It’s no secret that the Australian rail industry currently has an ageing, male-dominated workforce. However, exciting progress is being made as the sector moves ever closer towards gender parity, and female leaders blaze trails through the industry. Edina Hadzovic and Sam Tait are two such leaders working on the High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMT) project. Here, they speak about their careers so far and strategies to support women in rail.
The $2.3 billion HCMT project is set to deliver a new generation of trains to Melbourne, boosting capacity for the city’s rapidly growing population. 65 high capacity metro trains will progressively enter service from 2020, with maintenance planned through to 2053.
The trains will be serviced at a new maintenance depot in Pakenham East and a light service facility at Calder Park. Two train simulators will train new drivers and the project as a whole is expected to support over 1,000 jobs.
Two people leading the way on delivering this massive project are Edina Hadzovic, Senior Consultant at Systematiq, and Sam Tait, Director of Operations at Systematiq.
Ms Hadzovic said what drew her to the engineering field was problem solving.
“I like the logic that engineering provides. I was always a numbers girl and a very hands-on person. In high school my love of math and science progressed and I decided to use it and turn my knowledge into something practical, something useful,” she said.
“I thought that engineering was a good stream. Systems engineering, in particular, is great because you can use all disciplines of engineering together, in addition to elements of project management and business management.
“Once you understand the Systems Engineering process, you can apply that methodology and solve any problem, regardless of the engineering discipline.”
Ms Hadzovic said that one of the most exciting things about rail is the range of career opportunities available. There are often many roles young professionals do not know about.
“There are so many different streams related to engineering. You can go into technical writing, testing and safety assurance, even project management. You can specialise in a field of engineering and still do all of those roles,” she said.
“If you’re not sure what you want to do, engineering provides a great pathway to so many other roles, roles which you don’t even know exist yet.
“As an engineer, you utilise your math skills, critical thinking, people skills, project skills and much more. Engineering demands multi-skilled professionals, and fortunately those skills are so transferable within industry.”
Ms Hadzovic has been working on the HCMT project since June 2019.
Ms Hadzovic said one of the women she looks up to in the industry is her colleague Sam Tait, currently working as the Safety Assurance Manager on the HCMT project.
“It’s been really good having her,” Ms Hadzovic said. “You don’t often get the chance to work directly with a Business Director. She handles herself so well in difficult situations; her experience and knowledge within engineering and stakeholder management is something to look up to.”
Ms Tait gained her engineering degree in Naval Architecture in 1995 and was the first woman through the Australian Maritime College’s degree stream, and only the second woman in Australia to achieve her degree. Beginning her career in shipyards in Darwin, she has worked as a Systems Engineer and Ship Construction Manager on the ANZAC Frigate Program.
In 2004, Ms Tait joined the team supporting the historic ship Polly Woodside – a three-masted iron-hulled barque originally launched from Belfast in 1885 – and became the first woman worldwide to chair a chapter of her professional engineering organisation, the Royal Institution of Naval Architects. During this time she also completed an MBA.
Initially joining Systematiq as a contractor, Ms Tait accepted a full-time position, being impressed with the culture of the organisation and wanting to be a part of it.
Ms Tait said she had to fight for recognition in the industry based on her achievements, rather than being judged based on her gender.
“I’ve come through a very male-dominated industry and for the most part, have had the honour of being a bit of trailblazer,” she said. “I’ve learnt how to deal with some difficult characters who see ‘me’ rather than what I can do.”
For her, working as a woman in a male-dominated industry requires a degree of tenacity.
“I am fortunate that I am a fairly resilient person and I’ve been even more fortunate to be able to provide some advice to other female engineers about how to tackle a variety of interpersonal issues that they feel are holding them back,” she said.
Part of Ms Tait’s work breaking the glass ceiling in the rail sector has been in directly supporting younger women across the industry, taking part as a mentor in the 2019 Women in Transport initiative.
