Today, in a symbolic salute to International Women’s Day, Master Builders Australia has appointed the first female CEO in its 127-year history. Denita Wawn is no newcomer to the title of ‘pioneer’, and boasts a long history of revolutionising the leadership landscape of Australian industry associations.
Taking on the role later this month, Denita will be the third CEO for Master Builders Australia in over thirty years. Having been with the organisation since January 2016 as General Manager of Operations, Denita is uniquely qualified to take on the position. This is not however, her first appointment as CEO, nor as the first female spearhead in a male-dominated industry. Denita has previously enjoyed positions as the CEO for the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand, and General Manager (Workplace & Corporate Relations) of the National Farmers’ Federation.
In announcing her appointment, Master Builders National President, Dan Perkins noted:
“Denita’s qualities, skills and experience as a highly-accomplished industry leader and advocate saw her emerge as the successful candidate from the comprehensive recruitment process undertaken by the board.”
Denita has made it her mission to overhaul and bring into the 21st century, traditionally male-lead organisations—captaining the image overhaul of the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand, which saw a turnaround of the organisation’s reputation both nationally and internationally.
“Denita has impeccable credentials for success including her wealth of experience spearheading game changing advocacy and industrial relations campaigns.” Dan Perkins said.
Denita’s appointment demonstrates a marked shift in Australian and international industry attitudes in recent years. Government and private sector organisations alike are moving toward gender-balance ratios, with BHP Billiton setting ambitious 50/50 targets to be achieved by 2025. With the introduction of their gender parity targets, outgoing chairman Jac Nasser voiced his desire for BHP to appoint a female to the role for the first time. In turn, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forest of Fortescue Metals Group has set similar targets, illustrating further the appetite for change within some of the least gender-diverse workforces on the planet.
BHP’s CEO, Andrew Mackenzie draws on his experience with American petroleum group Amoco, whose business was deliberately structured to reflect the diversity within their customer base. While working for BHP in America when Amoco was acquired by the mining giant, Andrew was delighted by the results of this ground-breaking strategy within the group.
“It was an eye-opener for me,” Mackenzie says. “They sold gasoline in the centre of American cities, and wanted to look like their customers. They were pushing very hard, not just on gender equality, but also an appropriate representation of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and dealing with the whole issue of sexual identity.”
Mackenzie explains that diversity is about attracting the best of the best, including younger workers,
“who are at their most productive, their most inspirational, their most quick-thinking, their most quick-witted – we need to be attractive to them by having a modern approach to sexuality and race and inclusion. When they get here there should be absolutely no discrimination, and a sense that they can flourish.”
And the benefits to the organisation for this forward-thinking attitude to recruiting diversely? They are clear, according to Mackenzie. He attributes it to “a maturity of decision making, and urgency, if you like, from the male side which can actually lead at times to a recklessness”.
Mackenzie’s outlook is mirrored by Master Builders’ Dan Perkins, in their appointment of Wawn to the position today:
“The Board is confident that Mrs Wawn’s leadership will see the implementation of its vision for Master Builders as a modern, credible and influential national voice for its more than 32,000 members.”