By Kym Clark
As the first female and youngest person ever in the Australian sugar industry to become the assistant production superintendent, Tayla Hickey has faced her fair share of being under estimated. But being genuine with strong people skills and integrity has put her in good stead in developing her engineering and mentoring career.
Assistant Production Superintendent, Wilmar Sugar Australia
What is it about your role you enjoy the most?
In my role, I look after the production of the sugar milling factory. I have 45 reports under me. My role is roughly 70% people management and 30% technical engineering.
My favourite thing about my role is the impact that I get to have on my workers. I really enjoy leadership and personal growth and in my role I get to spend time with each of the operators and influence them and help them to grow. I can see that every one of them has passion for their job, and I pride myself on helping them utilise that passion every day. I am a very enthusiastic, passionate person and I try to spread my positivity everyday.
What attracted you to the role / industry initially?
My main goal in life is to be a role model to anyone who doesn’t have the self confidence to shine. I love teaching and mentoring and decided that engineering was a great way to expand my mind and my personality so that one day I could be a great teacher to anyone who needed it.
What is something many people wouldn’t know about your role or workplace?
Because of the people aspect of my role and living in a small town, I have to be a role model both outside of work and inside work which means I don’t necessarily get to switch off. People also would not realise the amount of Human Resources that we do in our job – recruiting plus disciplinary actions.
Have you faced any challenges in your role?
I have faced many challenges in my role being a young, female engineer. I have had many situations where the workers have underestimated my abilities and tried to ignore my superiority. I had a situation where an older guy refused to do something that I had asked and as a result I had to issue a major disciplinary action. Straight after this was issued, the worker gained a tremendous amount of respect for me. This happens on a smaller scale, regularly. The way that I overcome it is to just be genuine. I am girly and happy and empathetic and I try to put that across each day. I utilise it more as a strength rather than try to be someone I am not. I think the guys can really tell when someone is not genuine and they tend not to get much respect for it.
What advice would you give to someone looking at a role similar to yours?
Be yourself. Whatever your strengths may be, use them to your full potential. Be open minded – no matter what level of education someone has or how they were brought up, you can also learn and grow from them. Never underestimate anyone or disregard their input.
What traits, skills or qualifications are needed to perform your role?
In my role, I believe the most important value is integrity – do what you say you are going to do. Everyone in the factory is always looking for a leader or role model and it is really up to us to live the values that we try to encourage others to have. It is also important to be strong minded. You will inevitably have bad days and deal with people in bad moods. It’s important to see past it and take your job for what it is.
Be genuine, open minded and passionate. Running a factory is a people game and in order to succeed you must gain respect.
Are you a minority in your workplace?
Yes very much a minority. I was the first female and youngest person ever in the sugar industry in Australia to get to become the assistant production superintendent.
People constantly underestimate me and there have certainly been times when peers have discriminated against me. But I think it is important to be confident in your abilities and not let the doubts and opinions of others bring you down. Know your own worth.
There is of course some positive points – both workers and peers have treated me with bias due to my minority status. There has been occasions where the guys will automatically treat me with respect because I am female or trust that I am a good person. It’s not always a bad thing.
Any other wins, challenges, experiences or pieces of wisdom that you’d like to share?
Determination and persistance is key. If you are passionate about something, it is important that you keep working at it until you achieve it. You are only ever held back by your own thoughts which are 100% controllable. We are not defined by our upbringing, what we wear or even by our social media or gender. What defines us is our values. If we are true to ourselves and confident in our own minds, we can achieve anything.