Embracing Change

Sponsored Article by NSCA Foundation

Jasmine Doak’s safety leadership ethos embraces the benefits of diverse expertise — embodied by her own career trajectory — and sees productive potential in the seismic shifts COVID-19 brings: to work as we once knew it, and to its future. DENISE CULLEN reports.

Jasmine Doak doesn’t think small. As Coles’ new General Manager of People and Culture, Commercial and Corporate, Doak sees her leadership purpose as to “lift up people and systems to a place where anything is possible”. It’s a vision forged by her own experiences — starting with her “tough upbringing” in a single parent family in Warrandyte, Victoria, which honed her “crash or crash through approach to life”. As a teenager, she said, she careered “off the rails”, falling pregnant at the age of 16 years and giving birth to a daughter midway through her final year of school.

It wasn’t a promising trajectory, but Doak’s grandparents supported her to finish Year 12 and encouraged her to pursue further studies. So, even though Doak had four more children by the age of 25 years, she enrolled in a law degree at Deakin University, which she completed via correspondence over seven gruelling years. “I did it at night,” she explained. “I put all the children to bed and then I’d sit up and I’d get lost in this world of intellectual challenge and thinking and this whole universe opened up for me.”

After completing her degree, Doak secured a position at Minter Ellison where she remained for six years, starting out as an articled clerk and leaving as a senior lawyer. Her career then
shifted towards human resources (HR), which she worked in a range of high-risk industries, including manufacturing, transport, logistics, energy and mining. This included a stint as Orica’s vice president for HR in Australia, Pacific and Asia, and four years with AGL Energy. “Education unlocked all that for me, it was how I climbed out of where I was,” she explained.

Doak believes that the same principles apply when education around workplace safety is viewed as an opportunity rather than a threat. “We can use safety as a way of holding people down, as in ‘You stay there, because I’ve managed to mitigate all of those risks’ or, ‘No you can’t work from home because I don’t know whether your work station is set up properly or not’ or, ‘No you can’t work part-time because I’m not confident you’ll hand over all the information to your job share partner’,” Doak said. “We need to reframe and think about, ‘How is it that we can use safety to lift people up?’”

Although Doak did not start out as a safety professional, she joined the NSCA Foundation board in 2012 at a time when the organisation was seeking to increase its diversity of viewpoints. “All the evidence points to diversity of thought improving business outcomes,” Doak said. “The future of work for me is going to unlock all of this opportunity for us to find some of that diversity from people that have been brought up in the country, people that have come from overseas and people with different backgrounds.”

For example, a McKinsey study found that companies with top quartile diversity on their executive boards generated returns on equity that were 53% higher than companies in the bottom diversity quartile. Since 2018, Doak has also served on the board of the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority and, from 2017, was on the board of Victoria’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) for more than three years.

She was the organisation’s president as the Black Summer bushfires raged during the 2019/20 worst ever fire season and over the tumultuous period in which the MFB and Country Fire Authority were controversially restructured, paving the way for the new Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV), which launched in mid-2020. She describes that period as “really tough” and acknowledges firefighters’ efforts and priorities.

“They put themselves in a position every day where they, quite literally, could be in the firing line,” she said. Firefighters were able to put aside whatever issues arose — industrial
relations disputes, critical media coverage, disputes with the government and community outcry in relation to transformation of the service — and just get on with the job at hand.
“When the community needed them, they stood up every time, and I was just so proud to be even just a small part of that, and to be able to lead through that,” Doak said.

The keynote: future work as friend or foe

Though vaccines offer a glimmer of hope, the disruption wrought by the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, in the form of border closures, job losses, business failures and new work arrangements. But the urgency some people feel to “get back to normal” should not overshadow opportunities arising from new ways of working, Doak said.

“There’s lots of raining on what could be a really fabulous parade of what the future of work unlocks.” Doak will be sharing some of the exciting possibilities she perceives as a Keynote Speaker at the NSCA Foundation conference in November 2021 in Brisbane.

Roy Morgan research reveals that almost a third of Australians were working from home at the height of the pandemic. The vast majority (85%) of professionals surveyed in the annual Robert Walters Salary Survey said they wanted flexible work arrangements to continue — but 60% of employers cited productivity concerns as the reason they wanted them back in the office. Doak understands employer concerns over ergonomics and hazards in the home environment. “As an employer, you’ve got this responsibility to identify risks and control them, and all of a sudden, there are these risks that are invisible to you,” she explained.

“You need a different level of trust, because you can’t make sure somebody is using the right keyboard, or they’re not sitting cross-legged on a bed or whatever it might be.” Employers are facing heightened responsibility combined with a lack of control. “There’s this notion in some organisations that we are letting people work from home and giving them the flexibility so they can pick up kids and have a great work life balance,” she said. “But now the law is telling us that I’m responsible if they fall down their own damn stairs, which five minutes ago, was not our problem. That’s how some businesses are feeling. It feels a bit unjust and the law hasn’t caught up with that yet, so it will be interesting to see how the law evolves over time.”

Doak believes remote working “unlocks talent pools”, opening up job opportunities for workers living outside major cities. At scale, this could transform regional communities that currently have limited employment opportunities. “You could lift regional and even rural communities, where there is currently high unemployment, high youth suicide, drug use and a raft of other issues. The future of work could actually transform people’s lives,” Doak said.

Jasmine Doak is General Manager of People and Culture, Commercial and Corporate at Coles, an NSCA Foundation Corporate Gold Member. She will be a Keynote Speaker at Future of Work: People, Safety, Culture, an NSCA Foundation conference held at Hilton Brisbane, 9–10 November 2021. More information on Future of Work, including how to register, is available at www.futureofworkconference.com.au.

Denise Cullen is a Brisbane-based journalist and psychologist who writes on a diverse range of issues, including mental health, criminology and safety.

This article was originally published in the National Safety March 2021 edition. National Safety is the flagship publication for the work health and safety profession in Australia. Published four times a year, subscription to the magazine is a complimentary benefit for NSCA Foundation members.

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