Maria Rampa: Hello, I’m Maria Rampa. Welcome to this episode of Engineering Reimagined.
It might be hard to imagine now, given the slower pace and emptiness of many Sydney streets, parks and beaches, as people continue to socially distance, but in 2023, a giant party will descend on the city.
More than 50,000 people from across the world are set to visit, as Sydney becomes the first destination in the Southern Hemisphere to host WorldPride, the marquee international LGBTQI pride event.
Plenty of colour, glitter, floats, laughter and dancing will be found across the harbour city as people come together to celebrate.
But on a more serious note, the festival will also host a Human Rights Conference which aims to provide a platform for discussion and change around the many crimes and injustices still prevalent against the LGBTI community, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
While the movement for LGBTI equal rights has made significant progress in recent years, with same-sex marriage now legalised in many countries, the LGBTI community still faces discrimination and marginalisation. What impact does this have on workplaces and how can we better support this community, understanding the importance of embracing diversity to enable innovation?
Andrew Muller, Aurecon’s Chief Operating Officer, talks to Kate Wickett, a former lawyer, who has worked in advisory roles with many of Australia’s largest organisations, including the Commonwealth Bank, Transport for NSW and Aurecon. Kate is now Interim CEO of Sydney WorldPride 2023 and was part of the team that bid and won the right to host the festival. In this podcast she talks about how organisations can build an inclusive culture and why it’s so important for industries like engineering. Of course, we also wanted to know what’s in store for Sydney WorldPride in 2023 and Kate revealed a few insights!
Andrew Muller: Hi, Kate, thanks for joining us. Several years ago, I mentored a colleague who came out at work age 40. And since then after sharing that experience with him, I've been an active advocate and ally for the LGBTI community, which continues to experience discrimination and marginalisation. What inspired you to become an advocate for the LGBTI community and specifically the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras?
Kate Wickett: Thanks for having me, Andrew. It's so great to be with you. I grew up in Adelaide and as a teenager in the 90s, I knew that I was different. And I used to get teased at school a lot about being gay or being a lesbian. And so growing up in Adelaide and then going to university, it was quite an isolating experience. Back in the 90s there wasn't a lot of LGBT community around. There certainly wasn't much for lesbians. And so while I was at uni, a friend of mine said to me, oh, you must go to Sydney and go to the Mardi Gras. And so I saved up all my money and jumped on a plane and arrived in Sydney on the Wednesday before the Mardi Gras, which takes place, the parade, on the Saturday evening. And I stood out in front of the Colombian Hotel on Oxford Street and the place was bustling with people. And I looked up that street and for the first time in my life, I felt what it was to have community.
It was quite an overwhelming experience for me, I'd felt alone and isolated growing up and then suddenly I was surrounded by people similar to me and I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power in my life to make sure that no one ever felt as lonely or as isolated or not belonging as I did growing up in Adelaide. It was really a seminal moment in my life that I want to be involved. And some years later here I am with Mardi Gras. It's been a great journey.
Andrew Muller: What do you think's the best way to support the LGBTI community?
Kate Wickett: I think if we have a look at the marriage equality plebiscite, 61% of Australians voted yes, for equality. And I think that that experience, while exceptionally traumatic for a lot of the community, also for me was a resounding time for people to come together and unite. There aren't many people in the community who don't know someone who's LGBTI or don't have a relative that identifies and this was an opportunity for the community to come together as a whole: allies, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins and show how much people love their family and stand for quality. That visible support is something that goes a long way to advocating and supporting the LGBTI community.
Andrew Muller: One of the reasons I became more actively involved in this area was a moment where I became aware of the challenges that LGBTI people can face at work. Many years ago, I offered one of my team members an opportunity to go and work on a on a major project overseas. It's a really exciting project and would have advanced their career. And they turned it down. And I have to admit I was a little confused because there's a person that's very talented, ambitious and as far as I could see didn't really have any, you know, the ties that might weigh them down to a home city that maybe some people with young families etc might face but eventually he had the courage to explain to me the reason he turned it down was because his male partner wouldn't have been able to legally live with him in that international location due to the laws at the time there. And that was a real awakening for me for my own privilege as a white heterosexual male. And opened my eyes to some of the experiences that my colleagues face. Have you heard similar stories of people's experience specifically in the workplace?
Kate Wickett: That example is actually quite common. I've heard that a lot and not just with respect to LGBTI people, but certainly even women working in those areas. I think it is a really difficult question for multi-national companies who have offices in a raft of different places around the world and the values that that company hold aren't always reflected in the laws of a particular country. I've heard a similar story with a lesbian friend of mine, about 15 years ago, a lawyer with a big firm here in Sydney. And she had exactly the same experience with her lesbian partner and it was a really difficult decision for them.
