Women in Leadership

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Rebecca Milne

 

EY - WIL - Rebecca Milne

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in New Zealand, and attended Victoria University in Wellington where I studied Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science and a Bachelor of Commerce, in Economics and Public Policy.  I went to University to study what I enjoyed and what I thought would challenge me. After graduation I joined EY in the Wellington Advisory team, working mainly in the Government sector.

Recently, I moved to Auckland to become COO and Partner at The Aera Foundation.  I enjoy traveling, new experiences and living outside my comfort zone.

2. What was you impetus to change roles at this stage in your career and what did you wish to accomplish?

Joining The Aera Foundation was an exciting opportunity.  EY was a great place to learn and develop essential foundation skills, and to explore what areas I was interested in. However, I was looking for a new challenge, and the Aera Foundation provided just that.

I was interested in how I could combine making a meaningful positive impact in the world and a having a successful career, instead of the two being mutually exclusive. My role at the Aera Foundation provides me with a really unique opportunity to achieve this.  At the Aera Foundation I have been given an opportunity to work creatively on a range of issues.  We are incubating and advancing groundbreaking models of talent, philanthropy and entrepreneurship that fuse social, environmental and financial outcomes.

If we succeed, we will have a really positive impact that I will be proud of.

3. Is the idea of purpose in your career and making a positive impact important to you?

It is extremely important to me and increasingly it is becoming important to a lot of people - and not just my generation.

People want to work for companies that have a purpose beyond profit. They are looking to work for companies that are having a positive impact in the communities where they work in and live, and it is important for companies to realise this trend and start changing.  

4. Can you describe the level of flexibility that you have in your work and having the mandate to do what it takes to get the result you are after?

When I joined The Aera Foundation it was a new work approach for me, especially coming from the structured work environment at EY.  It is a much more personalised approach to work. We were able to design our roles, our responsibilities, and the hours we work.  

I believe we need to disrupt the old model of work. A 9-5 work day, 5 days a week is an arbitrary constraint and is not the most productive way of achieving outcomes.  The way that we work is more about working in an environment that is conducive for productivity and creativity.  If you are not being effective, stop take time to do something else - go to a museum or for a walk- rather than continuing working and being unproductive.

It is the end product that matters, and you do your best work if you have the freedom to switch on and off.

5. What has your experience regarding gender equity in the workplace?

I have had really good experiences in terms of being treated fairly and as an equal by both male and female colleagues and bosses. The problem with gender equity is what I see rather than what I experience. When I go to meetings, how many woman are at the table?  When I go to awards ceremonies, who is being recognised for their work?  The answer is that on the whole, there are very few women, and even fewer young women. 

The question needs to be asked: why are there not more women sitting around the table and having their contributions recognised?

Ultimately, the current corporate workplace structure results in systemic gender discrimination. Rather than making an example of women who succeed in the corporate workplace as successes in gender equity, we need to change the underling structures.

6. What do you think organisations can do to level the playing field for both men and women?

Organisations will have to rethink the notion of the linear career path.  It is an outdated approach that does not fit with our current lifestyles, and people are increasingly attracted to a non-linear career path.

Linear career paths are about a workforce that doesn’t take extended breaks, and where career progression means a straight line to the top.  It doesn’t take into consideration that people often want to or have to take pauses in their careers. As soon as anyone takes a pause in their careers, it seems that their opportunities become limited.

A critical issue for women is the possibility to be a mother and the ability to participate fully in the workforce. Due to the linear career path, I believe this is leading to a lot of women opting out of professional services or large corporations before the choice is forced upon them or they are not re-entering because they feel like they have lost their opportunity.

7. How important are female role models?

Female role models are extremely important.  People need examples and leadership to show them what they can achieve. So far I have been lucky enough to have great female role models who have been incredible examples of what can be achieved. This includes my mother and other impressive women in leadership positions, as well as the women who I have worked with.

8. Do you think that change is happening quickly enough? 

In Australia and New Zealand we have largely dealt with the really obvious issues of gender discrimination and it is not socially acceptable to openly discriminate based on gender. However we still have a long way to go and change is too slow. 

People think that we have largely dealt with the gender issue but we are still just treating the symptoms rather than the cause.  People see women entering university, entering the workforce and returning to work after having children, and some making it to top positions and believe the gender issue has been dealt with.  

However, the current system is still defined by the entrenched gender roles. We celebrate when a woman makes it into the top position in an organisation but are not questioning how many women are present at important meetings or challenging the underlying attitudes that drive our thoughts on gender. 

Increasingly people are having this conversation and ideas and the structure are being challenged but more action needs to happen.  We should be talking about being proud of having a great leader who happens to be a woman rather than a woman making it to the top.

9. Do you think that traditional gender roles influence the way women are viewed in the work environment?

I think that entrenched gender roles result in unconscious bias. Your gender results in people making certain assumptions about your goals in the workforce and the roles you will play in life and are driven by entrenched and outdated roles for each gender.

Usually, no-one will make the assumption that a man’s family will have any bearing on this career.  A woman on the other hand will often face questions in relation to her family situation when in the workplace.  Traditional gender roles often reinforce this thinking. 

Women are still expected to do the balancing act between work and home whereas men are not, however this is changing and men are starting to take on these roles in the home as well.

10. What role have mentors and sponsors played in your career?

Mentors and sponsors are extremely important to everyone’s career, and it is especially important for women to sponsor and mentor other women. Mentors give you the confidence to take chances, challenge yourself and do what you want to do.

I have been very fortunate from the start with my parents being brilliant mentors for me.  I was also fortunate to have Partners and senior managers in the EY Wellington office who supported me and advocated for my ability. 

11. What is your definition of success?

I think success is an evolving concept depending on what stage in life you are at and what you perceive to be important. 

