stand up and how they withstand certain climatic conditions, I think it’s quite amazing, but I think what they enable is amazing too, in terms of being able to obviously connect, different regions or a city that might be divided.
[00:26:02] Mel or Dom: [00:26:02] I do have to admit I’ve recently been watching Lego masters season one. And when they did the bridge challenge, I’m like, Oh, this is really interesting. I can understand. And when you were just talking then about suspension bridges, like, wow. I wish I had seen a suspension bridge in Lego. One wonder what a Lego suspension bridge will look like.
[00:26:24]Stacey: [00:26:24] I think I did a couple in the last series,
[00:26:27] Mel or Dom: [00:26:27] Maybe in season two, I might need to, I wasn’t really planning. Yeah.
[00:26:31] So. Is there an engineer that you admire?
[00:26:34]Stacey: [00:26:34] All I’ve got to say, I really admire the work of Felicity Fury.
[00:26:38] Mel or Dom: [00:26:38] Oh, okay.
[00:26:39] Stacey: [00:26:39] yeah. Yeah. Look, I really admire her fearlessness and confidence and the fact that she has put herself out there as a role model, not just for engineering, but also entrepreneurship. I think that’s really important too as I sort of said before, about the opportunities of engineering, aren’t just limited to jobs, but about, you know, if you see a problem, you can actually devise a solution and you can actually drive that and do something about it. but I really like how she’s breaking down misconceptions of engineering and, you know, particularly as I was a girl in high school who thought engineering was about engines.
[00:27:24] So I think the work that she’s doing, that there’ll be a lot of girls coming through school who now know that that’s not the case. her work resonates with me as a female engineer and I guess as a mother and advisor and coach passionate about unlocking the potential and equipping the next generation with the tools that they need to basically help them on their journey and also create the world that they need for their future.
[00:27:55] Mel or Dom: [00:27:55] Well, that dovetails perfectly cause Mel’s on the board of the Power Of Engineering. So that was one of the, you actually inspired me to put my hand up. when we met at the WEC convention in Melbourne and you were talking about the board About a month later, the Power of Engineering executive board had positions available and I’m like, I heard Stacy talk.
[00:28:19] I can just let’s just do it, just do it, Melanie. And, um, yeah, I spoke to Felicity and she was like, yes, yes, you’ve got to join. You’ve got to join. So it’s been an incredible experience. She’s definitely inspiring.
[00:28:32]Thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a really awesome conversation. Thanks for that. That was wonderful.
[00:28:38] Stacey: [00:28:38] Nice. Thank you. Thanks Mel and thanks Dom. It’s been fabulous. Thank you very much for having me.
[00:28:43]Mel or Dom: [00:28:43] And thank you for listening to Engineering Heroes as we present the new Dawn of engineering challenges for Engineers Australia. Your hosts have been Melanie and Dominic De Gioia. You can view this episode show notes and learn more about our podcast by visiting our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au.
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