Philippa (Pip) Walsh was born in Cowra NSW in 1968. Her family owns a mixed farming business. Pip’s father was Catholic and her mother an agnostic, and Pip has no religion herself. Neither of her parents had tertiary education but her maternal grandmother went to university in the 1930s, studied forestry, managed family pine plantations and worked for the Ministry of Agriculture in the UK during the war. (Pip says her grandmother spent a lot of time “showing us the inside of various animals”, which may have contributed Pip’s interest in the natural world!)
Pip’s mum “rebelled against her mother”, became a secretary and married a farmer. However, Pip and her brother and sister knew many of her grandmother’s university friends, including a number of prominent science-oriented women.
Pip studied Science at University. In 1991 she got her first real job (as distinct from holiday jobs) as Environmental Officer at the Australian Consumers Association (ACA). In the extract below Pip explains how she got started in the job, and how she moulded the position to fit the needs of the organisation. (Apologies – I interviewed Pip in quite a noisy coffee shop, and the sound quality of the audio extracts is not good)
Leaving ACA in 1992, Pip travelled overseas for a year, again just working casually as she went. When she returned to Sydney, she volunteered for the National Parks Association (NPA), and was very quickly offered a maternity leave position as Office Manager, which, she says, was a great learning experience in administration. As time went on, Pip moved into a policy position in the NPA. At that time there was no Executive Officer at the NPA, and all staff reported to the Chair, Anne Reeves. Pip describes Anne Reeves as a mentor – “someone who actively believed in me”.
Although you were nominally quite junior, you ended up with this enormous amount of latitude. It was a small organisation, and you learned enormous amounts.
Pip worked quite a bit of out of hours work, including setting up the “Young NPA”.
In 1994 Pip took on a part time job at the Australian Heritage Commission, based at the Nature Conservation Council (NCC), reporting to a Panel of Experts and carrying out heritage assessments. Again, Pip describes the position as having “vast amounts of latitude” and the ability to share knowledge and build networks with the Panel members.
Pip then moved to an administrative position in the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia (WWF) where she says she learned some good skills in “managing up”, editing documents and had loads of exposure to environmental work. She also continued her voluntary work with the NPA, including work on the protection of the Cowmung River, which involved setting up a new organisation, doing all the establishment work, then when its work was completed, closing it down.
Pip (with her partner Andrew) went to Korea, and she had a year-long position in South Korea with Green Korea United. In the extract below Pip describes her work in Korea, including some interesting public speaking experiences.
In 1998, Pip returned to WWF in Australia as the South East Program Manager, and was suddenly managing a team of staff running projects across South East Australia.
A significant person in Pip’s working life has been David Butcher, who was then CEO of WWF and oversaw its growth from a small organisation of about 12 people to a much larger organisation of around 100 over a period of 10 years, and increased its budget 6 fold. Pip describes David as someone who provided her with support and the ability to expand her skills as widely as she wanted to.
Pip had a number of jobs within WWF over the next decade, including consultancies for WWF internationally, and then a short time out being the Inaugural Executive Officer for the Nature Conservation Trust. She then returned to WWF Australia as Programs Director, running all of the on-ground programs. This position was also responsible for performance across the organisation, including considerable interaction with the marketing and fund raising sections.
Pip then moved to another organisation headed by David Butcher – Greening Australia in NSW. She really wanted to move back to an organisation with practical on ground programs. One of her new responsibilities was helping the Greening Australia National CEO Carl Binning change the overall nature of the organisation. Another was establishing a new relationship with The Nature Conservancy (an organisation new to Australia), doing Conservation Action Planning.
Management of people is something that Pip has come to enjoy a great deal although when she started out in management the issues of managing people who had previously been peers and were friends required particular care. One of the roles she has undertaken in Greening NSW is identifying people who are skilled in coaching others in conservation planning.
Pip spends quite a bit of time encouraging and mentoring these people who take on coaching roles. She sees coaching as being an important part of leadership, and not the low level activity it is often perceived to be.
Pip ended up becoming CEO of Greening Australia NSW when David Butcher retired in 2010 – the only woman among 9 GA CEOs around Australia. She is also the current Chair of the Lake Cowal Foundation. When I interviewed Pip she had just announced that she was taking up the position of Chief Officer Conservation for Bush Heritage Australia, based in Victoria.
Pip’s interview shows how interested she is in learning from all the organisations and people she comes into contact with. She says that she’s “not a fierce individualist” –
My leadership qualities are a mix of having a vision of possibilities and what should happen, and being able to communicate that in reasonably compelling ways. But there’s a strong element of being able to ask probing questions to help people think about what they want to do and where they want to go, and how that might fit it. I can listen to that, and reflect it back to them. There are definitely times when you know you’ve got the gift of the gab, but I’m also really interested in people and what they might do next. I’m interested in how you might help them to grow and utilise their skills within an overall organisational vision.
Pip has been in a long term relationship with Andrew since she was in her mid-twenties. Andrew spent 10 years as the CEO of an environmental organisation and their demanding jobs have meant that making decisions about work opportunities has required some negotiation. For example Andrew took a job in the Solomon Islands for a year just after Pip took on the Greening Australia CEO job, and Pip stayed on in Australia. Having children has never been on the agenda for Pip and Andrew. Pip likes children, and has relationships with many children among her circle of family and friends, but she never felt a strong urge to have children herself.
She sees that the wages she has received in the environment movement, in the organisations that she’s worked for, as reasonable, and that they have allowed her and Andrew to live a comfortable life and make work decisions without too much financial pressure. However, there is a possibility in the future that Pip may not want such demanding jobs as she’s had over the last decade.
Pip is surprised at the low number of women in the Greening Australia senior Executives, and the fact that every Board representative from the State/territories to the National Board is male – “there’s way too much testosterone” she says. When I asked her this was the case, she wasn’t sure that there was any barrier to women taking on these roles.
I don’t have a clear sense of why it is and I’ve never felt limited by any of the male or female bosses I’ve had. I don’t know whether women get conditioned to be more self-limiting. I don’t necessarily see it as a women thing though.
Maybe for lots of women they worry too much about upsetting people, and making difficult decisions that will perhaps hurt people. Women may just look at leadership roles pragmatically and see them as unattractive – a lot of the blokier blokes take a great deal of pride in working extremely long hours, although I see that as just being inefficient.
She agreed that her parents may have contributed to her sense of self-confidence and lack of self-limiting behaviour.
We were always encouraged to be responsible, independent, entrepreneurial to some degree – we did all sorts of little things which my parents were aware of, but which we managed ourselves. They gave me a sense that I could do things.”