Success for me has always been about challenging and pushing myself to do things differently. Currently success is having a purposeful career that enables me to make a positive impact. I think the question that people need to always ask themselves is: What is the purpose of doing what I am currently doing.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.
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Yassmin Adbel-Magied

 

EY - WIL - Yassmin Adbel-Magied

1. Tell us a little about yourself?

In short, I’m a 23 year old woman, born in Sudan of mixed cultural heritage and I currently work as an engineer in a male dominated field.  I studied Mechanical Engineering at University and graduated in 2011.  After I realised that my initial desire to work as a Formula 1 design engineer was misplaced (the reality did not meet the expectation), I decided to join the oil and gas industry.  I worked in the field as a tool specialist for almost two years before moving across to work as a drilling engineer on oil and gas rigs offshore.

Personally, I am a passionate social advocate for diversity in decision making positions, equality of access to opportunity and the discussion around energy poverty.  I also happen to be a Muslim woman who wears the hijab.

2. Have you seen the roadblocks that many women report experiencing on their way up the corporate ladder?

I have seen a few and have heard anecdotal evidence of quite a few as well. There are the usual stories:  people being passed up for promotion because of their age, or expectations around having children, particularly in my field which is very technical and demanding on our time.  The unconscious bias that exists when women are discussed also still exists - rather than being talked about in terms of potential, they are talked about in terms of qualities they lack.  Companies do try to do quite a lot in terms of offering flexible working hours, opportunities to come back into the workforce after having children and the like.  However the top still doesn’t have as many women as perhaps it should.

Essentially what I see is that the corporate ladder is not built for women (or men) who are interested in a balanced career and home life.  Instead, it is skewed towards those who have a ‘wife’ at home, and someone whose sole objective is climbing up said ladder. If we really want to change outcomes, the entire system needs a rethink. 

3. What do you think that organisations need to do to remove these roadblocks and attract, retain and promote talented women in larger numbers?

Rethinking the way that the system rewards employees and tackling the issue of unconscious bias.  These aren’t new ideas but tried and tested techniques – blind interviews where names, ages and genders are blanked out, true sponsorship (mentoring happens a lot, sponsorship less so), investing in women’s ability to manage work and home life and actively support those decisions and recognising outcome rather than face time

Ultimately though, there is a generational difference that exists and until we see the generations with entrenched views move out of senior positions, these measures will probably only tinker at the edges. A fundamental shift is required for sustainable change.

4. What role does unconscious bias and personal preferences play in shaping an organisation’s approach to gender equity?

It plays a huge role! I think the statistics speak for themselves.  If intakes of men and women are equal, but those numbers don’t trickle up to the top, we have to ask ourselves why. Clearly, there are roadblocks. Some of those might be personal choices, but also the lack of opportunity coming from the fact that historically, people haven’t seen women at the top, don’t expect to see women at the top and therefore don’t promote  women to the top.  People ultimately want to work with those who are similar to them, so it is a self-perpetuating cycle.  Our diversity problems don’t come from overt sexism or racism but largely from unconscious bias that people have yet to identify in themselves.

5. What do you think organisations need to do to attract more female talent and more importantly retain them longer term?

I think attracting female talent is not as significant an issue, although that does depend on individual  fields and industries. The more significant issue is that of retaining talent, and ensuring that the culture in a company is fully accepting of the balance that is required once someone takes a career break and then returns to work.  There are a couple of points here:

  1. Although the flexible work options are there, often women are still disadvantaged in the promotion space when they require flexibility.
  2. Even before they leave, women of a certain age (late twenties, thirties) are assumed to be wanting to start a family. Often opportunities are not offered as an option to these women.
6. A recent report suggests that on current projections, it will take at least 80 years to reach gender equity in the workplace. Do you see young men being engaged on this issue or are we set to repeat the mistakes of the past?

There are definitely generational differences at play, but with that comes consequences we will not have anticipated. Perhaps one is the disenfranchised of men who don’t feel valued as part of society.  Others will also appear that we won’t have expected. Objectification of women for example, is something that hasn’t gone away. 

The expectation that women are just as capable as men is a given for people my age.  This was the era that we grew up in.  As this generation moves through to leadership positions, perhaps the rate of change will become exponential.  We can only hope!

7. Have you seen current leaders stepping up and addressing this issue effectively, or do you think that there is a lot of talk but not a lot of action?

There is still a lot of talk. Some companies are better than others at addressing the issue of gender equity but there is still a reluctance to do things differently.  Some of this is tied to the generational differences.  Also, in times of economic difficulty as we saw with the GFC, diversity becomes less of a focus area and leaders turn back to ‘core business’, which may mean ‘let’s focus on what we know works and we will get back to making things more equitable when times are better’. 

8. Men have traditionally held privileged positions in the corporate world.  As the majority of leaders, men also hold the key in driving change in this space.  How do you think that more men can be engaged in this discussion without turning it into a war between the sexes?  How can we better work together to drive sustainable change?

They must be, because it is not a campaign that women can win alone. However, we must understand that not all men will like the change, and that is okay.  It is difficult for people to accept change, and even more difficult when it means taking power and privilege away from a particular group.  I think this is changing with the generations – men my age are less likely to have issues with a woman in a similar position, although they may blame any inadequacies on her gender.

Change needs to start with the right messaging and communication and discussion the values that women and men share.  This message will depend on the audience that is listening.  We may need to talk about the change in terms of being better for the bottom line, or because most clients are women or because diversity is the only way to overcome “group think”.  It may also be pitching the messaging in terms of a personal connection such as “would your daughter/sister/wife be allowed this opportunity and how would you like her to be treated?” This discussion can also be about social justice and a human rights framework – is this fair?  Can we accept this standard in our society?

