By Eliza Booth, Journalist
In June 2020, Northern Territory utility, Power and Water, appointed its first female Chief Executive Officer following an extensive recruitment process. The appointment of Djuna Pollard marks an exciting period of change and growth for the business, and Utility caught up with Ms. Pollard to find out more about her vision for Power and Water, the challenges facing the industry, and encouraging women to rise to the top, even in male-dominated industries.
Ms Pollard first started working in the utility industry in 2000, joining Power and Water some 20 years ago as a Management Accountant.
During her time at the company, she has led teams across multiple different areas of the business, from economics, regulation, retail and business services, to strategy and transformation.
Ms Pollard stepped up as Acting CEO for six months following the retirement of John Baskerville in 2015, but was not permanently appointed to the position.
She instead took on the roles of Senior Executive Manager Business Services, and Strategy and Transformation before being named Executive General Manager Power Services, Power and Water’s operational poles-and-wires business.
After three years heading up the power services division, Ms Pollard took up an opportunity as CEO at Jacana Energy, the government-owned electricity retail corporation, which was created from Power and Water’s structural separation in 2014.
In December 2019, Ms Pollard was asked to return to Power and Water as the Acting CEO, before accepting the permanent role of CEO in June 2020.
The driving force behind the utility’s vision for the future
Since coming on board as the new CEO for Power and Water, Ms Pollard has wasted no time in getting stuck into the role, carrying on the vision the company has for its future, which is set out in its annual Statement of Corporate Intent.
“As it stands, our purpose is to enrich the future of the Northern Territory and the communities in which we operate, supporting economically sustainable growth and prosperity,” Ms Pollard said.
“We want to enrich the future for our people by providing growth and development opportunities that enable them to do new things, champion change and make a difference in the work they do.
“We also want to enrich the future for our customers by being easy to deal with, and providing customers with knowledge and choice.
“More broadly, I want to see Power and Water become a modern utility. We are in the unique position of being a multi-utility, and I would like us to maximise those significant synergies while managing challenge and change with our customers at the heart of everything we do.”
Ms Pollard said that she will utilise her management style of collaboration and engagement to achieve Power and Water’s strategic goals.
“I like to think I am a ‘people leader’ who is approachable, honest, respected, credible and resilient. I’m able to remain calm in challenging or high-pressure situations, and strongly believe in collaboration and engagement,” Ms Pollard said.
“I advocate for a constructive, collaborative achievement culture – I believe strongly that we do our best achieving through our people.
“This means growing and developing the capability of our people who will in turn build high-performing teams.”
A unique operating environment
As the Northern Territory’s sole provider of electricity, water and sewerage services, Power and Water delivers essential services in some of the most challenging conditions in the world, including a vast landscape, regional and remote customers, cultural sensitivities and extreme weather events.
These unique facets of the job make Power and Water’s responsibilities different to other utilities throughout Australia, and require distinctive management and solutions.
“Providing essential services to the people of the Northern Territory is a huge honour. Our work is essential to help keep the world’s oldest continuous living culture on country,” Ms Pollard explained.
“In addition to providing services to the community across the entire water and electricity supply chains and gas services, we also have regulatory obligations as the Power System Controller and Electricity Market Operator.
“In July 2019, Power and Water entered the regulatory regime of the NT National Electricity Rules (NT NER), with our network revenue being set by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). This has been an exciting opportunity and catalyst of change for us.
“Going forward, we know we face challenges and opportunities in terms of the growing expectations of our customers, regulators and other stakeholders.
“We know we need to improve our efficiency and put our customers front and centre in how we think and operate.”
With Australia continuing its transition to cleaner energy sources, Ms Pollard said that Power and Water is looking at how renewables can be better integrated into the power system, while also maintaining reliability.
“We are seeing the growing penetration of renewable energy, which is expected to increase significantly over the coming years in line with the Northern Territory Government’s target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030,” Ms Pollard said.
“As a Power System Controller, it is important for us to ensure the effective integration of renewable energy technologies, and that this fluctuating renewable energy load does not compromise system reliability and security.”
In addition to navigating the future of energy production and changing regulations, Ms Pollard said that Power and Water is focusing on water sourcing strategies to secure supply in increasingly volatile climate patterns.
“The variable and changing climate patterns highlight the need for us to continually review our water source strategies to ensure the ongoing availability of a safe, secure water supply and the availability of water to support business growth,” Ms Pollard said.
“Our focus is on long-term water security solutions, including infrastructure, strengthening water conservation expectations and outcomes, reducing water losses and meeting water quality standards in both major centres and remote communities.
“There have also been unprecedented changes in both the gas and energy markets, and the Northern Territory’s regulatory environment.
“These pose significant challenges and require us to have an active and effective voice in shaping regulatory and policy outcomes.
“Our wholesale gas business plays an important role in supporting the economic diversification and development of the Territory’s economy.”
Supporting women in utility spaces
According to the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the electricity, gas, water and wastewater industries have seen a 6.2 per cent increase in women working in these sectors, however, utilities remain a male-dominated industry¹.
While there has been growth, more needs to be done to encourage women into the industry and to develop long-lasting and fulfilling careers.
Ms Pollard said that working together to bridge the gender gap and having role models at all levels of the industry are just some of the ways that more women can be encouraged and supported in the utility sector, improving outcomes not only for workers, but the industry as a whole.
“Diversity is not just a numbers game– it broadens the way teams tackle challenges and reduces the danger of ‘group thinking’,” Ms Pollard said.
Ms Pollard said that while the industry is still a traditionally ‘blokey’ industry, male colleagues she has worked with have been “champions for female empowerment”.
“They have been respectful of my abilities and been willing to pass on their knowledge during the time I’ve been at Power and Water,” Ms Pollard said.
“For a time, I was the only woman in a nine-strong executive leadership team at Power and Water – there are now five women. There are also three women among the seven directors on the Power and Water Board.”
Ms Pollard said that becoming the first female CEO of Power and Water Corporation is her greatest career achievement to date and she looks forward to being a role model for other women in the sector.
“I am proud to join the handful of women leading utilities in Australia. This has been a goal of mine for quite some time and I want to continue to be an inspiration for women in our industry.”
Ms Pollard said that she is inspired every day by all the women at Power and Water, especially those in frontline positions working to deliver essential services to customers of the Northern Territory.
Several women in particular have served as role models for Ms Pollard, including Merryn York (former Powerlink CEO, now Australian Energy Market Commissioner), Paula Conboy (former Chair of the Australian Energy Regulator Board), Charmaine Quick (Managing Director Goulburn-Murray Water) and Rebecca Kardos (Aurora Energy CEO and former Power and Water General Manager Retail).
“These are women who are truly inspiring and are paving the way for more women to take on leadership roles in utility businesses,” Ms Pollard said.
“I have also been motivated by many women who have served on the Power and Water Board, notably Helen Stanton, Teresa Dyson, Rowena McNally and Gaye McMath.”
Life in the top end
When she isn’t leading the team at Power and Water, Ms Pollard said that she likes to spend time with her family and friends, support her favourite sports teams, and enjoy the incredible scenery of the Northern Territory.
“I love watching my two teenage boys play a competitive game of basketball. I also enjoy travel in any form, as well as outdoor activities like camping and hiking,” Ms Pollard said.
“We are lucky in the Northern Territory to be surrounded by natural beauty and have some amazing national parks on our doorstep.
“I really enjoy spending time with family and friends, and having a good old-fashioned sing-along. I am also an avid supporter of Hawthorn (AFL) and the Canberra Raiders (NRL).”
Main photo credit: Territory Q magazine.