Enhancing the quality of life for all Queensland communities


Leigh Cunningham

Chief Executive Officer


Leigh Cunningham is a lawyer with a career as a senior executive for a number of public companies in Australia and global companies headquartered in Singapore where she lived for 12 years. Prior to returning to Australia to take up her current position as CEO for the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia, Queensland (IPWEAQ), Leigh was the Executive Director and General Counsel for the Association of Independent Authors and previously, Director Finance & Operations, Asia for Worldtrade Management Services (a business unit of PricewaterhouseCoopers). 

Leigh has 24 years’ experience in membership organisations including as the CEO for the Institute of Arbitrators & Mediators, Australia and concurrently as the Secretary-General for the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, and as the Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Project Management.

Leigh has three master’s degrees in law, commerce and an MBA where she graduated as ‘Top Student’. She is also the author of four multi award-winning books.

CEO's Report
September 2017

There’s a lot of talk globally about diversity targets to balance gender imbalances particularly in certain male-dominated sectors. I personally don’t know any women who would want to be offered a job just to meet a diversity target – we would want any appointment to be based solely on merit. I also believe diversity happens organically when the culture of the organisation supports it and to this end, I prefer to focus on inclusivity rather than diversity as the former will inevitably bring about the latter. A number of studies establish that diversity doesn’t generate inclusion and on the contrary, often creates a diversity backlash.

As we all know from our marriages – which was emphasised at last year’s Great Debate, ‘women make better engineers than men’ – women and men think differently. As a result, there are benefits to organisations and society to have both involved in decision-making for holistic outcomes, or as Craig Moss would say, ‘robust outcomes’. 

The dichotomy of right brain (women) versus left brain (men) isn’t correct. Men and women use both sides of the brain albeit in a different way. The male brain has more connections within each hemisphere optimised for motor skills while the female brain is more connected between hemispheres optimised for analytical and intuitive thinking. We make a formidable team when we work together except when maps are involved or IKEA flat packs.

The Great Debate launched at last year’s conference was highly entertaining thanks to our enthusiastic and passionate teams. There were some interesting arguments as to why fewer women are in senior engineering positions. 

One suggestion was that women are inherently attracted to roles that improve society while men just want to build things (a sweeping generalisation but nevertheless there is some merit to it). The higher the social conscience of the organisation, the higher the ratio of women for example our sector has 12% female engineers while Engineers Without Borders has 34% with 66% of those in leadership positions being females (courtesy of Gavin Blakey for the affirmative team).  

If you weren’t present at the state conference last year, you can enjoy the podcast of The Great Debate (won by the affirmative team – women do make better engineers than men) in our Knowledge Centre (be sure to register firstly to access the Centre). 

We’ve recently concluded our biennial election for the IPWEAQ Board and nominations for our four branch committees. Aside from welcoming our first female president – Seren McKenzie in October, we will have 38% representation of women on the board ie three female board members of eight compared to one in previous years. 23 nominations were received for 12 positions on branch committees including nominations from 10 women and six Young members (under age 35). And because we are an inclusive organisation, we accepted all 23 nominations and amended the rule that prescribes the size of branch committees to accommodate everyone. If you would like to get involved with IPWEAQ in any capacity, please do not hesitate to contact me.

On behalf of the team of people you have working for you in the Brisbane office, I would like to invite you to join us in Townsville for the 2017 state conference. If you were at the Brisbane conference last year, we can promise you another great experience and of course, 16 valuable CPD hours. See you then!

Leigh Cunningham
Chief Executive Officer