Roz Hansen Urban Planner, Fellow, Board Member and Adjunct Professor  / 
Ambitions

story / Interview / April 9, 2018

If you want something, go for it. I went for it and I have never had any regrets. Sure, I made a few mistakes along the way but generally speaking I have been a bit of a risk taker. Don’t be so risk adverse that you get twenty years down the track and wish to God you had done it. That’s a shocking situation to be in. It’s a recipe for unhappiness.

I studied a bachelor of Arts majoring in Geography and Politics at the University of Melbourne. I really didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with that. I went on to complete a diploma of Education thinking at least I can earn an income and teach. I then decided to do a three year post grad course in Urban Planning. I taught for a year, loved the kids but was totally depressed by the staff room conversations. I just thought, I don’t want to be here in ten years’ time and be miserable like these people.

Fortunately, I was offered a job with local government working for the former City of Fitzroy, now known as the City of Yarra. I worked in the Urban Planning Office. We were trailblazers at that time working on community gardens, protection of boarding houses, social planning issues, heritage studies, streetscape improvement programs and a whole range of policy and guideline documents.

Once the local council changed from a Labor Party base to become controlled by a small group of independents (they were starting to destroy the whole progressive agenda), I left. I became a consultant working for Wilson Sayer Core who were urban planners. I became a senior associate and one day realised that I was billing more than three out of the four directors. There was no career path for me in terms of directorship so I went out into business in 1986 with John Henshall (an urban economist).

That successful practice through evolution became Hansen Partnership in Exhibition Street, Melbourne. I took on two other partners, and eventually brought in urban designers and landscape architects to broaden the diversity of skills in-house. Whilst I was doing that, I was going back and forth to Vietnam completing projects for the World Bank and various other foreign aid agencies.

In 2011, I decided to retire, supposedly. I was nearly sixty years of age and I thought ‘I’ve had enough!’ I had my succession plan in place – by that stage I had five other equity partners in the company. Since then I have been involved in many things! I chaired the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Plan Melbourne which is the Metropolitan Melbourne Strategy to 2050. And more recently been involved in the Geelong Authority, another ministerial advisory committee, looking after revitalisation of central Geelong.

I am also a member of various boards including YWCA Housing, Salvation Army Housing and the Melbourne Social Equity Institute. So basically, I’m not retired!!

When you have been in practice for so long, the reality is you’re not just going to turn the switch off. I’ve had a real interest in affordable and social housing for a long time. I guess I have been fortunate in that I have had opportunities to continue that interest but in a capacity where I have more influence.

I’m a leader, I acknowledge that. Whatever I have taken on, I have always liked to lead. For instance in 1998, I chaired what is now the Heritage Council of Victoria. I was 36 years of age, I was the youngest person around the table of 16 members, and I was female. I had only been on the Heritage Council for 2 years. The then Planning Minister asked me to be the chairperson and I jumped at it. It must have been a shock for some of the old guard who had been sitting, waiting in the ranks to have the accolade. I had to prove to them that I had the capability to be able to lead a statutory authority as well as bring fifteen other people together from a wide range of interests and backgrounds, as was the case with the Heritage Council at that time

I think female participation in the workforce is improving dramatically. I used to get annoyed sometimes at some of my fellow colleagues (males in the organisation) who weren’t so attuned to being supportive of women in the workplace. Those attitudes, that when you delved into it, didn’t have 100% acceptance. Planning is increasingly female dominated, however poorly so in senior positions. We are still not well represented, that is, as much in local government as well as in the private sector. I think it will change.

The challenge for women is when they go and have kids. How do they keep in contact with the industry and transition back into part and full time work? I believe the employer has to provide every opportunity to make this work. Many employers put a lot of time, energy and training into people who come into an organisation. I think the employer has an obligation to help women in the workforce have a pathway to achieve what they want. There shouldn’t been these glass ceilings and obstacles in the way. When they move into a child caring situation, they should be given every opportunity to continue if they so desire. And when they do come back, to actually give them the support and the systems they need so they can come back and feel comfortable and continue to be productive and successful in what they do. Some employers are very good at doing that, but I think there are a lot of employers, particularly in the private sector who are slack. They talk the talk, but don’t put words into action.

When I went into my own consultancy, (I was only one of two women who was heading up a planning consultancy at that time), I was quite ambitious and career driven. I made a conscious decision in my mid-thirties not to have children. People often ask whether I have any regrets. The answer is, I don’t and I don’t feel I have missed out. I made a conscious choice. I knew that I could not have children and fulfill my ambitions. Women should not have to make that choice. But at that time, I was ‘it’ in the company.

I do however, have step children. I have two by my first marriage and I have three by my current marriage. And I love them! I treat them as if they are my own. Sure, I didn’t have to do the nappy changing and all the hard yards but I do have the friendship and the joy of those people now as they are all adults.

The advice I would give to young women in the industry is to sort out what you want. Don’t think about the end of this week, or at the end of the year. Actually have a serious think about where you want to be in five or ten years time. When I pose that question to women I have mentored they are often taken aback because in many instances they haven’t really thought about it. Do you want to stay in Planning? Do you want to branch out? Be in middle management or CEO of the City of Melbourne? What do you want to be? You should give it some serious thought. It will change through your life and your work career. Open different doors. Then figure out how the hell you are going to get there and what you need to do to put all the pieces in place.

Networking to me has been really important. I have been to network functions where I have been the only female apart from the waitresses. I used to say to some of my mentees, when you go to a cocktail party after work, don’t wear black and white! I once went to a function full of men, and one man came up to me and said, ‘I would like a scotch’…! I happened to be wearing black and white.

Get out of your comfort zone. Talk to people. Broaden your networks. Build your future opportunities. Treat networking as a part of your professional development and being able to pursue your dreams.

Don’t stay in one job for too long. You can always go back, but I see so many people, particularly in the public service, that have been there for yonks and they are often dead wood. They become brain dead and have lost their spark. People say to me, ‘Well, how long should you stay in a job?’ and the answer is till as long as you don’t like it anymore. When boredom kicks in, get out.

And finally, I say, travel. It is the best education you will ever get. Sure, it costs a bit of money, but travel to me in my profession, has been an absolute winner. Certainly that has opened up doors for me. It’s a lifetime journey of actually having experiences that you don’t get out of a book or lecture.

My father was my mentor, he was very much a private enterprise person. At the age of 14 he was out on the floor sweeping a warehouse. He never had the ability to have a tertiary education but he made sure all of us had a good secondary education and four of his five kids had a tertiary education. My father taught me a really strong work ethic. You want something, you work for it. You don’t get it on a silver platter. I think that has been embedded in me. Every dollar I have earned, I know I have worked for it. There have been no freebies, no hand outs, no leg ups. I think that is a really solid foundation. You won’t get anything by sitting on your arse. It might sound like old fashioned advice but it certainly got me though. I’m 65 this year and I figure so much of my value, work ethic and leadership has come from my family. Those things resonate.

 

 

A lot of people in the industry will be familiar with Roz Hansen. When we ask people to name the people they find inspirational, it’s often Roz’s name that pops up. She holds a space in the industry like no other. Her breadth of experience and her years of forging her own path have made her a denizen of the Melbourne planning scene and her name precedes her prodigious reputation as a powerhouse of strength and experience. We had such trouble picking a quote that really struck us from this piece, as the vast majority of our interview with Roz was memorable and relevant! We can’t thank Roz enough for taking time out of her very busy schedule and speaking to us over a glass of wine at Punch Lane. We wish her all the best and hope her endeavors both continue to bring her great joy and achievement, and also change to the industry for the better! J&D xx

 

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