Women in Industry 2018 award winners: Social Leader of the Year

Aurizon brand and sponsorships manager, April Whittam (left) was announced Social Leader of the Year at the Women in Industry Awards 2018.

April Whittam, Aurizon brand and sponsorships manager and the winner of the prestigious Social Leader of the Year award at the Women in Industry Awards, spoke to Manufacturers’ Monthly about why she loves going to work every day.

When April Whittam was announced as the winner of the Social Leader of the Year award at this year’s Women in Industry Awards in mid June, she told the audience how lucky she felt going to work every day.

Looking at her accomplishments in assisting community programs and philanthropic causes, it is easy to see why she finds her job so rewarding.

In her current role as the national brand and sponsorship manager for Australia’s largest rail freight operator, Aurizon, she looks after the company’s brand image, sponsorship programs, community investments and events.

Whittam regards as one of her greatest career accomplishments, an initiative that she launched very early in her career in Aurizon – which now spans more than eight years.

Read: Congratulations to the winners of Women in Industry Awards 2018

In 2011, shortly after joining Aurizon, she created and implemented the company’s flagship corporate social responsibility program, the Aurizon Community Giving Fund. The program grants funding to charities or community groups working in areas of health and wellbeing, community safety, environment and education.

While she has been involved in the community investment sector for nearly 20 years, Whittam said the opportunity to develop a community program from the ground up was a unique experience for her.

“Having an opportunity to reflect and learn from those who pioneered community investment and developing a greenfield program of work is a true privilege. I developed a program of work that has grown very strong today,” Whittam told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

To date, the program has been distributed to over 300 charities nationally ranging from skin cancer checks for a range of communities in Western Australia to first aid training for surf lifesavers in regional North Queensland. The fund has also been recognised internationally, with Whittam winning the Charities Aid Foundation Award in 2012 for her commitment to strategic Australian philanthropy.

Impacts to communities

The most rewarding aspect of her job, Whittam said, is seeing the impacts that the program has on our communities.

“The days when we have our broader community giving fund review committees are an opportunity to review the performance of the charities and determine our future support. It allows us to see the positive aspect of what we do as a company every day.

“Regularly reviewing the charities performance through their acquittal reports, we can see what impact the programs are having on communities. It’s rich and fulfilling in terms of professional and personal reflection,” she said.

Having a passion for philanthropic activities, Whittam is always looking for ways to invest more in communities and charitable initiatives. This is
not an easy task, particularly during times when the transport and logistics industry is going through downturns as a result of external economic forces.

“A constant challenge for me is to find ways to give more. It’s a positive challenge though. It means that I always need to look for better ways to either revitalise existing programs or to target a different area in order to have better outcomes,” she said.

Overcoming the barriers

Apart from her role within Aurizon, Whittam also acts as a director and company secretary for the Queensland division of Suited to Success Limited – a volunteer-driven organisation that concentrates on overcoming the barriers to employment, for both men and women seeking jobs.

“Research done by the organisation indicates that by improving a person’s self-confidence, their chance of getting the job they are interviewing for improves. So, the main vision of Suited for Success is to help job seekers build their confidence by giving them the support and tools that they need. These range from offering styling advice to mentoring the candidates and supporting them in writing their curriculum vitae (CV),” she said.

Whittam believes events such as the Women in Industry Awards play a positive role in breaking down the barriers for women – mainly those working in male-dominated sectors like manufacturing, logistics and material handling and mining.

“Gender inequalities still exist in many work environments. I’m fortunate that I work with Aurizon, where the gender pay gap is currently at its lowest. But, events like the

Women in Industry Awards are pivotal in bringing more equality to the industry in terms of the jobs that are traditionally performed by men,” she said.

In winning the Social Leader of the Year award, Whittam was up against strong competition from the other finalists – all successful women who have made positive changes within their respective industries.

“The night of the awards was such an encouraging evening to be amongst women that supported women. The other finalists in my category were all astounding and I never expected to win, given the calibre of the other finalists and their contribution to
the community.

“It goes to show that you should never underestimate yourself. I recommend every woman working in sectors such as manufacturing, transport, logistics or mining to look as these awards and similar programs as a way to giving a voice, both internally and externally, to women in non-traditional roles,” she said.

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