Romilly Madew is taking the reins at Engineers Australia and has her sights set on the world’s “wicked” problems.
A nature-based upbringing was crucial in shaping Romilly Madew HonFIEAust’s career: learning to sail at the age of eight, bushwalking holidays, traipsing around Guadalcanal on the Solomon Islands, ocean swimming all year round and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with her family. Madew has long demonstrated an unwavering interest in the environment.
“My interest in sustainability came from my love of nature and seeing the adverse impact of climate change,” says Madew, the new CEO of Engineers Australia. “I always wondered why we weren’t doing something about this and fell into roles where I could have an impact, use my voice and be an advocate for change.”
Madew has a strong familiarity with Engineers Australia, having interacted closely with the organisation for more than 20 years, especially while CEO of Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and subsequently CEO of Infrastructure Australia (IA).
Madew says she sees the engineering profession as the nation’s problem solvers. She was also drawn to Engineers Australia’s focus on big picture issues: climate change, integrated infrastructure planning, advanced technology, skills, capacity challenges and diversity.
“I’m excited to work with highly intelligent and capable people in all the areas where Engineers Australia has impact. Engineers Australia is evidence-based and works closely with members. I’m looking forward to working and learning from many of Australia’s best and brightest,” she says.
“I enjoy working with groups of people considering wicked problems, finding solutions and working through those solutions – and also executing them. It’s about working collaboratively and considering what works and what doesn’t.”
The year 2005 was a pivotal one in Madew’s career. After being seconded by her employer, the Property Council of Australia to GBCA in 2004, she became a consultant to GBCA in 2005 and spent the year researching and writing The Dollars and Sense of Green Buildings.
This landmark document, released in early 2006, outlined the business case for green commercial buildings in Australia.
“It filled a void in Australia”, says Madew. “We first printed 1000 copies and then another 5000. In the end 20,000 were downloaded from the GBCA website in a short timeframe.” It was during her role at GBCA that Madew came to be known as a “changemaker”.
“When the GBCA was established in 2002, it was this small organisation developing a rating tool called Green Star,” says Madew. “At the time, I don’t think we, as the industry, really appreciated the impact. Ten years down the track, the impact of the work of GBCA was enormous, we were changing whole cities; changing the way the built environment was designed, operated and performed with sustainability at the forefront, both in Australia and globally.”
The change did not come easily. At GBCA, Madew worked hard to transform mindsets within the industry and among stakeholders that green buildings didn’t just help the environment but made good commercial sense.
“We had to change the narrative and put it into financial terms – talking about value uplift, building performance, savings and productivity gains around a green building; people stood up and listened,” she says.
Madew also attributes much of the success of sustainability in the built environment to the collaborative nature of the sector.
“I’ve yet to experience another sector that has collaborated like the built environment,” she says. “Many of these collaborations were between engineers – all coming from different backgrounds and experiences – and even competitors. They would get into a room together and workout how to evolve Green Star, considering best possible outcomes around access to fresh air and daylight, incorporating recycled water, and reducing the impact of energy in a building.”
Madew wants to ensure that Engineers Australia can provide the policy and the advocacy, the continuing professional development, and the education to help engineers understand what a sustainability mindset is and how to incorporate it in the work that they do.
Madew saw opportunities to change the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated. And this passion took her to Infrastructure Australia, which had just begun to focus on sustainability and resilience when she arrived in 2019.
Sustainable engineering will be a key focus for Madew as Engineers Australia CEO. “We need to ensure that all engineers have a sustainability mindset in the work that they’re undertaking,” she says.
To drive transformation and embrace a sustainability mindset at IA, Madew worked with the team to consider how to incorporate it into the procurement process.
“We found that many of the infrastructure projects IA assessed did not consider the impact of climate change,” she says.
Madew is also a firm believer in strengths-based leadership, an area that IA focused on successfully.
“We found that focusing on people’s strengths and then complementing those qualities with someone else’s strengths created a more productive outcome,” she says.
Addressing the gender imbalance in engineering is another entry on Madew’s priority list and, to do so, she will draw on her experience in construction and infrastructure.
Madew says the Property Council of Australia has made headway with a range of programs, from mentoring to the Girls in Property program, which promotes property careers in schools.
“The 110,000 members of Engineers Australia can be a huge platform to support our advocacy in schools and universities,” she says.
“We want girls to undertake STEM subjects, and attract them to engineering. When you consider that only 16 per cent of engineering students are women, we really can do better.”
Engineers Australia has already made great strides in influencing important government regulation, such as compulsory engineering registration in New South Wales and Victoria. Madew will draw on her vast experience at IA, a body that is heavily relied upon by the federal government, states and territories, as well as the industry, to further this work.
“It’s important we not only talk to external stakeholders, but work closely with our volunteers and members, drawing upon their expertise and experience,” she says.
Given the enormous and important work that engineers do, Madew believes the profession needs to have a bigger voice in significant national conversations, such as investing in Australia’s engineering workforce and expanding sovereign capability.
“I would like to see Engineers Australia as one of the key stakeholders that the federal government consults,” she says.
“Our members will be an instrumental part of helping us get there.”
She acknowledged the work already being undertaken by the Chief Engineer, JaneMacMaster, in elevating the voice of Engineers Australia with government.
There are a lot of people jockeying for their voices to be heard, and Madew says she wants to ensure that Engineers Australia is one of those voices.
“I will work closely with the team and our members to enhance our external voice,” she says. “Engineers Australia has the noble goal of advancing society through great engineering and I’d like to see the organisation become an even stronger advocate for the profession.”