Tracy Wilcox: smashing glass ceilings from Montreal to Melbourne and beyond
To tell the story of RPS is to tell the story of smart, accomplished women. And what better way to kick off 2022, than to celebrate the women who make us. Women like Tracy Wilcox.
10 January 2022
Tracy is a much-loved leader within our Australian Project Management division, serving as General Manager – Buildings and Property from her home city of Canberra. In late 2021, she was invited by Australia’s National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) to share her career story as part of the Association’s ‘Constructive Coffee’ webinar event.
From courageous career shifts that took Tracy across the globe, to her ability to excel in traditionally male-dominated sectors (all while raising two girls!), here are just a few inspiring highlights from Tracy’s journey as a simulation expert, project manager, mum, and RPS leader.
Work hard, dream big
I was born in Montreal, Quebec on the eastern side of Canada to English-speaking parents. I was one of four kids. My mother was 14 when she left school to start work. That was over 65 years ago at a time when women in the workforce was pretty uncommon.
After giving up her role to raise us children she became a single mum with four kids under the age of ten. Despite the many challenges she faced, Mum was a proud lady who led by example.
I started my first job at nine years old, following in my brothers’ footsteps delivering newspapers throughout the neighbourhood on the weekends, and before school.
Unlike many of my friends, I found myself in technical drafting classes, wood and machine shops and was often one of maybe two or three girls in these areas at school. This started in Year 9, when I was 13 or 14 and has continued throughout my career.
I’ve always been drawn to opportunities because of the complexity, characters, and challenges they offer, and I’ve always been committed to delivering results.
Practice Lead - Project Management, Buildings and Property
Overcoming gender and language barriers
The French-Canadian city of Montreal is known for its food, culture, language, politics, and of course, ice hockey. As a young professional, I was faced with the challenge of trying to hurdle the language barrier, and overcome preconceptions about women’s abilities in the workplace.
On my CV, I actually changed my name from Tracy simply to ‘T’ to avoid being identified as a female, let alone an English-speaking woman in a French-speaking city. There were times where these two things prevented me from getting an interview, much less a job.
After school, I secured a role at a music distribution centre and quickly moved up the ranks. But after a few years I wanted more and decided to return to school.
Hard work ensued as a working ‘mature aged student’ (I was only 20!) but leaning into the opportunities that came my way and volunteering to lead assignments and projects opened doors. I eventually secured a role at one of the largest engineering firms in Montreal.
A foot in the door the first step in an illustrious career
In 1993 I joined ATS Aerospace as a Configuration Manager in the Quality Assurance Department. It was a role that changed my life and brought me into the simulation world.
Drawing on my technical background, I plotted a path to the graphics team that was responsible for the graphic interface used as part of the Air Traffic Control simulators that the company specialised in. Within 18 months, I became one of two people in the graphics team and one of very few (50 across Canada) to be trained in the development package used to create the visual graphics.
An Australian company, Adacel Technologies, eventually bought the intellectual property for the simulation systems, and I ran the graphics department for several years leading it to a 100% on-time delivery record.
Tracy's top tips for emerging female leaders
Put yourself out there. Statistic show that women tend not to apply for roles unless then can guarantee they meet all requirements, where men tend to take the chance.
Step sideways and not only forward. Applying your skills in an area outside your comfort zone is true success. Pursuing a new path can be the most rewarding move to make.
Money isn’t everything. The only career decisions that I’ve regretted were ones based on financial benefit rather than passion. Do what you love!
Don’t let fear hold you back
I continued to study, pursuing my qualifications in project management, studying at night. In 1999, a small team from my company was sent to Australia to demonstrate our capabilities in simulation at a conference in Melbourne. I was one of the lucky few chosen to go.
Within six months, I was approached by a competitor and in time accepted a role in Australia. I was engaged to run the Virtual Reality Centre for RMIT University in Melbourne working for SGI (Silicon Graphics).
My mother taught me to aim high and the lesson was reinforced here: dream big because anything is possible. My girls and I moved in January of 2000 for a two-year contract which has evolved into an Australian career spanning more than 20 years.
The move was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. My daughters were three and five at the time, and I was a single working mum in a foreign country. What was I thinking? While I questioned my decision many times, I was determined not to fail.
Tenacity, teamwork, leadership
The simulation field remained niche, but my skillset was sought after. Within months of arriving in Melbourne, I was asked to relocate to Canberra to work on the F18 Hornet simulator as a graphic consultant.
My background continued to open doors, and I moved from simulation to working on the Australian Defence Air Traffic Systems (ADATS) Program for the Australian Defence Force.
Later I worked for Airservices Australia, leading a national program across 26 sites. I was the seventh project manager on this project and the only one to get it out to market and into contract. The system is still in use today and that program is one of the biggest achievements of my career.
In early 2017 I joined RPS working with our specialist Defence PFAS investigation and management program team. I was promoted to General Manger later that year, leading the Building and Property team while continuing my work within the PFAS branch for another 12 months.
Today, I find myself back at Airservices in a consulting role for RPS while still managing our team of consultants who are seconded to Defence.
In this most recent part of my career I have learned the value of surrounding yourself with a 'dream team'. I am blessed to work with a group of incredible people - more for me to add to the list of lifelong friends I've made throughout my working life.
A quiet achiever, blazing the trail
I’ve always been drawn to opportunities because of the complexity, characters, and challenges they offer, and I’ve always been committed to delivering results. Life remains busy, but it’s interesting and RPS is an exceptional place to work making it easy to keep moving forward. I love the career I have built.
From gender-equal representation on our global board to an Asia Pacific executive team that is more than 66% female, talented women are writing the story of RPS while authoring inspiring career stories with us. You can too.