Two HR diversity champions talk about their AHRI Award nominations

HRM online


written on November 28, 2017

HRM spoke to some of the AHRI Awards nominees about their outstanding work.



Johanna Neilsen spent nine happy years at Cbus, one of Australia’s largest public offer industry superannuation funds, before leaving earlier this year. She worked as senior adviser to the CEO, David Atkin and before that, was executive manager, people and culture, with responsibility for designing and delivering strategies around the fund’s people to support growth.

How do you feel about being selected as a finalist for the AHRI HR Diversity Champion Award?

I was completely overwhelmed to be shortlisted to be honest. I am nothing without my wonderful team who rose to every challenge I set them and who made me better through their feedback and support. I feel the nomination is a recognition of all of our work!

What were the diversity challenges that Cbus faced?

When I first joined Cbus, staff numbered around 50 and when I left it was more than 300. This growth forces an organisation to be more deliberate about how you shape and maintain your culture. Over the last five years, we noticed that we weren’t getting nearly as many females applying for roles as males.

How did you address those problems?

One key challenge is that the areas of inclusion and diversity are so large you can try and do everything, but achieve nothing. So we reined in our aspirations and focused on what our people were telling us about their priorities –  which were  gender-related issues’, ‘workplace flexibility’ and ‘cultural diversity’. We consulted widely, both internally and externally, and built something that was very ‘Cbus’, so that our people felt that we had delivered solutions that met their needs.

How did senior management respond?

The senior executives needed to own these initiatives, as they ultimately are the leaders of the organisation. How they act, speak and perform sets the tone for all the other leaders, so if it was seen to be important to them, then it would become the new way of working.

Can you talk about how you approached flexibility?

Flexibility was a bone of contention so we removed all the barriers to achieving it. Once we got people involved in the flexibility conversation then we started to see a change to how flexibility was viewed and accessed. Employees no longer had to state the reason why they needed flexibility.  We asked our people how flexibility would work for them and their team – and focussed more on the ‘what’ they were delivering and not the ‘where’ they were delivering it from.

The investment team currently has over 40 per cent women which is unusual in the world of investment management. That’s a reflection of the leadership shown in that area and the willingness to try what hadn’t been tried, to show others that it’s possible to embrace different ways of working to attract and retain talented people.


Transurban manages and develops urban toll road networks in Australia and the USA. Louise Anderson is Transurban’s Head of Organisational Development.

How do you feel about being nominated for the AHRI Diversity Champion Award?

It’s really exciting to be recognised. Five years ago, I took on diversity as an area of focus, setting up structures and approach. The nomination is a recognition of how an enhanced policy has had an impact not only on our workforce, but has helped in achieving our vision of strengthening our community through transport.

How did the business’s approach to diversity change?

We used to have a compliance approach to diversity and inclusion. It began to change when I set up an overarching group diversity committee, with support from the CEO who chaired it. We set measurable objectives that were report to the board annually.

Under that we have committees on gender diversity, cultural diversity and flexibility that are made up of employees across the business. We also have a support of network of volunteer champions who feel really passionate about these issues and want to get involved.

Transurban has a high percentage of engineering and technology roles. How did you attract more women to the organisation?

In a non-traditional female industry, we made a concerted effort to improve gender diversity, concentrating on how to build a pipeline for women to get into the organisation. We set up an intern program, FEET (Females excelling in engineering and technology) which offered mentoring for students as well. Our first intake had 10 students but last year we hosted 49 students across Australia. We’re seeing the fruition of that as these students are applying for our graduate program and seeing Transurban as a viable place to work and have a career.

Our executive committee is now evenly made up of men and women and we have three female board members.

And what progress are you making on cultural diversity?

We are certainly bringing in a more culturally diverse workforce. There are several aspects of this including recognising the diverse background of our employees, for example by providing prayer rooms across locations. We also run programs around leading culturally diverse teams for our managers.

How do you publicise the work you are doing?

Through our intranet, regularly posting videos, events and achievements. For example, we asked employees to show us how they flex, sending in individual and team nominations. Using storytelling and photos, we showed what flex means across the business and how people are using it, such as an elite sportsperson who uses flex to train.

Winners of the 2017 AHRI Awards are published on the AHRI Awards website.

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