I think most of the time men aren’t actively holding women back but at the same time are often unaware of the privileges they hold and the unconscious bias they perpetuate.  By calling the behaviours, making the messages clear and inviting men to be part of the solution by mentoring women, providing women with opportunities, being accountable for the results, they too can feel valued.

A conversation that this also becoming more prominent is about men’s clarity of the role that they play in society.  If women can “do it all”, where does men’s value lie?  I think this is a conversation that will become more prominent.  We need to ensure that neither men nor women are being undervalued in the conversation around gender equity.

9. How do you define success – more broadly and for yourself?

Success for me personally is about looking back and knowing that I have used my life to leave a positive impact in the world, and that I haven’t wasted opportunities. 

More broadly, success for society is about knowing that everyone has equality and fairness in opportunity, and that we have real diversity – respectful and wholesome diversity – in our decision making processes.  Then we can have faith that decisions made that affect all our lives are made with a variety of perspectives in mind. 

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.
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Chandra Clement

 

EY - WIL - Chandra Clement

1. Tell us a little about yourself?

I am a country girl who grew up in a small town of 1500 people in regional NSW. I was educated in the public system, something that I am proud of, and put myself through university in Newcastle whilst working multiple jobs. I started my career as an accountant whilst also running a business, tutoring children with ADHD and learning difficulties. Accountancy wasn’t for me as I talk too much!! I moved to QLD in 2004 whilst working in coal mining and received my first valuable lesson in how important moving to different areas and varying your lifestyle is in terms of creating resilience, opportunities and personal growth. I have worked all over the world since 2004 and tackled some amazing challenges. I now run my own business consulting to blue chip organisations and coaching executives, whilst public speaking at events that inspire me. 

2. You’ve had a varied and interesting career path -  including having worked across 28 countries, six languages and nine industries.  How did you get started in your career and what did you want to accomplish?

I started my career working multiple jobs and have continued this trend for most of my working life. At the age of 22 I believed that if I got into the resources industry then that would set me up for life (my grandfather had been in mining in NSW). Where there is a will, there is a way…….before I knew it I was a graduate with Rio Tinto and embarked on an amazing trajectory of experiences including driving trucks, working in the Coal Preparation Plant, working on night shift, handling industrial disputes. At this stage I fell in love with training and helping blue collar workers, particularly those with limited schooling or confidence, to gain the skills necessary to take on supervisory or leadership roles. This passion has never faded and it propels me forward to this day.

3. What influenced you early on to follow this particular career path?

My father had limited schooling but could fix a car or solve a manual problem better than anyone else. I would hear him talk about “management” at the dinner table, with fear and uncertainty in his voice and I often wondered why people who put their underpants on roughly the same way every day, with the same goal to get ahead and do a good job, and the same desire to be socially accepted, had such trouble communicating simply because one was a bus driver and one was a manager. It seemed to me that my parent’s conversations centred around the haves and have nots, the heard and the unheard, the clever and the un-clever, the hopeful and the hopeless. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it to this day. Equity and equality are missing and remain absent in many pockets of our business community. It is missing in our schools.  It is absent in our minds and we are held back as a society because of the imaginary divide we self-impose. This is the basis of my career and my ambitions.

4. In your time working with large organisations, what has your experience been of gender equity in the workplace? 

The sad reality is that large organisations offer the ying and yang of equity. Their size enables greater choice and taller career “ladders” but they also create a larger level of “current” in which women and gender equity can sometimes get washed away. If three men are promoted and earn more than their respective female counterpart in a small family owned or private business, this stands out a lot more and seems to be easier to raise and discuss then when 370 men are promoted and earn more than their respective female counterpart in a mega multinational. Size has pros and cons. It is a greater “silencer” when used incorrectly and I do believe that some organisations still suffer from this phenomenon.  I also link this to “compliance” requirements of large scale organisations. I have seen many a large corporate complete their gender stats and reports for various government bodies and search and collate some wonderful examples to highlight their gender equity success. The numbers can be made to do whatever they are needed to do. This is not to say that all large corporates are fudging their figures. Not at all. But what it does mean is that there is a strong need in my opinion to delineate between justification of figures, female representation and equity indicators, and their explanation. I think we confuse understanding with permission or acceptance on too many occasions.

5. Have you seen the roadblocks that many women report experiencing on their way up the corporate ladder?

Yes I have. Like anyone, I have seen the roadblocks, some ghastly unfair situations and I have also seen some wonderful success stories and great leadership examples. As a CEO I have heard the arguments against employing women of child bearing age. I have heard the discrimination against those “women who have days off to tend to their babies”. I have sat on award judging panels where women have been criticised for having too many children and not “looking after themselves”. I have seen some dreadful female leaders who punish and block other women on their way up the ladder because unless she is willing to give up her ovaries, she isn’t really serious about her career. I have seen chronic sexual intimation and harassment intermingled with some wonderful stories of men and women working collaboratively to stamp it out for all. I think so many of us have seen it. Yet in fairness I have also seen women exploit their familial situations, make unrealistic demands of their employer, expect more than can be reasonably offered and block reasonable attempts to find mutually beneficial solutions. The business world is full of people. People are unpredictable. Sometimes you see the best of people. Sometimes you don’t.

6. What do you think that organisations need to do to remove these roadblocks and attract, retain and promote talented women in larger numbers?

Listen more. Talk less. Authenticity is key. Anonymous employee surveys simply create more secrets, more innuendo, more folk lore. Stop relying on your compliance teams to tell you how well your organisations are doing in terms of equity. The stats are highly malleable!! We need to get back to basics and understand the principles of human behaviour, what hinders people, what stops people speaking up, what scares women off, what promotes confidence in women, why the genders ARE different as opposed to pretending we are all the same. Leaders need to spend more time on the floor finding and engaging with their talent pools and dissolving the fear of the hierarchy. Questions need to be asked about how.

