Five minutes with Tracey Harris, EML Chief Operating Officer
As EML celebrates diversity and the role women bring to the workforce in the lead up to International Women’s Day we have undertaken a series of interviews with our leaders.
EML Chief Operating Officer Tracey Harris is an experienced C-suite leader with more than 20 years’ experience in Australia and Asia. Tracey has held previous leadership roles across a range of industries including insurance, health, medical assistance and aviation.
Tracey, please tell us a little about your current mandate.
Initially my role was Group Executive Corporate Services with a mandate to drive effectiveness, efficiency and ready these areas to support taking the business to the next level. Since then, EML has grown very quickly in a short time span so the challenge has been in balancing the growth, whilst concurrently increasing our capability and capacity at scale.
An efficiency and effectiveness review reduced operating costs by seven per cent but most significantly better enabled our teams to service the business units dealing directly with our customers. This was critical.
With unprecedented growth my role expanded within 18-months to COO and while still retaining GE of Corporate Services my view now includes our managed funds and spans across all-of-business. My mandate essentially hasn’t changed. I am charged with ensuring EML is a highly functioning entity with the ability to easily duplicate our model and enable effective capacity at scale, employing best practice and ensuring it’s a great place to work and delivers on its customer promise of helping people get their lives back.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced?
The initial, immediate challenge is to quickly embed myself in a new and highly specialised business. I’m am to some extent an industry agnostic and apply a qualified skillset based on a set of operating principles to navigate any environment. This means that in the early days of my role and beyond, there is a very steep learning curve period, that mandates that I look to the expertise and technical support of the people around me.
This makes it critical to have the right people in the right roles; a strong and loyal team. Even though it can challenge your confidence at times I’m happy to operate outside my comfort zone.
What advice would you give to women looking to forge a career in your industry?
Focus on being a good leader, your people-building capacity and understanding your customers. Know your direction, as it helps to quieten some of the immediate distraction and noise. Ensure that you drive performance.
I try hard not to focus on the challenges or benefits of being a woman and instead focus on what I bring to a role and ensuring I have a great team around me to leverage my strengths and support my weaknesses.
Who has been your biggest influence professionally?
It’s a collective influence rather than any one individual or experience. I break it down into resilience and drive, and leadership values.
Resilience and drive, ambition even if you want to view it that way, came from formative years as an elite athlete. I was exposed to and absorbed the work ethic of champions at the Canberra Institute of Sport and apply those learnings and discipline to everything that I do professionally and personally.
My leadership values come directly from my parents. They instilled in me from an early age the importance of being responsible and owning my actions and direction; to lead by example, to always ask questions and to guide. We never took anything for granted.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing gender equality in the workplace?
Evolution. It takes time and critical mass for change to occur. I’m inspired when I see a group of women collectively working well together and supporting each other. I’d like to see it happening more.
The balance is changing. I am not always the only woman in the room anymore. Even when I was though it didn’t change my view of the role I was undertaking and the goals I was working to achieve. It’s important to remain focussed, lead by example and that changes perspectives along the way.
I am not viewed as a female COO at EML. I’m seen as the person best-placed to undertake the work required. I’m grateful for that. Perspectives change in the face of achievement.
What do you believe women uniquely bring to the table in senior positions?
We’re naturally solution driven and able to be across a range of issues concurrently, with a healthy macro and micro balance. We work hard, try hard and are objective in a public forum as it’s always important to have your teams engaged, rather than afraid.
What does International Women's Day mean to you?
It’s a day of reflection for me on how to bring the right focus to bear on promoting the role and benefits of women in business, at all levels. I look at the workplace and workforce as a palette that requires a variety of types, styles, colours and tactility to be an enjoyable, highly functional system.
Eventually I’d like to see us at a point where it’s so normal to have diversity that gender, colour and race are simply no longer issues