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Jane Shand, Chief Human Resource Manager at Queensland Rugby League, on women in leadership, equal pay and workforce agility

Jane Shand is Chief Human Resource Manager at Queensland Rugby League – an interesting position given she names the #MeToo campaign as one of the most pressing issues in HR. However, the organisation has 43% female employees. 

Here, Jane talks about women in leadership roles, what it meant to be named Australian HR Manager of the Year 2017, discovering her niche and the HR lessons she’s learned throughout her varied career.

Crowd & Co: You were awarded Australian HR Manager of the Year 2017 – congratulations! Can you tell us about winning the award and other things in your career that you consider achievements or milestones?

Jane Shand: Being put forward for the award was a surprise to me – I didn’t know I had been nominated until I was told I was a finalist. It was a wonderful surprise – I’m always touched when people do selfless things, when their only reason for taking an action is to positively impact someone else. That’s humanity.

I consider winning the award a career highlight. There are plenty of struggles in HR, but I always feel when we do it best we’re invisible, that often we’re there to make the leadership team and Board look good while we work frantically in the background to make everything appear seamless. Because we don’t traditionally seek recognition I think our influence on an organisation’s performance can often be overlooked. If a CEO is lucky enough to have an HR person who is creative with solutions, consistently produces strategic outcomes, is authentic, credible and maintains their sense of humour they should hang onto them – anyone can learn HR, the secret is in how you apply it.

Before I went into HR I had experience and qualifications across a variety of industries and roles such as teaching, publishing, sport and recreation, banking and recruitment.  When I was 30 I went to work in the ski industry for a season to take a break from the city. I started as a medical receptionist for $9.80 per hour and it was one of the greatest jobs I’ve had. That job taught me that there are mistakes that cost people their lives and then there’s everything else. Most of us work in the “everything else” space and we need to maintain a sense of perspective. We have an impact on people’s lives and on their livelihoods – but that’s where it stops, there’s no room for ego in HR.

I didn’t intentionally seek out HR, I simply wanted to fix some problems evident in my organisation and when an HRM role came up it seemed like a good opportunity to effect change. I was lucky enough to have a CEO who took a chance on me despite the fact I had no actual HR experience. I look back now and think he took an enormous risk! He has been my greatest mentor and an example of how this symbiotic CEO-HR relationship can work so successfully.

When I commenced in the HRM role our company was in the lowest quartile for the country in terms of employee engagement. A year later we won the Most Improved Award and were a national finalist for Best Employer (Large organisation). Together we improved the performance of the organisation and the experience of our employees. That’s what good HR is – improving performance and people and creating a great organisational culture.

I also think that’s when I discovered my niche – fixing things. I like to go into organisations that are somewhat broken and help put them back together in a way that just works better.

C&Co: You’ve held a variety of roles in HR across a variety of industries. What do you consider the most pressing issue in your space at the moment?

JS: There are so many. The obvious ones are the #MeToo campaign, the gender pay gap and the elevation of women into senior leadership roles as there has been a lot of focus on these issues lately. Although not all claims of sexual harassment are from females about males, I’d be interested to see if an increase of women in senior leadership roles resulted in a corresponding decrease in sexual harassment claims. Surely there would be a correlation? Fortunately, we can already see changes reflecting community expectations in Fair Work Commission findings and in legislation globally (Go Iceland! Recognising that males were being paid more than women, Iceland made a choice to become the first country in the world to enforce equal pay by way of daily fines where an organisation is not independently certified as paying equal wages for work of equal value.)

A statistic I read recently stated that the pay gap in Australia was expected to close in 50 years. Frankly, it’s insulting that women are not valued as highly as men in Australia and that, unless we make drastic changes, this will be the norm for females for two more generations. In my experience, what you focus on is what improves so I will continue to provide focus on this issue whenever possible.

C&Co: What has been the biggest challenge in your career? And in your current role?

JSDefinitely the biggest challenge in my career has been starting at the beginning so often – entirely my fault. Although I haven’t taken a traditional pathway to an HRM role I think that every role I’ve had has contributed to my overall success – much like pieces of a puzzle. My husband complains that I tackle puzzles by starting in the middle rather than creating the edges first. I just don’t believe in the concept of “best practice”, most situations are different from previous ones you’ve dealt with and require a new lens.

When I graduated with an Arts degree in NZ in the early 90’s the country was in recession. I moved to the UK, went into aged care and trained to teach English. Then, after teaching English in Tokyo for 6 years I returned to NZ just in time for another recession, so I took a job in a bank for about $13 p/hr. I’d been earning great money in Tokyo so I quickly needed to readjust. I’ve become quite good at adjusting.

After that I worked in recruitment and became quite successful again. Then, as soon as I had achieved a good income I threw it in to work a ski season. I took the job in the Accident & Medical Centre that paid $9.80 an hour because the other one I was offered paid $9.30! This job taught me that money isn’t everything but it does become very important when you don’t have enough.

As it was only seasonal work through the winter I studied publishing and started my own business so I’d have an income through the summer. This was a great solution for a couple of years and then I was offered a full year Customer Service Manager role at the ski area. This role taught me the importance of listening. It’s also where I met my husband – he was the lifty who kept swearing at all our customers (the same customers who then came and complained to me).  He taught me that misbehaviour is often a result of passion and frustration rather than simply disengagement. He’s one of the smartest people I know, we just needed to let him be part of the solution. We redeployed him into the finance team. He’s quite successful now.