7. What factors do you think attract young women into the corporate sector? Or alternatively, what are the aspects of a corporate career that are unattractive to young women?

I think it varies depending on the industry however some commonalities include role progression, diversity in role responsibilities, reasonable travel (not excessive) and flexibility in work hours. I also think we are in an era when it is important to offer additional benefits such as short and long term bonuses and attractive maternity leave benefits. Interestingly enough I think the aspect that young women find most unattractive is inauthentic leadership, an uncaring culture and an executive and Board structure with low to non-existent female representation. These attributes send a message about the value placed on money verses people.

8. Why do you think so many young Australian women are opting to start their own businesses and become entrepreneurs rather than follow a more traditional career path in the corporate world as seen in previous generations?

Flexibility, control and the space to innovate. I believe we are entering an era where six day a week, ten to twelve hour days are no longer seen as necessary or palatable to young career women and their levels of confidence are encouraging them to find another way. Many of us have seen successful women ahead of us go through the highs and lows of balancing their needs with the needs of their family and their employer and have watched tremendous examples of self-sacrifice. And we have seen many before us utter the words “money doesn’t breed happiness”, “follow your dreams” and “do what you love as you only get one life”. We have listened. Thank goodness for these role models. Thank goodness for networking. Thank goodness for campaigns such as this one!

Whilst the corporate life may have been the accepted norm for many of the Australian female leaders of yesteryear, I feel  we have largely evolved from this period and have entered a time when many women will choose to do it ‘another way’. We are seeing working mums find the right blend to raise their kids and be at home whilst being financially stable through the use of technology and the heart to give it a go. We are lucky to live in the ‘options era’, in the lucky country, where networking is strong and many partners are supportive of their loved ones following their flexible entrepreneurial dreams. Most young women I know go out on their own and never go back once they have tasted the freedom and options created through hard work and innovation outside of the corporate world.

9. A linear career trajectory is the traditional way of advancing through the ranks of most large organisations.  Do you think that organisations need to redefine what a “real” career path can look like to attract more young women?

Yes. There is nothing linear or predictable about careers. To sell it as such is to set false expectations and to limit oneself and others. Careers go up and down and do a little loop and speed up and shoot forward and then shoot sideways and that is what makes them wonderful journeys and totally fulfilling……… and human. Corporations need to share with women that opportunity and personal growth far out way any linear picture in their head. And for many, going up isn’t always rewarding. Thus we need to help people understand that the best career choice at times is not always to go up but can indeed be a sideways, deselection, further study choice and that no guilt or shame should be felt as a result of such choices. This mentality creates healthy choices as opposed to compliance to a pre-set ideal.

10. Traditional gender roles are very much entrenched in the Australian social environment.  To what extent do you think that these traditional roles influence the number of women in senior leadership positions in Australian organisations?

I am not sure if traditional gender roles are as big a challenge as we promote them to be. During my time in coal mining, my gender became an issue when I felt it was an issue, or became focussed on proving it wasn’t an issue. When working in terribly old fashioned, boys clubs corporate environments I doubt it would have mattered if I was the manager of Engineering or Finance or Administration or Research. In such environments the role is irrelevant. The resistance was there regardless of role or title. And the resistance is borne of ignorance and preservation of the status quo as opposed to traditional gender roles, and was exacerbated by my naivety and inability to stand up for my worth as an employee. Maybe we need to focus less on traditional gender roles and more on creating confident young girls who own their own space and know that they themselves are far better equipped than any HR policy to promote equity in the workplace.

11. What role does unconscious bias and personal preferences play in shaping an organisations approach to gender equity?

Humans are humans and we cannot engineer that out of our workplaces. Yes biases and personal preferences impact the workplace and I believe this is a fact of life. Authentic conversations, women and men with the confidence and the capacity to challenge stereotyping and biases and open forums that promote robust debate about company culture can truly help with the impact of equity biases.

12. “There are just not enough women” is a well-worn excuse as to why there are so few women in leadership positions in Australian organisations. What do you think organisations need to do to attract more female talent and more importantly retain them longer term?

There are plenty of women capable of taking on leadership positions in Australian organisations yet there are not many women capable of taking on leadership positions who do it the way men do it or mimic male patterns of behaviour. We need to embrace and capitalise on the differences between men and women and accept that there is more than one way to get an outcome in business. Women in general communicate differently than men. Women have different ways of leading to men. Women aren’t men and that is a good thing. Women get pregnant. Men don’t. What we need is more diverse ways of thinking and tolerance towards different ways of leading, thinking and communicating. Acceptance and versatility is key. Flexibility and open mindedness is integral.

13. Good intentions abound, but the current Australian statistics around gender equity are very poor.  What do you think needs to be done to drive sustainable change?

My five step formula is below:

  1. Stop talking about the problem and start focusing on an action plan with set accountabilities. No more “women’s only’ forums with no set outcomes.
  2. Redefine the definition of corporate life away from the six to seven day slog with twelve hour days to something more tolerant of family and receptive of stepping up and stepping back as a normal part of career.
  3. Acknowledge and celebrate the differences in the genders instead of trying to create homogenous unisex robots. We are different. That is the strength of gender diversity – not its weakness.
  4. Train our young girls to build their resilience, confidence and financial skills before they enter the workplace. Education on self promotion and self preservation are so important.
  5. Remove explanations as a justification for gender statistics and the status quo. Challenge CEO’s to publicise what they will do to improve, and not what they have already done. It is just too easy to justify your current gender and equity position through the use of charts and reports. Progress is progress. Reports are merely a collation of what is already done.