“It’s been really good to have her as a mentor,” Ms Hadzovic said.
“To see how she conducts herself daily has been a great insight into what a future in engineering could look like for me. Sam is a terrific mentor; she doesn’t let the little stuff get to her. I believe all engineers, not just female, should be exposed to people like Sam.”
Ms Tait said that it was essential to support younger women in a modern workforce and in non-traditional roles.
“A better-balanced workplace leads to a better result, a more diverse approach to thinking – particularly for engineering problems – and, in general, a happier and more productive workforce across the board,” she said.
“We can’t ignore the talent that resides in over 50 per cent of our population or else we do so at our own detriment.”
They celebrated at the Engineers Australia luncheon, was promoted on social media with the hashtag #pressforprogress. We asked Edina what that meant to her.
On International Women’s Day, 8 March 2020, Ms Hadzovic and Ms Tait attended a luncheon organised by Engineers Australia, which celebrated the central theme of “Press for progress”.
“Equality isn’t about letting females have extra entitlements, it’s about reaching that same level,” Ms Hadzovic explained.
“Press for progress is about making sure that everyone understands that there’s still a gap and that we actually need to push – both women and men need to understand that.
“Women have come a long way to where we are now but we still need to continue our progress otherwise we won’t reach that level of equality. We still have to keep that momentum going and we’ve done a good job.”
Attending the event celebrating women in rail, Ms Tait said that she was reassured by the progress made so far towards achieving gender parity in the sector.
“It was encouraging to see such support for women in engineering, particularly after I cut my teeth in a time where there really weren’t any other females in my industry,” she said.
“I had to quickly become used to being the only female in any engineering or management meetings. It wasn’t a particularly supportive environment that I came through, so it is good to see that this is changing.”
Women’s equality in the workforce also means that men are offered the same opportunities to take on stronger parental roles than traditional family models used to show.
Ms Hadzovic and Ms Tait said Systematiq Systematiq strongly supports women in the workforce, providing pathways for graduates from all kinds of disciplines, and strong mentors for their staff.
Crucially, the company offers flexible working arrangements for all employees to help balance their family lives and their careers.
“The good thing about Systematiq is that there is so much diversity here,” Ms Hadzovic said.
“At the lunch, that’s exactly what they were talking about. A woman explained how she had a four day work week and her partner had a four day week so their kids would have two days per week where their parents were at home, and three days with their grandparents, which is great. It’s fostering an environment where Mummy and Daddy both have full time jobs.”
Ms Hadzovic said pushing for gender parity in the engineering field was fundamentally about treating all workers equally, and providing the same resources to support their career progress.
“It’s all about diversity and whether you’re female or male, you can do any role with the right support,” Ms Tait said.
“See yourself as an equal. Don’t see yourself as a burden or as deserving of more than men; see yourself as an equal. Make sure you look after yourself. See yourself as strong and really believe in yourself, in anything you choose to do.”
Ms Hadzovic Systematiq for taking a concerted and active interest in fostering the career potential of all its employees.
“I’m still early in my career and Systematiq offers a lot of opportunities not only in engineering but in project management and bid writing,” Ms Hadzovic said.
“The Directors work with you, asking you what your long-term goals are. Having that relationship with management is awesome. They trust that you’ll do your job properly.
“They offer flexible working arrangements like working from home certain days because they understand that life happens and you have to make allowances sometimes. They trust that you’ll do your job to your best potential and that motivates you to do better. Systematiq as a company, is a really supportive environment.”
Featured image (L-R): Stephanie Davy, engineer and project manager at Australian Road Research Board (mentee of Sam Tait); Edina Hadzovic, Systems Engineer at Systematiq; Sam Tait, Director of Operations at Systematiq; Smyrna Durai, Safety Engineer at MTM.
This partner content is brought to you by Systematiq Pty Ltd – providing business services for Engineering Management including Testing, Project Management, Safety Assurance and Training Support. For more information, visit www.systematiq.com.au.