It's challenging for organisations, but not insurmountable in that, when organisations do stand behind their staff and are supportive, I think that's really important for staff to know that. We're still advocating globally for equality and for LGBTI human rights. But in the absence of that equality, the next best thing is having an organisation which acknowledges that and supportive of those equal human rights. It's a difficult one.
Andrew Muller: It's essential that people can bring their whole selves to work and we're seeing more and more compelling evidence that building a diverse workforce drives innovation and developing inclusive cultures creates high performing teams. What does an inclusive culture look like to you?
Kate Wickett: I’ve thought about this a lot. And when I was at Aurecon many years ago, another colleague of mine, we wrote the small business case to start the LGBT network at Aurecon, which I'm very, very proud of. And when we wrote that small business case, we talked about an inclusive work culture and having worked in a number of workplaces now, the thing that sets organisations apart, is not just having a DNI policy, but living that DNI policy and that comes down to one thing and that's leadership.
I think there's an incredible amount of good that can come from the leaders of an organisation, living and breathing their values or their espoused values. Something that we used to talk about at the Commonwealth Bank was this idea of tone from the top. And where leaders are leading the organisation and they must lead by example. So an inclusive work culture for me is, yes, hiring people from different backgrounds. And that's not just LGBTI people, we often talk about diversity in particular silos or segments. For me inclusive and diverse cultures, particularly in the workplace, are much more about cognitive diversity and diversity of experience of which LGBTI people do form a category if you will, or a grouping of diversity, but I often think we overlook the cognitive diversity.
Andrew Muller: How have you seen the landscape change since you started your career?
Kate Wickett: There's absolutely much more visibility around LGBT issues and LGBT rights. So the visibility in the first instance is that, yes, organisations are turning their minds to it, whether that be people from different backgrounds or accessibility and disability and the focus on LGBTI has become much more prominent in my career. I've been working professionally now for 20 years and there certainly weren't any networks or internal networks at any of the organisations I worked at. Pride in Diversity as an organisation has gone and done tremendous things for education. At the end of the day, it is about education. Understanding and empathising with others, particularly in the workplace.
Andrew Muller: Earlier this year, we launched InterEngineer with Pride in Diversity and Engineers Australia to promote LGBTI inclusion through a whole bunch of networking and advocacy activities. Why is it important to bring different ideas and attributes to specific professions do you think? Particularly for us in engineering.
Kate Wickett: I think engineers are the future aren’t they? They have an incredible way of thinking. And they obviously design and build the infrastructure for the way that we live. I know that there's a lot of work being done in STEM around having women involved in engineering. And I think diversity in engineering is so important because the engineers are designing our future. And I think going back to cognitive diversity, what those engineers are designing should reflect all of the community. And so If you only have one part of or a very small part of the community, designing solutions for the future, then I think we're missing a trick there, as engineers need to be able to reflect all parts of the community.
Andrew Muller: Wellbeing is something that's become a real focus in many organisations today. What do you think can be done to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people in the workplace?
Kate Wickett: We are ultimately a hierarchical society at work. And when the leaders and the people that you look up to lead by example, and don't tolerate injustice or inequality, I think that's a very powerful message. The health and wellbeing and mental health of LGBTI community within organisations can really be supported when the leaders set an expectation and, and people are really clear that that expectation must be met. That goes to all forms of diversity, religious background, cultural background. People just want to feel safe, and they want to feel represented. That kind of a culture lends itself to really innovative outcomes as you touched on before. When people feel free and safe, they design, they engage with each other, with great positive outcomes.
Andrew Muller: Now, switching gears we have to speak about the fantastic news that Sydney's been selected as the host of the World Pride Festival in 2023. Congratulations on the successful bid. Can you tell us a bit about what was involved?
Kate Wickett: Thank you. Back in late 2018, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras decided to bid to host for World Pride. World Pride typically occurs every two years. But Mardi Gras being a small organisation, we had a bunch of volunteers. We bid and pitched against Houston and Montreal. We had a small team. I was co chair of Mardi Gras at the time and myself and another director, spent a lot of our volunteer time out of work working on the pitch and the bid. The value proposition that we put forward to InterPride who are the licensors of World Pride is that World Pride had never been held in the southern hemisphere before. And that if InterPride truly wanted to be a global organisation, it needed to be a global organisation. And part of that was hosting it in Sydney.
