Australia's 3rd Largest Economy

COUNT HER IN: Exclusive Interview with Lindy Deitz

01-Mar-2024 09:00 | Cassidy Lau (Administrator)

UN Women Australia has announced its theme of International Women’s Day 2024 as: Count Her In: Accelerating Gender Equality Through Economic Empowerment. At the Western Sydney Business Connection we wholeheartedly embrace this theme! We present, in collaboration with Westgate Executive Search, a leadership interview series featuring six influential women in our region. With an exclusive article each day leading up to the 8th of March, we celebrate prominent female leaders shaping Western Sydney's business, social and economic landscape. Explore their perspectives, experiences, and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

We kick off this empowering series with our first feature article: Lindy Deitz, General Manager at Campbelltown City Council, interviewed by Jacqueline Clements from Westgate Executive Search. Lindy's insights sets the stage for an enlightening series showcasing the remarkable women driving success in Western Sydney.

Lindy Deitz

General Manager, Campbelltown City Council

Lindy Deitz is the General Manager of Campbelltown City Council, leading the transformative journey of one of the largest and oldest councils in NSW. With over 30 years of experience in local government, Lindy brings a wealth of knowledge and a strong commitment to serving the Campbelltown community. Her leadership has been instrumental in driving innovative change and advocating for the diverse needs of the region. Lindy is passionate about inclusivity and her limitless dedication is key in shaping the future of Campbelltown as a vibrant and sustainable city.

Jacqueline Clements: With nearly 30 years of experience in local government you bring substantive knowledge and experience to your role of General Manager of Campbelltown City Council. Can you share what attracted you to working in local government and how you got to this point in your career?

Lindy Deitz: My career just happened through embracing opportunities that came my way. I never set out to be a general manager in local government. I learned over time that the council is a really wonderful place to work and make a difference for the community, so I kept going. It is incredibly diverse. One moment I am dealing with issues around the garbage pickup service and the next minute I am meeting with the Premier.

But the council is not where I started my journey. Initially I was trained as a registered nurse and worked in health care. Not being able to provide the quality of care I aspired to, I became increasingly disillusioned with the health system. So I embraced the opportunity to work for the community when a position came up in local government. As a Campbelltown resident I knew there was so much depth and strength in this amazing community, but its voice was not heard. I had a desire to be an advocate for the community and make a difference in peoples’ lives.

After 30 years this is what still drives me today. Of course a lot has changed since. When I first arrived, cows were grazing nearby. Now the cows have been replaced by a thriving city centre. But as a fringe metropolitan council we still have some of these beautiful features. Our community often describes us as ‘where city meets bush’, offering the best of both worlds, including the warmth and kindness of a country town. I have met so many incredibly kindhearted people here and some of them experience adversity, but keep showing resilience and generosity. They fuel my passion for working here.

What makes local government really appealing to me is that we are the closest level of government to people. It is important that we understand our community and advocate for them to other levels of government. It’s an honour and a privilege to be able to try and fight for things that make life better for our residents and those living in the wider region. Councils often compete against one another for funding from the government, but our residents don't live within a local government boundary. They shop where they like to shop and go for entertainment where they please. There is no line in the sand. As local governments we need to acknowledge this through working together, drawing from each other’s strengths. That way we can achieve the best outcomes for our communities.

J: Can you share some of the experiences and influences from your upbringing that have shaped your understanding of cultural diversity and gender roles, and how these experiences inform your approach as a female leader?

L: My mother was born in Sri Lanka and my father in Australia. Back in the days they were among the first people to have what was back then called a ‘mixed marriage’. I grew up in a small country town in Victoria and people used to spit at me and call me names. This utterly confused me as I was born here and didn’t understand why I was different. My mother was one of the first nurses of colour in white Australia to work in a hospital. It was an experiment to see whether patients would tolerate a non-white nurse at their bedside. I grew up with a lot of racism.

But I also grew up with the culture of my mum, where it was custom to look after the men in the family. She would work all day and then came home to look after my dad and us children. Growing up like this gave me an understanding that people have different cultural backgrounds and different expectations from gender roles. But at the same time I always used to challenge my mum, questioning why my brother didn’t have to clean the kitchen.

As a female leader I now have a role to play in changing the culture and set an example for other women. But it is not without its challenges. Unfortunately I still regularly interact with people who struggle with the fact that I am a female leader. This is something that still exists, particularly when dealing with diverse cultural backgrounds. Through my own upbringing I understand these different cultural attitudes towards gender roles. I therefore never directly confront different viewpoints in an argumentative way, but try to influence in a manner that motivates people to rethink their beliefs. Putting pressure and driving people in a defensive position will not make them change their mind. My approach is to do my job well and show results. But I always make clear that if I treat someone with respect, I expect that respect back and it shouldn’t matter that I am a woman.

J: What are your approaches to leadership and how do you create an inclusive workplace at Campbelltown City Council?

L: My approach to leadership is very much a team approach as opposed to hierarchy. I believe that every single person working at Campbelltown City Council makes an important contribution to our community. We emphasise teamwork and community service. I like this somewhat old fashioned notion of being public servants. In my opinion this exactly describes our role. We are here to serve the public and we want the customer experience to be of a high quality.

A significant part of our role is to listen and try to understand what challenges people experience and how we can resolve those. I believe in empowering people to recognise that each individual plays an important role and contributes equally to the team's success. Traditionally people working in local government would stay within their own swim lane, operating in silos. However, I believe it is essential to break down those barriers. Understanding different parts of the business is crucial for effectively serving the public. When someone seeks help, having a broader perspective enables us to provide a more comprehensive service.

This broader perspective also comes from diversity in our teams. We are quite fortunate to have a good gender balance and a staff profile that reflects our community. We also employ people with disabilities and additional needs. However we don’t have specific targets to achieve this diversity. We hire people who are passionate and capable and approach our applicants with an open mind. To me, inclusion means not having a bias. It shouldn't matter how old or young you are, what your cultural background or gender is.

J: As we celebrate International Women's Day, is there a message you would like to convey to women and girls about the importance of embracing their potential and striving for what they can achieve in life?

L: It is my strong belief that any woman should be empowered to be whatever she wants to be. I grew up with parents who had really big hearts and were very generous in nature and felt that everybody had a place and a role and should be valued. I brought my own children up with that message. I won’t judge them on what career they choose or what role they play. I want them to have a voice, and I want them to be respected for their voice and their opinions, and this goes for both my son and my daughters.

But I recognise that women might sometimes need that little bit of extra encouragement. In my life it was my dad who provided that encouragement. So my advice to young women at the start of their career is about the need to be focused, to be passionate and to be determined. As women, these are some of our great strengths. If we are able to channel our passion and our determination we create influence and get a voice.

Another piece of advice I regularly give to women within our organisation is to prioritise building strategic partnerships and put effort into networking. There are so many opportunities that arise from your network. Building relationships is really important, and something that women are often very good at. So as a woman, you can really take advantage of some of your natural abilities and bring them into a workplace and just make the most of it.

Presented in collaboration with:

By Jacqueline Clements
CEO, Westgate Executive Search

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