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Q&A May 10, 2022

Living inclusion: Lessons in leadership

In this Q&A, get to know the leader driving our growth in Australia’s Air Domain, Giuliana Marshall.

Q&A with Giuliana Marshall Aerospace Director, Critical Mission Solutions Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Following her presentation to an engaged audience at the Women in Defence Technology conference in Brisbane earlier this year, we caught up with Jacobs Director of Aerospace for Critical Mission Solutions (CMS) in Asia-Pacific (APAC) Giuliana Marshall to find out about her leadership style, background and vision for a more equitable world.

First, congratulations on being asked to present at such a high-profile conference alongside keynote speakers, including the Minister for Defence and Chief Defence Scientist!

Thank you. It was an honor to be asked to speak and share my thoughts on leadership.

You spoke about the ‘Journey to Senior Leadership’. How did you approach this topic?

I must admit there was a moment when I was given my speaking topic that I awkwardly laughed and asked if they were sure it was meant for me. It was politely pointed out that yes, it was meant for me, so – as is my attitude with most things – I decided to trust the smart people around me and jump in and explore with curiosity. To start, I had to own some truths. In my role with Jacobs, I’m responsible for delivery of a substantial part of our business in Australia, which includes 250+ people and the revenue that goes with it. I love it. I enjoy almost every challenge I face – the busy days, the hard conversations and the complex decisions.

So, I realized that maybe I did have something of some value to share on this topic but…I’m just me. I feel out of place in most meetings most of the time. I’m aware I’m sub-40 (well just barely!); I’m aware I’m a woman; I'm aware my name is foreign and tricky to pronounce; I’m aware I’m not a veteran like many CMS APAC people; I’m acutely aware of…well, everything!

How do you rise above these challenges?

Intentionally, I don’t let those thoughts rule me; instead, I play to my strengths. Facts, logic, experience and a curiosity to handle the vast array of things I don’t know or understand.

In my reflections, here’s the thing I realized: I was expecting to be someone else when I’m in these situations – a fantastic version of myself with no self-doubt. But the reality is, while you will and should keep learning and growing, who you are now is exactly who you will be. Who you are is enough. So maybe it’s time to stop letting these thoughts rule, to stop letting these thoughts dictate what we say yes to, and to stop limiting what we dream for our lives and careers. Maybe it’s time to be okay with who you are and start owning, planning and enjoying your career journey.

“I start with my world. I know every challenge I overcome makes it easier for those who follow me and, at the heart of all I do, I try to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace.”

Giuliana Marshall

Giuliana Marshall

Jacobs Director of Aerospace, Mission Solutions - Asia Pacific

Can you talk about your background and how you got to where you are now?

My story starts in the 1950s when all four of my Italian grandparents separately made their way to their new homeland – Australia. They were hardworking, passionate and successful. My parents – first-generation migrants – had it pretty tough, too, but they succeeded. My family heritage is one of boldness and comfort in discomfort; courage and risk-taking; a willingness to step into the unknown.

It sounds like their determination and tenacity was passed down to you.

It was. Growing up I watched my parents work blue collar jobs and often be treated poorly. My dad worked for the same company for 35 years and never felt like his job was secure. My mum worked hard on a minimum wage, often at night when we were young, and was even required to work more hours than she was paid!    

It’s no surprise to ‘adult’ me that my parents bought a takeaway shop for my mum to run. This is where my understanding of leadership began. In the shop I watched my mum naturally inspire her staff, which included me, to enjoy the hard work (cleaning 300 kilograms, or 600+ pounds, of potatoes a day!); the hot conditions (four hours behind a grill on a Friday night is a killer); and various menial tasks and dirty work. But what fascinated me was how we all had a good time – we laughed, we joked and there was genuine friendship. People looked forward coming to work, and customers liked coming into the shop. Boy, were we busy.

So how did you get from cleaning potatoes to becoming an engineer and leading a team of 250+ highly skilled people?

Well, I somehow found myself enrolled in engineering at university because I liked math and science and had ruled out medicine! I had almost no role models or mentors to help me chart a course, other than an uncle who was a teacher.     

As a graduate engineer in the early 2000s, I had almost no understanding of how my life experience and family story would shape me so significantly in my career; how it had prepared me to lead and succeed in a totally foreign world. My understanding came slowly after reading loads of brilliant books and listening to podcasts, followed by hours and hours of hard self-reflection.

I had a revelation about six years ago – perhaps all these things I was reading and thinking, which felt so normal to me, that maybe they’d work. That, maybe, if I was just my best self it would be enough. And I also realized that if it did work, I’d try to grow and develop, but I would never compromise on being who I was and what I valued. I was and am okay with the outcome.

And so you should be. What do you like about #OurJacobs?    

At my core, I feel compelled to make the world better somehow; to live up to the sacrifice my grandparents made; to use the education my parents worked so hard to provide; and to ensure more people have jobs where they feel safe, valued and happy, while also ensuring the business thrives. I feel my values align strongly with Jacobs’ values. I can’t separate the business from the people and nor do I think we should.         

What inspires you and how does this translate to your role?

While much progress has been made on gender equity, we still have so far to go in creating a world where everyone everywhere has the same opportunities. I’m driven to see the world become more equitable – I saw enough unfairness in my narrow world to know an equitable workplace is a huge start. 

I’m often struck that, despite the real challenges I face, they pale in comparison to what many women and minorities face globally. I’m driven by the research and examples that explain that one way to change this dynamic is to shift the composition of the world leadership – both government and private industry – to be a place where everyone is equally represented.     

So, with that bold vision in mind…

I start with my world. I know every challenge I overcome makes it easier for those who follow me and, at the heart of all I do, I try to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace.

And every time I want to run and hide, I know that stepping forward may be one small step closer for the millions trapped in poverty in the developing world to escape this cycle. By living inclusion, I hopefully make it easier for the person with an even harder name to spell and pronounce. By adding pronouns to my signature block and LinkedIn profile and encouraging my team to do so, we are making it easier for others to be their authentic self.

You might be thinking, ‘that’s all very well, but how is that relevant?’ To me, it comes back to vision, purpose and living authentically. Without this vision and compass, it’s difficult to successfully navigate the complexity of senior roles and to make the right decisions.

What advice do you have for people as they move throughout their careers?

Be authentic. Know yourself. Seek to understand your leadership shadow and ensure it’s aligned with your self-perceptions. Understand your motivations and beliefs, own your vision and have the courage to live all of this.

About the interviewee

Giuliana Marshall

Giuliana is the Aerospace Director at Jacobs in Australia, overseeing a 250+ team working on defense capability development, national security projects and sustainment. Giuls started her career as an electrical engineer, and quickly found her sweet spot as a project manager. She loves her family, job and the beach, but not always in that order.

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