One-on-One with Andrew Dawes
One-on-One with the UDIA NSW Diversity & Inclusion Committee with Andrew Dawes, Foundation Director of Enspire Solutions
UDIA NSW D&I:
Hi Andrew, thanks for your time today. We’re going to talk about D&I in the workplace, how the industry can better support D&I, leadership lessons and the challenges that you’ve faced in your career. Firstly, can you tell me a little bit about Enspire and how you got into the industry?
Sure thing! I started the company in 2018 with my business partner, Cameron Vella, and we brought in another director, Michael Hodges, who used to be my manager years ago. We started with five employees and now we’ve grown to 31. We focus on the urban development space and typically work on large scale residential, retail, commercial and industrial developments.
I think Enspire started because me and my business partners all saw the way the ‘old-school’ civil engineering businesses were being run and wanted to do things differently. Having worked with great people through my whole career and having great young people wanting to join us really drove the idea that this could be a successful business.
UDIA NSW D&I:
I’d like to get your thoughts on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace. How do you think D&I is important or relevant to the industry?
People don’t like change, things they’re familiar with makes them feel comfortable. I think that that was a significant part of the problem with D&I in our industry. I think change and being comfortable with change is important. And then once it’s ingrained, it’s very, very, very easy.
One of the benefits of being a young company is starting with a blank canvas. We embedded D&I so deeply into our DNA as we began, that it’s now just a part of business as usual for us. Our workforce ranges in age from 19 to mid-50s, almost 40% are women and 50% of our staff come from a non-English Speaking Background.
I think when you bring really great people together with a focus on doing a really good job and on learning and growing, the culture is a byproduct of all that. Our culture is about putting your hand up, having a go, wanting to work hard and having fun while doing it.
I feel like the industry is on the right track with women in engineering. For a long time we were quite hamstrung as an industry, because there wasn’t as many female graduates coming through. But some companies used that as an excuse to not change the way they were doing things. One of the biggest changes in the industry is the diversity of people coming through university and TAFE. There’s also been great work from UDIA and universities to promote the engineering to women through scholarships and events, and that has driven a lot of that change.
UDIA NSW D&I:
What do you think we can do better as an industry to support D&I?
I think we need to focus on cultural diversity. Throughout my career I’ve heard people say, “Oh look, they were all right but they’re not going to fit in with the culture of the company.” When what they really mean is the interviewee comes from a different culture. Things like that get disguised as trying to protect the culture of the company.
I think there’s still a stigma about people that study in foreign countries. I can tell you that certainly looking at recruiting, there is the new term called local experience. Not experience, local experience. And fair enough that local experience is good because you have to learn standards, you have to learn councils, you have to have contacts, all these things, and that is valuable in someone’s career. But I think local experience is now the new get out of jail free card for people looking to not be diverse.
I also think flexibility needs to be supported – people don’t need to be in the office every day. There’s that old school mentality that people are going to take advantage, but I think there’s a big difference between someone not doing much at home because they’re taking advantage and someone not doing much at home because you haven’t given them enough to do or haven’t given them enough support.
Before COVID we were already encouraging people to work one day a week from home. One of our directors had been working from home in London since we started the business, and has only recently returned to Australia this yearso our systems have been set up for any of us to work remotely since day one, which helped when COVID hit.
But there does need to be a balance as there is a lot of teamwork and organic training and mentoring that happens when you’re working from the same place. We noticed that our junior team members were really missing out on that during COVID while everyone was working remotely at the same time and becoming very task-orientated.
UDIA NSW D&I:
What’s the single biggest lesson you’ve learned about leadership?
That’s a good one! One of my previous managers said to me that the biggest mistake he made was holding people back because they did a really good job at what he needed them to do. I took that with me into my next managerial role and thought, “Okay, how am I going to build a team of people?”. I realised that it wasn’t about me or just doing the work—it’s about having a culture of training and quality work from the beginning. It’s about nurturing careers and giving your team more opportunities and job satisfaction, and then bringing in juniors and training them and just keeping that approach going.
We’re also supportive when people chose to leave, whether it’s for new opportunities or changes in life circumstances. We find that when people leave on good terms, a network opens up at a new organisation and sometimes employees return after getting experience somewhere else, so they’re bringing new skills and new ideas back to our business.
UDIA NSW D&I:
Have there been moments you’ve felt particularly challenged in your life or career?
Starting a business and taking that leap was certainly a big challenge and probably what got me through that was I guess just confidence in how much we put into the business concept, how hard we worked and the relationships that we’d built with staff and with clients.
COVID was a significant challenge. As an engineering service consultancy owner, your number one expense is people’s salaries, and then you’re hit with a global pandemic in a relatively new business, you think, “I just don’t want to be responsible for people not getting paid.”
I think that confidence and relationships that we had built at the start of the business came to the forefront. There were probably only a couple weeks there where we thought, “Well, we’re in trouble.” But our clients really backed us and kept us busy through that period. And we come out of 2020 with our staff all working full time at full pay, and we were able to pay bonuses and had salary increases.
UDIA NSW D&I:
Great. This is the last question that we always ask in these interviews—what’s your One Thing that you’re doing in the D&I space or businesses you work for?
We take the wellbeing of our staff very seriously and we’re very conscious of workload and pressure.
Everyone has issues, big or small, going on in their professional and personal lives, and as a manager it’s almost a privilege to get to have those conversations. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad.
People can still be a bit embarrassed about coming to you and saying that they have a problem that’s affecting them. And I say, “You’d be surprised how many people I’ve spoken to this week or this month.”
You just have those conversations and create a culture where people are comfortable doing that. And I just try and be honest with my team about my life so that they feel ok with being honest with me about theirs. And then we look at how we can support them.
This interview forms part of a UDIA D&I Committee initiative series to encourage and highlight more diversity in UDIA and the property industry. It is intended to highlight diversity by profiling our members through industry publications on a regular basis throughout the year. Thank you to Stephanie Partridge, Senior Development Manager, Goodman.
Since 2018, the Diversity & Inclusion Committee has been one of the key Business Advisory Committees for the UDIA NSW, focussed on improving and promoting diversity and inclusion in the UDIA and our industry. This year, we launched the ‘One Thing’ campaign – celebrating and sharing the ‘one thing’ that we’re doing to empower people by respecting, supporting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, and education. What’s your One Thing?