Helaine Stanley Strategy + Placemaking 226 Strategic  / 
Girl Scouts and Couch Research

story / Interview / September 19, 2016

I grew up with a single mum and a community of grandmothers. I was so fortunate to have two grandmothers (and grandfathers) as well as two great-grandmothers, until I was into my mid-twenties. A Scottish Great-Gran and a Chinese Great-Gran. They were all very strong and kind women.

On the sustainability side, I can remember my Aunty taking me to a National Park for the first time and being blown away by our bushwalks. My Aunty also works in the research and consulting area around sustainable cities. She is a real inspiration. She’s very wise and I think it’s so great that well into her sixties now, she still wants to work and contribute, even though she probably doesn’t have to. It’s invaluable to have knowledge shared.

My career was pretty planned. I studied Business and Marketing. When I finished, I made a list of businesses I wanted to work for, figuring whatever I choose to ‘market’ there’s going to be more of. ACF (Australian Conservation Foundation) was at the top of the list, as they had started an ecolabel. I offered to volunteer there. Showed up to work three days a week in business attire, and stayed there all day, until they offered me a job!

Australand chose sixty, mostly senior staff, to undertake a course for eighteen months. With sixty men and two women. It was a great experience. It centred around the property industry. Based on the MBA course, with outdoor challenges included. I figured out I had good problem solving skills. It was surprising to watch eight men standing around scratching their heads, whilst I solved something. It gave me a lot of confidence in my practical skills, logic and creative thinking, rather than years of industry experience.

At Australand, I was really lucky to be well supported and I had decision making capacity. I reported to the Managing Director, then there were three General Managers. I had total decision making power over anything to do with marketing. For a thirty year old from a creative agency to not always be in agreement with a much older male who’s been in the industry for so many years could have been difficult. So it was essential to have been given the structural support from the top down.

While I was at Australand, I was at work one day reading an article on my desk. It talked about David Yencken’s vision for Australia’s first commercially viable green building and how that was about to become a reality. I went and met with some old colleagues who were still at ACF and told them I had been in property and wanted to be involved in this new wave of property.

I then went on to work on the 60L Green Building Project. I researched sustainable building products and came up with a model to make it a showcase to walk architects through and exhibit products that were commercially viable.

I decided to take a break after that project finished. This seemed like the best time to enjoy more time with my toddler. I had been working four days a week and my mum had been caring for my child much of that time. I decided to opt out and hang out at home for a few months. Then I got a call from someone who heard me do a talk on sustainable building products. He was working with RMIT on turning a list of sustainable building products into a website. So I consulted RMIT for about 3 months; on ecospecifier and what the list could become. What the list needed to be from a market perspective, which became GreenTag. I worked for nine years on different research projects for RMIT.

I’ve starting Consulting through 226 strategic. Taking work on for RMIT and people I’ve worked with in the past. My partner and I merged our two businesses a couple of years ago. We’re now busy with property branding and website development as well as placemaking projects. We met at the agency when I had Australand as a Client. When I applied to Australand we had just started dating. A great time to move workplaces!

One of the lessons I learnt is to speak up at the time. Don’t just let things go. This sets the tone, sets the way that you are. Positions you. I realised early on that you have to be ‘in there’, initiating, shaking hands, confident and calling things out as they happen. Don’t be the meek person, sitting there, phased by something. There’s always a friendly way to approach these things. It doesn’t have to be threatening.

One of the things I’m passionate about is out-dated laws that inhibit and don’t enable innovation. One of the examples is the Nightingale Apartments in Brunswick. An exciting project with a social laundry, shared services on the roof. Really good environmental credentials. With their planning approval, there’s no car-parking in common, but one objector took it to VCAT and brought the architects back to the drawing board. It’s laws of yesterday and not having laws for what we need to go forward, that’s an issue.

I heard a woman on the radio the other week. She was talking about the retention of women working through into senior roles, being a problem. I thought I’d do some research on the couch with a glass of wine. I looked quickly at all our industry bodies, and looked at the names of the people on the board. In the property area generally, women were at about 24%. The Australian Property Institute had no women. In quantity surveying it was about 30%, Real-Estate sales about 9%, Marketing and Research, 63% and Sustainability and Built Environment came out at 43%. Which probably is representative of my experience.

It hit home even more when you read what the board’s aim is, or what they are doing and you think ‘Oh, all these men, making all these decisions and representing that many people!’ My couch research was a quick snapshot. But it’s in black and white.

On diversity of boards, as well as providing a more representative voice, the evidence is clear on improved financial outcomes. For women wanting to share their expertise there’s some great networks around. There’s a Melbourne breakfast series that helps show the path towards board positions for women. It’s run by Helga Svendson. Representation of women as conference speakers and on panels is another area that needs work. We need to put our skills forward. If you’re an expert in an certain area, add it to your Linkedin profile, including ‘public speaking’ and ‘panelist’. If I hear a great female panelist now I’ll endorse the skill or suggest the skill. Small things add up.

Coming from a single mum, my mum always said ‘Girls can do anything.’ I must have been pretty young when she said that, so I held it to be true and wore it really proudly. I wanted to join the Scouts, but then mum said ‘Oh but girls aren’t allowed to.’ And I remember very clearly thinking, not that my mum had lied to me, but that ‘Girls could be Scouts, I can do what they do, what a stupid rule!’ My mum ended up buying me a Scout jumper from the op-shop, so I used to strut around in it. Scouts was a bit like a secret society, where I was always trying to find out what they did there!


We met Helaine some time ago now and have been in touch with her over the time between initially interviewing her and posting her interview on the blog. Including this week where she sent us the great link on the Nightgale Apaprtments (see above), from the conference she was attending in Vancouver. Helaine is one of those people that are curious about most things. She likes to inform herself of the current dialogue…exemplified by her brilliantly simple but poignant couch research, which she hit us with when we first met. It is so exciting for us when we meet someone as passionate as Helaine. Because people like her, force you to look at the world from a different perspective and to consider new ideas and ways of thinking. Helaine has a real vigour for her work and the industry. We hope that as Gazella develops and grows, it will be with people like Helaine by our side. We wish Helaine the best of luck for the rest of the year!



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