She’s the Chief People Officer at Kraft Heinz Australia and former HR lead for Waymo (Google’s self driving car project). This Melbourne girl and mum of twins has built her career across the globe, working in Sydney, London and San Francisco. Now she’s back home and we were lucky enough to sit down for a chat with her.
Let’s start with the question you get asked all too frequently! What’s it like to work for Google?
I do get asked this often! But I don’t mind telling anyone how great it is to work for Google. As an innovative tech company, they’re always interested in experimenting with different ideas, and this is the same in the field of HR, what they call “people operations”. We had a team dedicated to understanding deeply what motivates people, working with data to try different approaches to making the workplace better. My colleagues were highly intelligent, highly capable personalities.
So at Google you have a unique HR challenge because everyone’s a genius?
Pretty much! From an HR perspective, there’s plenty of people who enjoy being the best at everything. So when you put people like that all together, there can be challenges for the overachieving types. Basically, they’re not used to failing at anything, ever. Even though Google expects excellence, it also understands the importance of learning from mistakes and celebrating failures. It’s about recognising issues and responding quickly to correct them.
Tell us about the Google launch and iterate approach?
It was a culture shock for me, because I started my career as a lawyer and I’d come from a law firm where precision and getting things right the first time is important. Google wants to move fast, so they launch a product or idea, get feedback and make the necessary changes. That’s why they value decisiveness and fast action.
Was it a big deal to move from London to San Francisco with your small family?
Yes of course. It meant uprooting my husband and my twins, who were very young at the time. It was a tremendous opportunity for me, that I couldn’t imagine turning down. I’m grateful that my family supported me.
What’s it like to be back in Melbourne after so many years away?
I grew up in Melbourne, but haven’t lived here for years. It’s great to be back in town and supporting my beloved Pies (Collingwood). A big part of moving home was my family and my kids twins who were about to start school. We are very lucky in Australia and it’s a great place to raise family (and we generally don’t need to worry about guns!).
Now you’re with Kraft Heinz, what are you looking forward to achieving next?
It’s a tremendous opportunity to continue my learning and work with a brand that’s been around a lot longer than Google. It has a rich heritage, yet there is a lot of transformation ahead for the company and the people function. There’s exciting opportunities to drive a strong culture on a local level while collaborating with the global leadership team. I have plenty of autonomy to make things happen, which I appreciate and enjoy.
What’s your ‘no brilliant jerks’ policy?
We’ve all met that person…. they make life difficult for everyone else in the office. But, because they’re great at sales or the CEO loves them or something like that, they’re tolerated. Well, not for me. Those toxic people can be highly destabilising for company culture and it’s important that senior leaders care both about what is achieved, as well as how it is achieved.
What’s your view on encouraging more women in leadership positions?
I used to feel that targets could lead to the wrong behaviour. But, I’ve changed my mind on this, and now I see targets as a possible measure to drive better gender representation . The research shows that a better balance in representation makes a difference and that companies with more female leadership are more profitable, innovative and respected. So let’s get there.
As a woman with Chinese heritage, have you ever faced any discrimination in your workplace?
Once I was the only Asian and the only woman at a meeting, and the men assumed I was there to take coffee orders. On a more positive note, at Google I shared my ‘diversity narrative’. People of different backgrounds share their experiences. I participated by sharing my story, talking about what it’s like to be Asian and a woman in a male-dominated workforce. Importantly, companies like Google and Kraft Heinz are making an effort to understand what it’s like for minorities in the workplace, which is a step in the right direction.
Let’s move on to your corporate style, what’s your go-to workwear style?
I’m told my look is “urban chic” so that’s what I’m going for. Smart casual is the standard at Kraft Heinz, which I love. I’m often in jeans and simple tops. I wear a lot of black. I don’t go for dresses much. It’s a very simple look which makes it easy for me to make wardrobe decisions each morning.
What are your favourite brands?
Do you have any favourite gurus, business leaders or podcasts you follow?
I like Dan Pink and his views on what motivates people. Also, I’m also interested in what successful companies are doing to drive employee engagement. As for podcasts, when I was in the states, I liked This American Life and Serial. I generally like to switch off when listening to podcasts so usually don’t go for anything too heavy.
What advice would you have for young women in the workforce?
I’ve been given plenty of good advice in my career, so I’ll share what I’ve learned. My favourite tip is “ask forgiveness not permission.” It’s important to just go for it and trust your instincts. Plus, when there’s a decision to be made, just make it. Dithering and indecisiveness is destructive in business. I follow a ruthless prioritisation approach, paying very close attention to what I do (and importantly what I don’t do too). Early in my career, I was told “don’t say sorry all the time.” That advice has served me well.
Thanks for your time Joanne!
She received a pair of cufflinks with thanks from Miss Links. She chose the small emerald cut solitaires in crystal.
You can keep updated with Joanne via LinkedIn.