Don’t be afraid to throw your hat in the ring – nothing’s out of reach

Naticia Zwanikken

Group HR Manager – Services & Projects

Career at a glance

I started my HR career as a graduate with Siemens in New Zealand. 12 months in, I took on
an energy services advisory role, supporting primarily long-serving male employees who were very resistant to change. I really had to employ my core relationship building skills to break through their hard exteriors. Coupled with working through a significant restructure and making a large portion of the workforce redundant, my early days were a massive learning exercise in how businesses work and people tick.

I transferred to a Major Energy Projects role at Siemens Australia after my husband was offered a move to Australia training pilots in Gippsland. I enjoyed the role but was commuting long distances each day, so eventually left for a role at a major Maintenance Contractor in Gippsland. There I supported the stand up of a contracting engagement with a large Oil and Gas company, delivering maintenance services across their onshore and offshore sites. My team were less supportive than I was used to and didn’t understand the role and value of HR. At times they thought I was there to just make coffee. Being the only female on the leadership team, I had to fight for a seat at that table every day. But I managed to learn a new piece of the energy industry and a lot about what I stand for.

We moved to Melbourne two years later and I landed a Senior HR Business Partner role at Jemena, supporting projects in Electricity and the Control Room. Within eighteen months, I was offered a secondment to work on a significant operational restructure involving a new operating model, systems overhaul and organisation redesign. This was my first time taking on a more specialised HR role, and I worked with a fabulous team and manager. It was a great mix of challenge and learning, and I have never worked so hard in my life!

I enjoyed the change so much that when the opportunity presented itself, I moved into a permanent role of the same ilk and got to do some fabulous work in the culture, change, talent and leadership space. In 2018, I was tapped on the shoulder and moved across to Zinfra. I was ready for a change, but was able to enjoy the comfort of knowing what I know by staying within the Group.

Working at Zinfra

Zinfra is the kind of place where HR needs to be able to identify, design and deliver initiatives within the business at pace. The industry can change very quickly, so if something doesn’t work, we move on, and if it does, we build on it.

The business is really supportive too. You’re generally told why you should try something or encouraged to give it a go, which is challenging but in the best possible way. It means you can try and fail without fear.

We also provide access to the programs and support people need to effectively broaden their skills and careers. For example, we’re taking on 21 apprentices in 2021, creating an opportunity to grow and nurture our people to become future leaders and top performers in the industry.

The greatest piece of career advice I can give is - find yourself a good boss. Having a great manager at a terrible organisation is better than having a terrible manager at a great organisation.
Naticia Zwanikken, Group HR Manager – Services & Projects

Greatest career challenges and achievements

The greatest HR challenges are having to implement changes that people are resistant to or that have a negative impact on them. Over time, you get better at delivering bad news, but it never gets easier. Often you don’t know whether you’ll have a job on the other side either. On the flip side, you do get watch people thrive and deliver some great news too.

Recently, I decided to throw my hat in the ring for the Zinfra Group HR Manager role. I felt so proud when I landed the job because I didn’t at all expect to. Although it was tricky to navigate becoming a leader to my peers, I now have an amazing team! We work really hard, but make time to celebrate successes and enjoy each other’s company.

Passions outside of work

I love to travel and hope to see every corner of the globe someday. I also like to get outside and stay active, particularly skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer. Baking is a real passion of mine too, so it’s a good thing I’m active because it balances out the cake making! Once upon a time I had a cake business, but I can’t keep that up these days, particularly with a young family.

Climbing the ladder and giving back

The greatest piece of career advice I can give is - find yourself a good boss. Having a great manager at a terrible organisation is better than having a terrible manager at a great organisation! Seek out a mentor too. I was lucky enough to have the Head of Organisational Development at Air New Zealand mentor me early on in my career. The airline industry has always fascinated me and I learnt so much from my time with her.

Mentoring is definitely a two way street – it can help you overcome some of your own mental barriers too. Despite a mere 10-15 year age gap between me and some of my more recent mentees, their career expectations are totally different to mine back in the day. They want to move through the ranks quickly, which reminded me it’s important to always be ambitious.

Diversity is something I’m really passionate about too. I grew up in NZ where diversity is pretty well progressed, particularly around indigenous relations. I was also raised to believe women could do or be anything, so I’ve always advocated for gender equality and worked hard to influence the diversity bent of any company where I’ve had the opportunity. If we do the hard work now, hopefully the next generation of working women won’t even have to worry about equality.

Key career influences and supporters

I grew up in a family that always encouraged me to work hard for what I wanted. I went to an all-girls school, which I didn’t always love, but where we were taught that nothing was out of reach. My first manager was very influential too, in helping me see what I couldn’t see in myself. That really helped my confidence.

I’ve also had some wonderful colleagues over the years, many of whom I remain friends with. They are the kinds of people I can laugh and cry with about life and seek advice from about my professional life too. I’ve been very lucky to work with people I admire and aspire to learn from.