EY-In the words of emerging leaders

Women in Leadership

Speaking up: in the words of emerging leaders

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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.
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. We are held back as a society because of the imaginary divide we self-impose.
Chandra Clement. Managing Director, One Legacy Pty Ltd

Despite two decades of effort to move the gender equity needle, young women can see precious little progress. 

Based on what they see and hear – and unimpressed by diversity statistics – young women still don’t believe big corporations will allow them to have children and a career or have the flexibility they need to pursue their passions. Tomorrow’s female leaders are leaving corporate jobs and building careers on their own terms.

Australia’s brightest and best emerging female leaders are more likely than ever to back themselves in business and become entrepreneurs, than join big corporations.

Based on frank interviews* with eight of Australia’s next generation of female leaders, we look at:


* The view of third parties set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms. Moreover, they should be seen in the context of the time they were made.