#WeLead

Tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a Canberra based mediator, coach and facilitator. My career began in the UK in the 1980’s but my winding path has taken me through Kenya, Hong Kong and now Australia, from exercise physiologist to military officer and public servant. I’m proud to say that following my heart has brought wisdom, insight, humility and a sense of purpose. And it’s not all work – I also love cycling, fostering rescue greyhounds and volunteering in parks where I bring people closer to nature.

Who are the women who have inspired you most in your life?

Back in 1979 I was studying sociology and my teacher fell pregnant, so her husband decided to stay home and look after the baby whilst she worked. In the seventies this still frowned upon and both sexes criticised her. But she had the strength of character and vision to be a trailblazer despite the risks of being ostracised for being “self serving”. When the baby arrived we all ahhed and cooed like quintessential females – can you imagine the feminist legacy that baby, who is now 40, inherited!

Any other female leaders you look up to?

Mostly I don’t discriminate by gender – I scan the world in search of inspirational leaders – but if I had to pick I would celebrate certain qualities of past female leaders like Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop who have steadfastly refused to lower themselves to the dysfunctional misogynistic behaviours that we see in the Australian political system. Along with Jacinda Ardern I think the key themes I see in these women are the same themes I saw in my sociology teacher – resilience, integrity, and vision.

Why do you think it’s important to increase the number of women in business, particularly in leadership roles?

Without wanting to write a research paper, and at the risk of being controversial, I suggest that men and women bring different qualities to the leadership role. The consultative, collaborative approach that we associate with women leaders is also associated with a more sustainable developmental approach to staff engagement and sustainable futures.  The more women we have in leadership roles, the more likely we are to create an environment where all staff, and especially women, can thrive, be productive and innovative.

What do you think are barriers for women in the recruitment process?

Controversial, again, perhaps – I think many women are their own worst enemies.  I’ve coached both men and women to apply for senior executive roles. I’ve found that women are the ones to identify the reasons why they are not good enough or focus on what’s missing rather than their strengths. Why? Well there’s another thesis! If you don’t believe you are good enough it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What do you think contributes to the lack of females taking the plunge in entrepreneurship?

Being an entrepreneur requires a strong belief in your own self worth, an openness for risk taking and a tolerance for ambiguity. Are women less likely to have these characteristics? Perhaps it’s hard to be a risk taker if you’re a caregiver. Maybe a past legacy of men traditionally being breadwinners coupled with their more masculine combative nature impacts on women’s confidence. Or maybe there are some women who just don’t want to be entrepreneurs.

What more can be done to support women in male-dominated industries?

I’m a coach, so I believe the answer has to be in coaching. Changing attitudes is critical and the first step is self awareness – for both men and women to acknowledge their own sabotaging beliefs. If you don’t know your belief is sabotaging you then the saboteur will remain unchallenged, and coaching can help. On a last note, as an Air Force Officer in the ‘90s, I recall entering the bar of the male dominated Sergeants mess, and removing a poster of a naked lady. Instead of angry men assailing me, I was privately thanked by men relieved that the tasteless picture was gone. But they did it in private not wanting other men to know lest they be seen as weak and not one of the pack. So let’s not assume the dysfunctional behaviours of a few in male-dominated industries reflect everyone’s beliefs. Let’s push for respectful, emotionally safe workplaces where everyone works together in a supportive environment, valuing each other’s unique strengths.