A voice for history and culture

Susan Kennedy, Heritage Manager - Sydney

QTell us about your job at RPS

I am fortunate to manage a team of skilled and passionate archaeologists and heritage specialists. Our team works with a wide range of clients, assessing and managing development impacts for historical archaeology, Aboriginal cultural heritage, maritime archaeology, and heritage buildings.

Who is a woman who inspires you?

I’ve encountered so many incredible women throughout my career and personal life that I couldn’t name just one person. They each have a different life experience, and the way they have developed and learned from hardships in their personal and professional life is something that inspires me.

Tell us about a heritage specialist/archaeologist that people should know about?

At the moment, people should be thinking about women like Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, the Director-General of the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Art and Culture Museum Complex in Kyiv, Ukraine. While dealing with the horrific situation there, she is also working to keep safe the artwork that is a core part of her country's heritage. 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An archaeologist.

What are you up to when you’re not at work?

Spending time with my family (husband and two boys).

QWhat inspired you to get into heritage work?

I grew up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, surrounded by stunning natural and cultural heritage. Some of my earliest memories involve the Spit to Manly bushwalk, where I was surrounded by amazing heritage sites.

The Northern Beaches area is rich with Aboriginal cultural heritage - middens, rock carvings, cave art are all through the National Parks there, and I was fortunate enough to be able to walk past them at least once a week. As a child I used to love playing in the tunnels and bunkers at Middle Head, and around the Depression-era huts at Crater Cove. I imagined the different lives of people who lived in those huts, worked in the tunnels, or painted the caves. When I started school, I gravitated towards history and social studies, and that took me through to university…. So, there really wasn’t any other work I ever considered getting into!

QTell us about some of your career highlights

It's hard to go past some of the diving sites that I have worked on. Being able to participate in wreck inspections all over the Great Barrier Reef was incredible.

QBest thing you did to further your career?

Completing my law degree and becoming an admitted solicitor was something that added another level to my professional skillset, and broadened the framework for my advice in relation to managing and understanding heritage. Being comfortable with the application of legislation was helpful both for my own professional development and my ability to work with clients to appreciate the compliance side of heritage - why we need to do the things we do.

QWhat do you think that the consulting industry is getting right in terms of addressing gender bias/equality, and what do we still need to look at?

I am proud that women have always been strongly represented in the heritage sector, and I think that consulting has come a long way in terms of equality and inclusivity. But from my own experience, I really felt the need for gender equality when I had children - pregnancy, maternity leave, returning to work….it was all a massive struggle.

I was back at work within a few months with both my boys as the company I worked for at that time didn’t offer paid parental leave at that time – they were a smaller business and it wasn’t the industry standard like it is today (fortunately they do now).

I’m so glad that this has changed. I think people forget what a recent development this is and that paid parental leave (PPL) really became the norm in the last ten years and what an absolute game- changer it was. Without paid parental leave, taking a large amount of time out of the workforce isn’t financially possible for most families.

I think there is still a lot of work to be done on construction sites, where the opinions and presence of women are still perhaps seen as something that is to be tolerated, rather than positively embraced.  I think there are good things happening in that space, and I have certainly noticed positive changes over the last few years. 

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