Why SkyCity’s women are making it to the top

SKYCITY became a Global Women Principal Partner on 1st March 2018. In the week of International Women’s Day, we sat down with CEO Graeme Stephens to find out more about how SKYCITY is ensuring women aren’t held back from making it to the top.


Global Women (GW): How do you ensure you are growing your future leaders at SKYCITY?

Graeme Stephens (GS): Internal succession planning is getting a lot of focus as internal promotions are typically your lowest risk and also provide great motivation for employees. Our senior executives have spent significant time identifying the next generation of potential leaders and we have a number of development programmes in place to ensure that we meet the differing needs of these emerging leaders.

Two new programmes set up in the past six months have been Tahuna Te Ahi, our Maori leadership development offering which has been delivered through a partnership with Indigenous Growth Limited and our Accelerated Leadership Programme for our high-potential and high-performing leaders who are on track for General Management positions at SKYCITY.

We are also very encouraged by the strong level of interest from our women in leadership roles who have signed up to attend our inaugural professional development series, Winning Women, which will be launched as part of the International Women’s Day activities in early March.

I personally get involved in these programmes to ensure that participants understand the importance to the company and to provide them with direct access to me as part of the formal programme as well as the informal dinners etc that happen around them. I also believe that my personal participation endorses and underscores the importance for our senior executives involved in running the programs.


GW: How important are leadership development programmes like TupuToa and Breakthrough Leaders for SKYCITY?

GS: We have been an enthusiastic supporter of Tupu Toa from its inception and have recently entered into a three-year commitment to the program. What Tupu Toa aims to achieve is a pathway for Maori and Pasifika into corporate New Zealand and, ultimately, to ensure these groups are represented at the most senior levels. I have found the youthful enthusiasm of the participants to be infectious and whether they join us permanently or take up positions elsewhere I believe their experience at SKYCITY creates a positive long term relationship that can only be mutually beneficial.

Breakthrough Leaders has been a cornerstone of development for our most senior women, with our latest graduate recently promoted to the senior leadership team as a direct report to me. It’s a tough year of intense learning and exposure to new and different ways of thinking and requires significant commitment. I have no doubt that it’s a life changing experience both personally and professionally – and by nature it’s not high volume but reserved for a few of our top managers with high potential. It’s the sort of programme where you know that graduates are going to challenge you to realise their potential – and if you don’t provide the opportunity then they are confident self believers who will go elsewhere.


GW: What have you seen make an impact on the number of women applying for senior roles?

GS: I think it’s important to create a culture where women understand that there are genuine opportunities for leadership roles coupled with a commitment to promote women into senior roles at every opportunity.

This needs to start with the CEO having a genuine belief in the value that diversity brings to the business. If I lead by example then others have to follow. Of my six direct reports, three are now women. Across the Group (thousands of people) we are also 50/50 male/female.

The challenge for us lies mostly in the middle to senior management roles and in particular areas of operations such as the gaming business where we are the only industry participant so it relies entirely on an internally created talent pool. It’s a little easier to fill more generic skill positions where the rest of corporate NZ is also generating relevant talent.

For SKYCITY we have been focusing on the pipeline of women into senior roles – the greater the pool of potential women leaders the greater the possibility of filling leadership roles when they become available. Our professional and leadership development activities endeavour to ensure women have the skills, experience and opportunity to be considered for senior roles – and for sure they will be.


GW: What would you advise young women today who have leadership ambitions?

GS: As a father of three daughters this is something I have great personal interest in! I have tried to instil in them the capability and confidence that they can (as a minimum!) do anything that a man can – and that they have the right to.

I sense a fast growing groundswell of awareness and support for diversity in business and while there is clearly plenty that still needs to change, there has never been a better time for women to realistically aspire to leadership roles.

Get the qualifications, earn the experience, have the confidence, have the ambition and grab the opportunities when they come. The time is yours.