Being one of the first Professors of Practice appointed at La Trobe Business School early in 2015, Geraldine Kennett has extensive high level industry experience. Having worked at Myer for more than twelve years, rising from an on floor supervisor to Human Resource Manager, Geraldine then moved on to the Central Metropolitan College of TAFE, before working at the Australian Human Resources Institute and the Australian Industry Group. Reflecting on this time, Geraldine comments: “I was always very conscious of how people interacted on the shop floor at Myer, and I was always involved in training staff members. So when I started teaching at TAFE, teaching came very natural to me.”
Working as a HR Manager at Myer, Geraldine implemented a new strategy that allowed teams to set up a self-sustaining process with rotating leadership: “We strived for tight-knit teams without a static supervisor,” Geraldine says, “so the limiting sense of hierarchy in teams was removed.” Geraldine then took her experience to the Australian Human Resources Institute, where she set up the AHRI accreditation framework, using the research for her Master’s thesis as a guide for the emerging capabilities of the profession.
But her real passion wasn’t awakened until she joined The Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA), where she initially worked as the Director of Programmes, organising large-scale events and running formal courses on working in the public sector, before being appointed as the institute’s CEO. “Through my role as director of programmes, I learned a lot about how event management worked at IPAA. When I started as a CEO, I really spotted the opportunity for growth and structural improvement; I expanded the staff from 8 to 26 members, and opened a number of regional offices,” Geraldine comments. “But what I was most passionate about as the IPAA CEO, was Indigenous participation in public administration.”
Together with La Trobe Business School, Geraldine initiated the Graduate Certificate in Management (Public Sector) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public servants. Reflecting on this process, Geraldine notes: “This project was the first instance where I was exposed to La Trobe University and its values. We started this project to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Victorian Public Sector the chance to advance their careers. It’s often said that women experience the effects of a glass ceiling, but when you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander these disadvantages hit you twice as hard.” According to Geraldine, the issue for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the public sector is that they can’t progress professionally due to their limited access to education, and thus they have no way of competing with the broader community at the same level. “A lot of Indigenous communities were indirectly denied the leap in entrepreneurship, leadership, and education that other cultures experienced in a stronger way. By starting this programme, we hope that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Victoria have a chance to sharpen these skills, so they can access a broader range of career opportunities or have the entrepreneurial skills to start a business of their own.”
When the Professor of Practice positions were announced at La Trobe University, Geraldine saw this as a stepping stone to make a difference in society. “My values when it comes to equity and diversity, sustainability, responsible leadership and the community, align strongly with those of La Trobe Business School. I had recognised this when I started working with LBS staff members through IPAA. So for me, the choice was clear. I didn’t even consider other universities.”
Currently, aside from being an LBS Professor of Practice, Geraldine Kennett is also working with the Vice Chancellor of La Trobe University, Professor John Dewar, and Paul Briggs, the Executive Chair of the Kaiela Institute, on an economic development plan for Aboriginal people in the Goulburn Murray region. A key outcome from this project is an agreement by local businesses and government agencies in the region to employ Aboriginal people. Says Geraldine, “This coming May, there will actually be an agreement signed in Shepparton, where local businesses, government and universities (including La Trobe University) agree to include 2% Aboriginal people among their employees. So we are currently creating the demand for Aboriginal employees, and are hoping to widen the supply by providing these communities with extensive training programmes.”
Through her projects and her teaching, Geraldine uses a philosophy of the Four E’s: Envisage, Enable, Empower and Engage. She created this philosophy after seeing how leadership has changed: “There are more stakeholders than ever, and responsible leadership is crucial. Through the four E’s, I want to create an environment where people develop confidence, step out of their comfort zone and bring values in as core behaviour, while developing their own leadership model.” Geraldine says. “It’s also important to me that people step away from my courses feeling confident, and valued.”
Through her passion for Indigenous economic development, Geraldine Kennett is hoping to generate 140 Indigenous business owners before she retires. “If I can see 140 proud Aboriginal people empowered through this programme before I die, it would be the biggest honour to know I made a difference in these peoples’ lives.”