We went off to Athens last October and pitched to the membership of InterPride. We were really very lucky and pleased with the successful outcome. It was just fabulous. And we really wanted to shine a light on not just Sydney and the LGBT community in Sydney, but the LGBT community in the entire region. And that includes all of Australia, but also the Asia Pacific. There are some of the most egregious crimes and laws against LGBT people in some of those countries still. So we thought this was a great opportunity to show a leadership role in the region. Yeah, we're very pleased with the result and very excited about what's to come in 2023.
Andrew Muller: How do you think your background and you've had experiences working with organisations such as Aurecon and Transport for New South Wales, Commonwealth Bank, how did all that help with the bid do you think?
Kate Wickett: It's a really about diversity of experience and empathy. On one hand, the humanistic side of it is that I've worked in a number of different organisations, government and private. And those experiences have really assisted me in particular my legal background. If we talk about a strategy of a campaign, we sat down and looked at our competitors and had a bit of a competitor analysis and more holistically it was around understanding what we wanted to achieve as an end game.
I guess one of the other things that I found when I was travelling around overseas last year was that a lot of people actually don't know a lot about Australia, and they certainly don't know about our First Nations people. We thought that World Pride be a fantastic opportunity to really be a vehicle or platform to educate others around our LGBT community, but particularly our first nations LGBT community. And so my experiences at those different organisations really assisted me in kind of understanding again, the how to set out a strategy, but also how to kind of develop our values and our outcomes that we wanted to achieve.
Andrew Muller: World Pride symbolises how far we've come in recent years since same sex marriage is now being legalised in many countries. What can we look forward to when the festival comes to Australia?
Kate Wickett: With World Pride you must deliver four key events. There's an opening ceremony, a closing ceremony, a pride march and a human rights conference. And we wanted to make the human rights conference a cornerstone of the festival. So the festival will occur in the same two and a half week footprint as Mardi Gras. So the end of February, early March, the average punter coming to 23 will come to Sydney World Pride, they'll get all of the same events that we currently have at Mardi Gras. And then they'll have all of the World Pride events on top of that.
But what I think we're most excited about is that human rights conference. A lot of our stakeholders are very, very keen to be involved with that conference. Think less traditional conference so not a keynote plenary breakout, but more of a TEDx style South by South West (SXSW) conference, very immersive, very interactive. And shining a light on the really diverse groups of people within the region. So we're going to have a significant First Nations component for the region and different groups and parts of our community at that conference. No doubt we'll have a number of politicians and certainly we're already speaking to some celebrities want to bring out so it will be hopefully where the entire city is activated for those two and a half weeks, not just the usual Saturday night for the parade. But the whole city will be activated with a whole raft of different events, which is really, really exciting.
Andrew Muller: How does hosting this event in Australia assist the Asia Pacific, with many LGBTI communities still denied fundamental human rights? How does it help move forward in terms of equality for all do you think?
Kate Wickett: It's a great opportunity for Sydney to play a facilitating or a leadership role in the region. Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras been around for 42 years. Mardi Gras has a huge social media reach and a huge reach internationally. And sometimes I think we do take that for granted. The opportunity to host World Pride here with Mardi Gras and use that platform for change, shining a light on some of those crimes and some of those laws in Asia-Pacific, in of itself is an opportunity to kind of advocate and push for change.
One of the things that we're very keen on doing is that, we want to be able to make that human rights conference and the content of that conference available to everyone. If people can't afford to attend Sydney 23 for economic reasons, or particularly in the Asia Pacific for geopolitical reasons, they can watch our conference and watch the change and watch that advocacy and thought discussion and leadership online. So it's very much our intention to make it accessible to as many people as possible, really being a platform for change and social discourse.
Andrew Muller: Thank you again for your time today, Kate. And look certainly looking forward to World Pride in 2023.
Kate Wickett: Thanks, Andrew. I really appreciate it. And thanks to the team at Aurecon I think you're doing great work there. Very proud to be an ex-Aurecon alumni.
Maria Rampa: Thanks for joining us for this episode of Engineering Reimagined. We hope you found it interesting to hear about the challenges that LGBTI people face and the impact of inclusive leadership in making people feel safe at work. The WorldPride festival coming to Sydney is 2023 is certainly something to celebrate. If you found this episode insightful, please tell your friends about it or leave a review in Apple Podcasts. You can subscribe to Engineering Reimagined wherever you listen to podcasts and follow Aurecon on social for updates. Until next time – thanks for listening.