From there I moved into the HRM role. After about five years in that role we moved to Brisbane. My HR experience initially wasn’t considered translatable to Australia and it took me a while to find work. Since then, however, I’ve worked in a number of HRM roles across different industries, cities and in different sized organisations.

In my last role I looked after an HR team of 26 but in my current role there is just a payroll administrator and I. Being a solo HR practitioner is probably the biggest challenge in my current role. I love being able to choose the direction and the approach but I miss sanity-checking with a team of passionate HR people and helping them along in their careers.

People thought it might be a struggle to work in a male-dominated industry but Queensland Rugby League has 43% female employees, which is outstanding given our strategy to increase female participation in the sport

C&Co: What do you think will be the biggest challenges for next generation of HR professionals?

JS: I think most organisations are organised in a way that has become old-fashioned and unsustainable. I am fascinated by the challenges created by a multi-generational workforce where younger employees are baulking at the traditional management and work regimes that have been the norm for decades. They are not excited by the promise of ‘earning’ a promotion through traditional methods and are choosing their own pathway to success. 

They want to choose their work, choose their hours and choose their working location. As most organisations don’t yet have the creativity or leadership capability to deal with these demands we’re beginning to see the rise of a different economy including the gig economy where people choose to work for organisations on their own terms.

On one hand I celebrate that there is some momentum to finally move away from an entrenched master-servant model of employment relationship. The economy currently seems well placed to support this new model and unemployment rates are low so labour is a highly valuable commodity.

On the other hand, this is a generation who have not faced an economic recession. Should unemployment rise significantly, will they be better placed to earn a living given they are accustomed to an unstable income or will they become exposed and vulnerable given they may have to find work they don’t want to do, in a location they don’t want to work in with people they don’t like during hours where they’d rather be doing other things? I don’t have the answer but maybe part of the solution lies in building resilience across our employees and partners so that everyone is better equipped to deal more effectively with unexpected challenges that come our way.

C&Co: How are you using technology in your work?

JS: I don’t have access to a sophisticated HRIS, in fact I work off an Excel spreadsheet currently! However, I have a number of projects underway that look at how we can better utilise technology to create efficiencies in the HR and payroll space, automate routine and manual tasks, enhance the service offered to our employees through tools such as self-service and learning platforms, increase communication across the organisation and provide collaborative digital workspaces. 

We’re only at the beginning but there is good buy-in from the business given the return on investment is so evident in terms of increase in productivity, better engagement and a stronger employment brand. I do need to remind myself to balance my excitement for technology with the realities of working at a not-for-profit organisation with limited funds – but I find there’s always a solution if we’re willing to be a bit creative

C&Co: What place does technology have in the future of HR?

ADB: Some figures I saw recently showed that in 1900 40% of US workers were farmers and that 100 years later that figure was 2%. However, despite technological advances threatening peoples’ jobs, unemployment had decreased over the same period. 

Technology is a huge factor in workforce planning. Change is so rapid that jobs people are training for now may not exist when they graduate. There will be technology that can crunch the numbers, model the impacts and automate the most tedious tasks, but to properly set up our organisations for the future, we need to ensure people have the capabilities to perform roles we will require, not just the skills. Are they able to build and maintain relationships with stakeholders? Can they think creatively? Do they have change agility? Can they successfully influence others? Are they able to synthesize information quickly to get to the core of a complex issue?  

C&Co: What’s the secret to “people”?

JSIf we’re talking about people performing in their roles I used to think it was quite simple – as a leader you need to be really clear about what success looks like in a person’s role, provide a motivating vision and then empower them to achieve the required outcomes, providing support and resources as required.

I’ve learned that it’s more than that because sometimes people get in the way of their own performance. Leaders also need to appreciate that people may be fighting a battle they don’t know about and they have no right to know about as it’s usually something deeply personal like mental health, serious illness or domestic violence. People make irrational decisions in desperate times and sometimes where your first response is to apply method and logic, you simply have to stop, realise you can’t fix everything and just listen. I have a BA, a Diploma of Teaching, a Diploma of Publishing, and a Master of Management but the skills I call on most days are those I learned in a two-day Mental Health First Aid Course. You can’t be a bleeding heart in HR either though – I’ve always said it’s a good day in HR if no one has cried at me before 9am. You can’t take on other people’s emotions. Some of the best advice I ever received and try to live by is ‘Be gracious with people and maintain their dignity.'

C&Co: Finally, if you have one minute on the soap box, what would you talk about?

JS: You make your own luck. Don’t look at others and wish for what they have. Work out what it is that’s important to you, what responsibilities and obligations you have to others and for how long and then really apply yourself to thinking about how you can create your desired future. I often see people who feel that they have no options. It’s difficult to believe this is the case when there are so many stories of success through adversity in Australia. Look at your situation through a solutions lens, take charge of your life and your future and make it the best you can because if YOU don’t no one else is going to. Eleanor Roosevelt brilliantly said, ‘No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.'


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