14. Have you seen current leaders stepping up and addressing this issue seriously, or do you think that there is a lot of talk but not a lot of action?

I attend so many forums on this. We talk about the problems. We identify very few solutions and we deliver even fewer action and accountability plans. We love forums and networking. We are not so keen as a nation to commit to action and hold ourselves accountable.

15. What role do you think that mentors, champions and sponsors play in a woman’s career journey?  What role have mentors and sponsors played in your career development to date?  What do you look for in a mentor or sponsor?

Mentoring is so invaluable. As a Telstra Business Woman I have been so grateful for the many role models and networks that I have been exposed to. As a younger business woman I didn’t make the time for these networks and suffered both personally and professionally as a result of this. It is important that young business women invest in themselves and not just in their work or their outputs.

16. How do you define success – more broadly and for yourself?

Success is the acceptance of oneself and pride in your journey, with all of its highs and lows and swings and roundabouts. Nothing is learnt in the good times. Nothing is gained from beating yourself up in the bad times. It has taken me some time to get to this sense of career peace and to know that success isn’t found at a place or point in time, but instead within a journey of never giving up and the knowledge that you and only you can judge yourself.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.
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Kelly Haywood

 

EY - WIL - Kelly Haywood

1. Tell us a little about yourself?

I joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1997 as a Combat Systems Operator. After achieving the rank of Leading Seaman and realising my true passion was logistics, I changed over to a Maritime Logistics Officer in 2005. I have served on various operations around the world including peacekeeping in the Solomon Islands, border protection operations and I have deployed to the Middle Eastern Region three times.

I am currently posted as the Head of the Maritime Logistics Department onboard HMAS Toowoomba. My business is logistics, where I carry the responsibility of making sure our warships and people are supported to fight and win at sea.

I am an Ambassador for Lifeline WA. In 2013 I created the initiative 'Choose to Live, Love your Life' which is a means by which I organise and raise money and awareness for charities helping suicide prevention, depression and anxiety. In the past 12 months I have raised over $30,000 for beyondblue and Lifeline through participation in the Sydney and Perth City to Surf, Run for a Reason and in February, I will cycle through Cambodia raising money and awareness for Lifeline.

I completed a Bachelor of Business (Maritime Logistics and Management) through the Australian Maritime College in 2013. I was the 2013 WA and National Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year.

2. You entered the Australian Navy as an 18 year old woman.  What was it about the Navy that inspired you to join and what was it that you wanted to accomplish?

As an 18 year old it was the lure of travel, adventure and a disciplined life style that attracted me to the Navy. I loved the fact that there was a rank system which allowed continual opportunity for growth. I had also intended to complete a degree, but I needed time to re-focus myself and decide what I really wanted to do when I ‘grew up’.  Luckily for me, I have grown up in the Navy. All I have ever wanted to do was to give my chosen career path everything I had, and to make a difference in my workplace and in the greater community. The Navy has allowed me to develop and achieve those goals from a young age.

3. In your time working in the Navy, what has your experience been of gender equity in the workplace? 

Gender equity existed well before I joined the Navy. However, I have seen numerous changes in the past 17.5 years which demonstrates how much the organisation I work for is striving to be more inclusive. When I joined, there were no female submariners and there were roles we could not fulfil at sea or ashore. We now have women in every role at sea and ashore. I have been able to be a part of that change.

Gender equity has never been an issue for me. My male shipmates and workmates have been like brothers to me and have never treated me any differently because I am a female.

4. Have you seen the roadblocks that many women report experiencing on their way up the career ladder?

Absolutely not. We have the ability to have a family and balance that with a career in Navy. Navy are very supportive of flexible work arrangements. I knew from a very early age that once I was ready to start a family, I would not want to return to sea; that is a personal choice. There are identified times in our career paths that we can take time out to start a family, for example after my current role, my seagoing time will be over, which leaves me the rest of my career to be able to start the family I have always wanted.

5. What do you think that organisations need to do to remove roadblocks that attract, retain and promote talented women in larger numbers?

I think it largely comes down to perception and as such, if they can eradicate the perception that there are roadblocks, they will attract women in larger numbers. If an organisation has a well structured career path and a clear vision which embraces a balanced career and family lifestyle and this is conveyed to the wider community, then it has the potential to attract, retain and promote talented women in larger numbers. 

6. Why do you think so many young Australian women are opting for non-traditional career paths such as becoming entrepreneurs or joining the armed forced rather than follow a more traditional career path in the corporate world as seen in previous generations?

The mould has been broken. Younger women can now openly recognise what can be achieved in any career by other women that have gone before them. In my mind there are no longer any traditional career paths for women to take. Growing up, I had no idea I would join the military. None of my family was military, no-one I knew had ever joined the military and while it was very much an unknown for me as I jumped on a plane and headed off to Recruit School, I was drawn to the potential of what could be achieved in an organisation that encouraged continual growth both professionally and personally.

I hope that young Australian women today recognise the incredible opportunities available in today’s workforce.

7. Traditional gender roles are very much entrenched in the Australian social environment.  To what extent do you think that these traditional roles influence the number of women in senior leadership positions in Australian organisations?

I believe the influence of traditional gender roles is decreasing and in the following generations, I believe there will be a significant increase in women in senior leadership positions. We are living in an exciting period where we are already seeing multiple women in significant leadership positions. My Commanding Officer is a female and is the first to command an Australian Major Fleet Unit in the Middle East, we have a female Admiral, and we have numerous senior female Engineers, submariners and pilots. We have seen what has and can be achieved and the sky really is the limit.

