I studied engineering at the University of Tasmania. I did vacation work at what was Conall Wagner at the time, here in Melbourne. I enjoyed the fact that every day you got to work on something different. I continued professional education all the way through my career. Two weeks after I started as a graduate, I enrolled to do Lighting Engineering at RMIT. When I finished that, I studied Communications and became a registered communications designer.
I became a Registered Building Practitioner and Chartered Practising Engineer. I liked the structure of seeing the progression of what I’d achieved. I really enjoyed working in buildings because of the tangible side of it. If my parents asked me what I was working on, I could describe it, they could see it, you hear about it on the news… it’s exciting.
I got the opportunity to work on projects overseas. A soccer stadium in China, a hospital in Bahrain, the new Australian Embassy in Jakarta. I went from a design team member, to leading projects, to coordinating across the disciplines to being involved with stakeholders.
I also got more involved with the internal management of the business. If there was something we did, that didn’t make sense, I would want to understand why we had to do it that way. As I showed an interest, I was often pulled in as a stakeholder. Initially I represented a younger member of the business, but I took on more and more of those roles.
When Connell Wagner merged with two other companies, I was nominated as the business representative to work with the external consultants around how to design the new structure, the benefits of the merger and how we would track them over time. Over time, the management roles turned into more leadership roles. I was into roles where I spend part of my day working with clients, part leading teams and other parts, looking at the business.
I realised I wanted to focus on one more than the others, so I did an MBA. Working for one company meant that I only had one way of working. The MBA gave me access to outside views, from different workplaces and different industries. It validated what I had learnt already, the hard way, and it gave me access to frameworks for my new role now.
Whenever I was faced with a decision and I didn’t know what to do, I always went with what gave me the most options. Even when I was at University. I chose options that I thought would give me the most opportunities. I continued to do that in my early career.
Something I learnt more recently, is a patience. It comes with maturity. Earlier on, when I was working on internal change programmes, I understood what we needed to do and I was trying to be very efficient and forcing it through. I’ve learnt to be more patient, to take more time and to let people get there themselves, instead of pushing it on them. You need to guide the conversations and guide the success. Whilst you can have something done more quickly, it may not be adopted as effectively. If you take people along they have ownership of the process.
Having kids has taught me what is really important. It has made me more relatable too. I was promoted quickly. I’d be having conversations with people much older, or much more experienced in the workplace. Kids are a leveller. They also mellowed me out. They give me perspective. I’m less stressed now than I used to be.
The move to NDY, was driven by the fact that I had been at one place for so long. I still felt an attachment to Aurecon, but I wanted to try something different. It was really exciting for me to go somewhere that has a change agenda and apply what I had learned on the job, but also from an academic background. I like that fact that it’s a different scale. I feel like I can be more impactful.
I used to feel like I had to be different at work, to how I am in my personal life. I really think one of the reasons I’m less stressed now, is that I am just my authentic self. I don’t feel like I have to act a certain way. The fact that I am different from everyone else, is what I have to offer. I see some people I know outside of work and they are quite different. And perhaps it was also the case for me. And that’s why I was so exhausted and stressed.
Some people can confuse confidence with competence. I feel like some people have a personal brand that is beyond their ability and some people who have the ability don’t have the personal brand to represent that. It’s important for senior leaders to understand that.
We need to celebrate the femininity of women in the industry. For me, what I try and do for women, is I understand that even though it may not be my role, women may come to me for things they are uncomfortable going to others with. I understand that and help them follow things up, or at least give them advice on how I’ve dealt with something in the past.
I feel like things that came up when I was in a more junior role, that didn’t necessarily affect me or offend me, I’d let it go. Whereas now I feel like I’m in a role where people will assume that if it doesn’t affect or offend me, it’s ok. I do speak up more, than I would have previously, because I do feel a responsibility being one of the more senior females, to set the standard. I feel like a stickler for always bringing it up. But it’s my responsibility.
What I try and do, is always be particular about my language and using gender. And I call people out. I’m conscious of how I do it. I’m not going to call someone out in a meeting, where it can put them off and they may be defensive. But I may approach them later. Embarrassing someone, they aren’t going to take on what you are saying. Watch how your advice is being delivered.
My mum used to say ‘You tell me?’ all the time, in response to my endless questions ‘Why, how, what…?’ and I realised later she wasn’t being dismissive but teaching me to learn. She encouraged me to explore and investigate before coming to others for all the answers. I even wrote to NASA asking for some info on space when I was in primary school and they sent me a parcel back!
Benita is warm and conversational. We met her on a warm spring evening at Kaprica, on Lincoln Square South. A snug corner that we fondly refer to as Lygon off Lygon. Benita has built herself a world of opportunities and experiences. She is authentic, down-to-earth, and extremely accomplished. Most importantly she is the kind of considered and forward leader that this industry not only needs, but can also benefit from in a myriad of ways. Benita is such a strong example of leadership and business strategy innovation for an evolving industry. It has been such a pleasure for us to meet Benita and to get to know her. And we wish her all the best in 2017.