#diversitymatters With Rick Kreeck, “Listening Is A Wonderful Learning”
An Executive Director and Victoria/South Australia (VIC/SA) Lead at BG&E, Rick Kreeck has more than 20 years’ experience working with clients and other stakeholders on infrastructure and building projects. He’s a seasoned business leader and an enthusiastic advocate of inclusion and the Chair of BG&E’s Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Committee. We recently had a discussion with Rick about why an inclusive society and workplace are important.
When did you recognise that diversity was crucial in society and the workplace?
Early in my career, I worked alongside males and females from a range of backgrounds, so assumed that workplaces were diverse. Later, the balance shifted and colleagues that I regarded as very capable, missed out on opportunities often without a specific reason. I noticed the workforce diversity was going backwards.
This was the result of a gradual accumulation of assumptions, unconscious biases and in some cases, managers who sought their own qualities, in their teams. It also became clear that some teams tolerated behaviours that left other colleagues feeling disengaged.
Do you have mentor that you seek guidance from about diversity?
My wife, Nadia, has spent most of her career in a corporate environment and has a great understanding of workplace culture. One of my sisters-in-law works for a large bank and has good insights. I also have a circle of friends that I can talk to and get open feedback from.
I’m acutely aware that we have no women (nor a particularly diverse range of backgrounds) on the Board, so if I want to see the business through the eyes of others, to help inform the decisions we make, it’s critical for me to talk with people from across the business. To date, those discussions have been a wonderful learning. While cultural change takes time, I’m amazed at the capability of our people and I look forward to working with them to move the business forward.
Is there something about diversity that keeps you up at night?
Balance. I’m conscious there’s a need to transition the business to be more diverse, but I’m equally mindful of moving too quickly, in a direction and without sound diligence, as that could harm BG&E. As we implement change it’s important to empower all our people. My role is to listen and encourage increased sharing of perspectives, to enable better outcomes for our teams, clients and shareholders.
Do you have a diversity role model who has had a significant impact on your life/career?
Early in my career, I had a close friend, Sarah, who had a considerable influence on my attitude around diversity. She was the most successful person I knew, in terms of seniority in her role, what she achieved and what she earned, and she lived a few doors down from the Australian Prime Minister.
She overcame what some presumed were obstacles: being a woman, a child of refugee parents, and a Muslim.
Sarah was incredibly empathetic and perceptive, she could read behaviours in meetings and respond accordingly, which helped to get deals done.
She shared some of the traits of her refugee parents from India, specifically courage and resilience, and called upon them when needed.
Her Islamic faith provided solace and served as a connection to the vibrant community in London, in which she was raised. Ironically what I took to be impediments to her career, were in fact some of the qualities that enabled her success. The environment she worked in gave her the opportunity to use those qualities to reach her potential.
Unfortunately, Sarah is no longer with us, so she can’t inspire others the way she inspired me. However, I can work on creating a culture which enables others to succeed, based on the qualities they bring to the fore, as Sarah did.
What will shape a fairer future for the next generation?
I reflect on the use of the word ‘role’ to describe a person’s job. In many ways, this represents our expectations in the workplace: how they present themselves, how they behave, and what they do. While it is important to embrace professionalism, I don’t believe that we should expect our people to pretend to be something that they are not.
This could manifest in subtle ways including, expectations that you will laugh at your manager’s jokes or you will ignore comments that offend you. Over time, those expectations lead to people being forced to act in ways that don’t align with their values, and that stifles creativity, innovation and most importantly, participation.
I also feel we need to move away from the notion that a benefit granted to increase diversity or equality, is a benefit that is denied to others. Opportunity is not a zero-sum game. If it was, BG&E that was founded by three, white males in 1970 would still only have three employees today. My focus is on creating pathways to enable everyone to succeed. When they do, they will create further opportunities, add value and we all will benefit.