8. What role does unconscious bias and personal preferences play in shaping an organisations approach to gender equity?

When people join the Navy they naturally come with differing biases.  From the time personnel join, the Navy endeavours to shape the individual to ensure that their values are aligned with the organisation’s values. Immediately, young sailors and officers are taught to live by Navy Values and Signature Behaviours. As a large organisation Navy puts great emphasis on organisational culture and values which throughout a career in the organisation, changes the unconscious bias of the individual members of the organisation. Large organisations need to focus on instilling good organisational culture and organisational values if they wish to shape the unconscious bias of the individual members of the organisation.

9. “There are just not enough women” is a well-worn excuse as to why there are so few women in leadership positions.  What do you think organisations need to do to attract more female talent and more importantly retain them longer term?

Organisations should target schools and younger women, show them what opportunities exist and what is available to them.  I had no idea I wanted to join the Navy until I completed Year 12 and that is only because I walked into a Recruiting Centre.  I certainly didn’t grow up wanting to be a logistician. I am fortunate that the organisation I chose encouraged growth and I discovered a career in logistics on my way.

Ensure there are coaching and mentoring programs offered to women as they join and throughout their career. This is something we (Navy and specifically the Maritime Logistics branch) do extremely well. I have had a mentor and coach since I was a junior officer which has allowed me to explore both professional and personal thoughts and ideas with an unbiased senior member.

10. It is often quoted that change will come with generational change.  However, a recent report suggests that on current projections, it will take at least 80 years to reach gender equity in Australia.  Do you see young men being engaged on this issue or are we set to repeat the mistakes of the past?

I have been part of a generational change within Navy over the past 17.5 years that has seen the young men around me being directly involved and engaged in gender equity through the inclusion of women into all combat roles and all sea positions. I have been part of a generational change that has seen my organisation continually strive to be more inclusive and young men are an integral component of improving gender equity perceptions.

11. Have you seen current leaders stepping up and addressing this issue seriously?

Absolutely. I truly believe we (Defence) are leading the way in striving to be more inclusive. For example, Chief of Navy recently released the Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2014 -18 which outlines Navy’s philosophy and approach to diversity and inclusion.  It recognises and strives to embed a culture of inclusion in Navy, attract and recruit diverse talent and to develop and retain a diverse workforce.

12. What role do you think that mentors, champions and sponsors play in a woman’s career journey?  What role have mentors and sponsors played in your career development to date?  What do you look for in a mentor or sponsor?

Mentors and sponsors play a huge role in a woman’s career journey. Knowing there are others who have experienced what you have and understand what you are going through, reminds you, you are not alone.

I joined the Navy when I was 18 years old. I immediately turned to my older and more experienced peers for advice, guidance and mentoring. I have had a strong female mentor for most of my career who quickly and has continuously reaffirmed that you can balance a family life with a successful career. My mentor believed in me and encouraged me to embrace all opportunities presented to me.

A true mentor is supportive, approachable and non-judgemental. It is someone that listens to you and from their own experiences can help you recognise and overcome challenges in your own career.

As a female Head of Department and Lieutenant Commander, I am in a position where I can help the younger and less experienced females in exactly the same way I have been mentored over the years. 

13. How do you define success – more broadly and for yourself?

There is a part of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote I live by everyday; ‘To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded’. I apply this in my naval career and in my Ambassador and charity roles. Day to day I ensure my people are trained the way I would want to be trained and I lead them the way I would want to be led. All I have ever wanted to do is make a difference in others lives and I get to do that everyday.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.
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Jo Heighway

 

EY - WIL - Jo Heighway

1. Tell us a little about yourself

I run a business called Engage Super Audit which is now in its 10th year.  I started my career at Deloitte in the Superannuation Audit industry as a cadet when I turned 18.  Through this opportunity I developed a real passion for the Super Fund industry.  Our business is about protecting the retirement savings of ‘mum and dad’ investors.

I left Deloitte predominantly because I was commuting from the Central Coast to Sydney each day.  The expectations in terms of hours while I was studying and commuting to work became a little challenging especially after I was married and starting thinking about having children.  It was a big commitment to be commuting, studying and working in an office that expected maximum effort.  I ended up going to work at a local accounting firm which meant that I could utilise the skills that I had learned at Deliotte.  With my experienve in estimates and audits, I found myself quite valuable to regional firms.

One of the main reasons that I started Engage Super Audit was frustration with my career progression.  I was 27, I had 2 children and I was not taken seriously for partnership positions.  I decided tht I was going to back myself and go and start my own business.

2. What has been your experience of gender equity in the workplace?

My experience some 12-13 years ago when I was really pushing for growth for my career was that I was bending over backwards to prove that I did not need any special treatment in the workplace. I remember being told that I had made a choice to have children and that this detracted from my ambition to make partner.  It was an either/or scenario – career or children. 

At the time I was working full time and had just finished my degree with honours.  I found myself working extremely long hours.  However, being a woman in my 20’s with 2 children essentially made the decision for my employer easy – I was not going to make partner no matter what I thought or did.

3. What do you think organisations need to do to take away road blocks and attract more women into their organisation?

One of biggest stereotypes that exist is that women are not interested in leadership roles.  Organisations think that they have offered programmes for women, which women have not taken up and therefore this proves that they are not interested in advancing their career.  But it needs to be more than just a program. What I think is essential is mentorship of women and men who are looking for leadership opportunities.  Strong mentoring programmes are lacking for future leaders. 

Women don’t need a program, they need to be taught the skills in order to step up.  A lot of these skills don’t always come naturally and strong mentorship is required.

Back in my 20’s, I struggled with the idea of what type of partner an organisation was looking for.  The male leaders that I was working with had an idea in their minds about what that person looked like and acted like.  They could describe it quite well.  Therefore, they were already looking for that person. Oddly enough, one of their criteria was that a partner should be male.

