Dr Jess Murphy: I’m on the lookout for tomorrow’s leaders, today

Sep 30, 2022
  • Article by Liv Croagh

Australian Design Review’s 30UNDER30 has brought on board Adjunct Professor of Leadership and Champion of Change Convenor for Architecture Group Dr Jess Murphy.

With over 25 years of experience in the corporate world, Murphy’s commitment to accelerating firm-wide organisational transformation has propelled her to the forefront of the inclusion movement.

Taking on a leadership angle in the judging panel, Murphy is looking to bring a voice and conversation around diversity, inclusion and belonging. It’s her goal for 30UNDER30 to ensure that there is positive change happening on all levels.

“Through Champions of Change, we’ve created a safe space for competitors to come together to lift the industry collectively,” she says. 

30UNDER30: What is the purpose of the Champions of Change Coalition?

JM: The key purpose of the Champions of Change Coalition is to engage senior leaders around actively leading to achieve gender equality and drive sustainable increases in the representation of women in leadership. It began in 2010 when the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick AO acknowledged that to make the sustainable change you have to engage and actively seek the buy-in of the people at the top of the hierarchy. The approach focuses on changing the system. It’s not about ‘fixing women’. We think this is a much more sustainable approach that involves active leadership. 

Twelve years on, there are now over 260 members covering 230-plus organisations, with over 150 countries represented. It totals 1.5 million employees. This is quite a movement that’s been created focusing on driving change at the most senior levels.

When did you come on board with the Champions of Change Architecture Group?

In 2015, I was approached to convene the Architecture Group, having been indirectly involved in the coalition since its inception in 2010. At that stage, we had nine practices come on board. In 2018, based on the success of this initial group, we extended it out and now have 13 practices, representing 11 jurisdictions, and approximately 3000 employees.

The Champions of Change coalition mostly comprises large corporate entities; for example, Telstra and Qantas are involved. One of the reasons I was attracted to convening the Architecture Group is that it’s very different in terms of scale and size. Essentially, rather than a CEO at the top, the majority of practices are led by a group of directors. By default, this requires a very different leadership approach for the individual Champions, as these individuals must get the buy-in of their fellow directors, as well as influence the staff and therefore the culture of the practice. This additional leadership challenge interested me as an expert in the leadership field.

When it comes to architecture and design, how open is the industry to change?

I can only speak to my personal observations. Because the industry is relatively small, everyone knows one another. To attract, retain and promote talent, everyone knows what their competitors are doing. Within the Champion group, we’ve created a safe space for competitors to come together to lift the industry collectively. They are collaborating, listening and learning, and then taking action to be part of these changes. They’re open to sharing their own policies, practices and learnings to help benefit all within the industry. I think this is unique.

When it comes to the 30UNDER30 program, what are you bringing to the judging process?

First, I do have some imposter syndrome entering into this program, given I’m an outsider, so to speak, from an industry perspective. Having said that, I’m looking forward to bringing in a different aspect in terms of a specific leadership lens. I’m really on the lookout for tomorrow’s leaders, today. They may not look like the traditional notion of what ‘talent’ or ‘leadership’ looks like. We want to bust those stereotypes and ensure that all forms of talent and leadership are both acknowledged and celebrated. 

I will be focused on how these individuals can conduct and lead change across the industry. They may not have interest in formally leading these firms in the future, but they’re active, vocal and passionate about changing the industry for others. This may open people’s minds about who may apply. It’s no longer just the brilliant designer stepping up, but perhaps the ‘behind-the-scenes’ person who is critical to making something come to life. 

I’m excited and looking forward to seeing a broad range of skills and capabilities identified that can make a difference to the industry now and in the future.

When it comes to this next generation, do you think that they are more open to diversity and inclusion?

I think there is a generational change. As a generalisation, people under 30 are much more open to sharing their thoughts and experiences and have grown up with the concept of inclusion and how important it is to involve all. 

But, in the cut and thrust of busy studio life, sometimes those voices aren’t necessarily heard in the bigger scheme of things. I’m looking forward to amplifying those voices. I’m looking forward to hearing from these younger leaders and learning how they think we can future-proof and enhance the industry.

How do you feel about someone who may not feel comfortable putting themselves forward in the application process?

There’s a great saying: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like nobody’s watching.” What this is centred on is this concept of belonging – being able to show up and be who you are, and know you’re going to be accepted and valued.The long game is belonging, and I don’t think any firm or practice, within or outside the industry, is there yet. 

That’s why programs like 30UNDER30 are important. We want to make sure that everyone is welcomed and encouraged to put their application forward.

It’s not just about the more well-known strands of diversity, it’s the full range. Perhaps it’s individuals from a social background where no one in the family has been to university before or worked in a professional setting before. Or perhaps it’s individuals with neurodiversity or people with a disability, both visible and invisible.  Programs like this must be accessible to all, so we can recognise and celebrate talent in all its forms.

What do you think 30UNDER30 does for the next generation?

It lets people know that their voices are going to be heard, but also that someone cares about their perspective. That’s something I’m looking to learn more about: what’s important to this younger generation? What can I do to help in making sure their voices are being heard?

What are we doing to take care of our younger generation? I think we need to challenge some of those mindsets of all-nighters, heavy competition etc. We have a duty of care, and there’s an opportunity here to listen to an amazing, talented group of people to help improve and enhance the industry for all.

What made you want to join the judging panel?

I am very aware of some of the visible and invisible barriers that can be encountered as people progress in their careers. One of these is the lack of sponsorship – what I mean by this is a sponsor talks about you to others that you don’t normally have access to, and advocates on your behalf. This is a huge lever to accelerate your career. I want to make sure that these talented individuals are known, positively positioned and spoken about. I want the industry to know your name.

Also, Perth studio State of Kin talks to 30UNDER30 about how mentorship is a career-long relationship, and what this program will bring to the next generation.

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