4. What do you think the corporate sector could do to become more attractive for young women?

I think that organisations need to provide women with the opportunity to step up and take on projects or particular passions that they have and run them almost like a business unit within the organisation.  This would demonstrate to leadership the potential that these women have and also what they can do with the right opportunity.  That would be very attractive to a lot of young people. 

There are also a lot of business women’s groups that are specifically designed for women who are ambitious and who want to excel in the workplace.  These tend to be branded as being very “pink”.  A lot of these events have very serious content and go a long way to provide women with mentorship and education to allow women to step up with confidence.  There branding of these events needs to be reviewed with the intention of the event being quite specific.   I have attended many of these events and found great inspiration from them.  But a lot of women are embarrassed to attend these events because they are so “female”.  There is a little bit of backlash to these events as well as men at times think it’s unfair that they are “women only” events – there are a lot of assumptions made about these events and their level of legitimacy.

5. Do you think that traditional gender roles are reflected in Australian organisations?

Many organisations are different.  Working with Deloitte, I didn’t have an issue in terms of traditional gender roles.  Working in smaller regional places, absolutely.  I think that the idea of what a woman should be doing still exists in many places today.  I think that it comes down to the culture of an organisation.  There are a lot of woman who are worried about standing our or asking for something that they need that their male counterparts may not need, based on their gender.

For me this misses the point a little.  If you are not adequately represented, paid the same as your male counterpart, or have the same opportunities, it is not a request for special treatment but a demand for equal treatment.  Women should be encouraged to stand up and ask for what they need so that they can shine.

When I started my own business, one of the key things I learned was to ask. If you do not ask you do not get. I think that a lot of women that end up being entrepreneurs learn that skill very fast or it comes naturally to them. What I have noticed in organisations is when a man asks for something it is seen as part of doing business.  When a woman asks for something, she is being aggressive of dominating, over confident or perhaps even threatening.  There is a balance in finding the right way to ask.

6. Do you think the idea of a linear career path is holding people back?

I think it could.  I was worried about committing long term to an organisation due to the work commitment and demands put on me. One of the great things with entrepreneurship is the ability to use your skills in adding value that you bring to your business or to your area of expertise.  Less focus on the number of work days and a bigger focus on the particular skills and value that you bring to an organisation is very important.

7. Do you think that enough is being done to drive change in terms of gender equity?

There still seems to be quite some fear by some organisations to drive more action in terms of gender equity.  There is a fear that women do not want to be handed anything that they did not earn.  This is stopping the momentum that is required to drive real change. 

The statistics are glaring – when comparing the number of women that are completing degrees and the lack of women in many industries.  I do not see a massive push for change. There is a lot of talk and not much action.  The talk has a lot of questions marks and is very sensitive to issues that need to be discussed and actioned.

The talk has a lot of questions marks about being sensitive to the issue – it’s almost like being politically correct to suggest that there is an issue.

8. What role have mentors played in your career development?

In order to progress beyond a technician and become an entrepreneur or take on a leadership role, I have found that you have to go out and look for the types of people that you want to be mentored by.

I have been very lucky in the last year to have been involved in Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) as a member of the Brisbane chapter and the access to people in the group has been invaluable.  This experience has really enabled me to move from a technician to a leader.  I am a child of an accountant with strong technical accounting knowledge but it was a completely different skill to raise money for a business idea.  The skills you need to grow a business or to be a leader of people are completely different to being a good technician. 

I have also learned to go outside of my own industry when looking for a mentor who can help me to develop new skills to bring to the table.  That is why I see business and networking events as being so important.  You get to hear stories and learn from people who are doing different things to you. 

9. How do you define success?

For me success is a continual drive.  It is about setting goals and achieving them and then celebrating the achievement.  I think it is very challenging to always be successful at all things at any one time. I think success is about never giving up.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.
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Orsi Parkanyi

 

EY - WIL - Orsi Parkanyi

Tell us a little about yourself?

I consider myself an extremely fortunate young woman who was lucky enough to be born in Europe and to immigrate to the beautiful Australia. I have always been determined to use my fortune as a first world citizen and make a difference in the world by helping others.

I am passionate about social change, in particularly about getting more women into realising their ideas and starting companies. I believe that if we challenge the outdated traditions in business and increase the numbers of women in business, entrepreneurship and leadership, we will empower communities, nations and shape a better world.

I envision a more diverse world where women are represented equally in business not only because it is fair, but also because diversity drives innovation and results in a more competitive economy. 

I am currently working towards building the community of Australian female entrepreneurs by providing information, support and a community. In doing so, I enjoy profiling and connecting inspiring women entrepreneurs and reporting on all things female entrepreneurship and women-in-tech related on womenasentrepreneurs.com.au

To date, what has your experience been of gender equity in the workplace? 
           
What do you think that organisations need to do to remove roadblocks that attract, retain and promote talented women in larger numbers?

I believe that one of the roadblocks needed to be removed is the view that women having equal opportunities implicitly or explicitly implies that women are also faced with the same expectations, should bring the same values and skills to the table. Instead, it might be more sensible and welcoming to become more aware of our differences, embrace those, and benefit from the fact that men might be better in some areas and competencies and women might be better in others.

I believe that smart organizations today are coming to the understanding that those skills women tend to possess are very much needed in both private and public sectors. Some examples include empathy, often better communication skills, intuition and creativity - skills that women have in a different manner than men.

Another roadblock is our inability to embrace failure. We know there is no success without failure and no one is perfect, and yet, we often put a lot of pressure on women (or on ourselves) when it comes to perfection in our work especially for women on the top. The fear of being told “you got where you are because you are a woman and quotas needed to be met” makes us believe we must always do a perfect job, no mistakes allowed, to constantly prove we deserve to be in the position. We shall be more forgiving and acknowledge that both women and men make mistakes. We need to learn from them and move on.      

What factors do you think attract young women into the corporate sector? Or alternatively, what are the aspects of a corporate career that are unattractive to young women?

In my opinion, young women are looking for a challenge, creative and diverse work and to be part of a dynamic team. As opposed to the government sector or starting a business on their own, which might come later, starting in the corporate sector is a great first step to learn about real life business, dealing with competition, teamwork and to develop leadership skills.

Those GenY women, who don’t find it attractive enough to join an existing company after graduation might chose to start one on their own. The advantage of starting this early is the fearlessness and nothing-to-lose attitude that comes with inexperience. These women are not afraid of giving it a real go, working hard on their ideas and to take risks – all this can result in great return. However, if the business fails, the possibility remains to join the corporate world and perhaps try again later. More and more firms today hire young people with an entrepreneurial mindset to help with staying ahead of competition.  

Traditional gender roles are very much entrenched in the Australian social environment.  To what extent do you think that these traditional roles influence the number of women in senior leadership positions in Australia?

Traditional gender roles impact the numbers of women in senior leadership positions to a great extent. There are several internal and external factors affecting this issue in my opinion: the lack of role models, unconscious bias and limited self-belief in women all decrease the likelihood to see more women on the top. I love the saying “seeing is believing” and the sad fact is that even in the modern age today in 2015, the higher a woman climbs on the corporate ladder, the fewer women she will see there. This can be a very lonely and isolating experience without the support of other women, and without all the benefits of a diverse environment.

On the other hand, it is also important to see more satisfied and happy female senior leaders with families to inspire, but what would be needed to achieve this is to do things differently from the traditional way. Our society needs to embrace and appreciate new female (and male) roles and in order to do this, we need serious cultural changes that can be challenging.

What role does unconscious bias and personal preferences play in shaping an organisations approach to gender equity?

What do you think organisations need to do to attract more female talent and more importantly retain them longer term?

It is often quoted that change will come with generational change.  However, a recent report suggests that on current projections, it will take at least 80 years to reach gender equity.  Do you see young men being engaged on this issue or are we set to repeat the mistakes of the past?

To avoid repeating mistakes of the past, it is important that women and men collectively take steps needed to address the gender issue and fix the gender gap. It is in the best interest of both genders: sharing work and family responsibilities equally between men and women will result in more competitive economies, better living standards and will also see happier men. Men will no longer bear the burden and pressure of entire families being reliant on them, plus, their role as fathers will change and will become more significant, valuable and appreciated. I believe everyone will benefit from this inevitable change. We are living in exciting times!   

Men have traditionally held privileged positions in the corporate world.  As the majority of leaders, men also hold the key in driving change in this space.  How do you think that more men can be engaged in this discussion without turning it into a war between the sexes?  How can we better work together to drive sustainable change?

Psychologically, all humans have a fear of change, and therefore tend to embrace the security that the status quo provides. Either consciously or subconsciously, men fear a higher number of women wielding power, and we cannot, or at least should not blame them for this - we women are no different.

In my opinion, to support sustainable change for organizations and very specifically for women in organizations , we need to provide support to men also to pro-actively handle these fears. We should bring the fear of change to the surface and generate open discussions in a supporting, non-threatening environment. This way the real issues will be on the table rather than becoming invisible barriers affecting corporate dynamics in a manner we do not understand.

In my opinion, we should make the shift from the paradigm of simply expecting men in the corporate world to hand power to women to another model where everybody gets the necessary support to be able to embrace this type of change. Newly developed, highly effective coaching techniques and networks of gender equality support groups are a great way to get started on implementing change.

What role do you think that mentors, champions and sponsors play in a woman’s career journey?  What role have mentors and sponsors played in your career development to date?  What do you look for in a mentor or sponsor?

I have found that mentors play a crucial role in a women’s career journey. I have been lucky enough to have had many amazing mentors who have greatly helped me over the past years. Especially starting out in business as a migrant in Australia without a big network and a solid knowledge of the key players in the industry, I believe it would have been a lot harder to progress without the selfless help of others.

It goes both ways, and we have the responsibility to give back I think. Mentoring is a very rewarding experience and I recommend it to everyone. Whatever you do and whatever your background is, there is always someone who can benefit from your experiences, stories, wins and failures.    

How do you define success – more broadly and for yourself?

Success can mean different things to different people. For me it is achieving goals and to stay authentic and true to myself in the process. The road to success is not always straightforward and I must always remind myself to be patient, as success does not happen overnight. In my life, I try to identify big goals or milestones, and also clearly identify the small steps I need to take in order to get to my goal. It is important for me to remember rewarding myself and my team and to celebrate the smaller achievements and successes as well as the big ones to keep motivated and focused.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.
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As part of EY's Women in Leadership series, we speak to some of Australia's successful and inspirational business women who have made a difference in their chosen fields and in their communities. We hope you enjoy their stories.

EY - WIL - Holly Ransom EY - WIL - Felicity Briody EY - WIL - Rebecca Milne
Holly Ransom Felicity Briody Rebecca Milne
CEO HRE Global Senior Project Manager,
Arup
Partner, Aera
Foundation
EY - WIL - Yassmin Abdel-Magied EY - WIL - Chandra Clement EY - WIL - Kelly Haywood
Yassmin Abdel-Magied Chandra Clement Kelly Haywood
Drilling Engineer Managing Director,
One Legacy Pty Ltd
Maritime Logistics Officer,
Royal Australian Navy
EY - WIL - Jo Heighway EY - WIL - Orsi Parkanyi  
Jo Heighway Orsi Parkanyi  
CEO, Engage
Super Audits
Founder, Women
as Entrepreneurs
 

The views expressed in these articles are the views of the author, not EY. These articles provide general information, does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Liability limited by a scheme approved under the Professional Standards Legislation.