This Sunday (March 8) marks International Women’s Day. To celebrate this momentous occasion, B&T sat down with female Aussie executives to find out the women they have looked to for role models and how it has influenced their careers. Bit of a disclaimer: it’s long read, but well worth it.
- Kaylie Smith, head of market operations at Instagram Asia-Pacific
“I have been fortunate to work alongside many inspirational women in my career, but the woman who made the most indelible impact on me personally was a woman called Pat Evans who I was fortunate to work for early in my career. She was a working mum, running a multi-billion dollar publishing business, who went on to have a very successful government and non-profit career. She always had time to listen, support, encourage and provide me with feedback. She was the definition of ‘bringing your whole self to work’ before the term was even coined; I fondly remember meetings in her office with her young girls drawing or reading on the floor beside us. She taught me that authenticity is key, balance is possible and giving back to other women and encouraging your peers should be a key focus. I thank her for those lessons to this day.”
- Jordy Bowman, CEO at Developing East Arnhem Limited (DEAL)
I am hugely inspired by our First Nations people – an inspiration that was born during school and nurtured whilst at University in New Zealand. During that time I studied under Professor Jacinta Ruru, a strong and well-respected advocate for Indigenous rights, who taught me the importance of economic inclusion, protection, and the promotion of cultural values.
What I admired most about Jacinta was her openness for sharing and her willingness to teach, inspire engagement and build understanding about First Nations people.
My passion for social justice, the values I uphold as a leader, and my chosen career path were greatly influenced during my time studying under Jacinta, who supported my continued interest on Indigenous issues.
I now work closely with local traditional owners in East Arnhem, and I feel privileged every day to support their empowerment and self-determination to achieve their economic aspirations for their country and future generations.
- Hema Prakash, APAC general manager at MINDBODY
“Throughout my life, I have taken a huge inspiration from the incredible Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I particularly admire her advocacy of gender equality, which has led me to focus on creating equitable opportunities and raising actionable dialogue in matters pertaining to the empowerment of women. This is particularly aligned with MINDBODY’s values and is something I have continued to implement within the business environment. Ruth’s optimism and determination has taught me to lead with humility and service, placing importance on empowering and elevating individuals. It has driven me to find people’s passions and support them in both their personal and career developments.”
- Vicky Skipp, head of growth ANZ at Workplace from Facebook
“Maya Angelou once said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ I try to remember this when I’m going through a challenging time. Here at Workplace from Facebook we ask, ‘What would you do if you were not afraid?’ and I think this is something we should all think about, no matter whether we’re at work or at home.
I recently took my daughter to have her ears pierced, however it was too painful and she could only go through with one ear. She was so sad, she felt like she was not strong enough; I told her to never forget that she is always enough. The next day at school she proudly displayed her single pierced ear. I watched as she explained to her friends that it was really sore and she just needed time to build her confidence for the next ear. I was so proud of her for sharing her fears, and I will again be proud when she tells me she is ready to face them. Throughout my career, and even in day-to-day life as a woman in 2020, there are so many women who I admire, women who are not afraid to be confident and to show their authentic selves, compassionate women who are able to openly communicate and interact with others, and women who face their fears.”
- Kate Evans, group executive people, brand and communications at Shape Australia Pty Limited
“One of my role models is Gai Waterhouse as I am impressed by what she has achieved in a very male-dominated industry. Love her or hate her, she knows who she is and consistently stays true to herself and her values. The construction industry can be overwhelmingly male dominated, and especially at the start of my career I found it hard to find industry mentors to help me find my seat at the table. I think it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to be ‘like one of the boys’ and become something and someone you aren’t. I really look up to women who are proud of who they are and don’t conform to fit the mould of a particular industry. The women I look up to have taught me to feel empowered by who I am and the importance of challenging the way some things have traditionally been done. Diversity of thought is a value every industry should embrace and I strive for this with my leadership style.”
- Rachel Edwards, applications & infrastructure lead at Avanade Australia
“Former CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi has always inspired me with her authenticity of being an executive and a woman. She does not hide the reality that on some days you can be great at your job, and some days you are great with your family, and above all it is never an easy feat to excel in both roles on any day. You need help and a support network to manage what is expected of you, and never underestimate the importance of building the support system you need to succeed. The courage she has demonstrated to share her story with others, rather than repeat a ‘Stepford fantasy’ that may make others feel inadequate, inspires me to do the same and encourage others. It motivates me to persist in times of adversity and to learn practical tricks in managing work and personal life.”
- Amanda Behre, head of marketing Australia at Gumtree
“If I was to pick a single person, it would be soon-to-be CEO of The Travel Corporate in Australia, Fiona Dalton. In our time working together, Fiona was passionate, always present and had a knack for recognising great talent. What I have learned is, surround yourself with the right people who are resilient and have a growth mindset, as this is something that can’t be taught. Be passionate about what you do, it comes out in your storytelling. I continue to lean on a number of mentors, both female and male, to help guide some of my decision making as diversity in thinking comes from many different sources. I hope my experience can help guide some up-and-coming female leaders out there!”
- Candice Glynn, head of communications at Procter & Gamble Australia & New Zealand
“Having spent my career in PR and communications, I’ve always been inspired by the courageous women in media. My cousin is a Walkley Award-winning journalist and for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to tell stories for a living. Today I still idolise trail-blazing journalists like Leigh Sales, Lisa Wilkinson and Mia Freedman to name a few. Storytelling is an art and a craft, and I admire those who can both inform and inspire, educate and entertain, with integrity and empathy. I’m grateful that my work at P&G gives me the opportunity to tell stories every day, especially when it comes to our brands and the impact they’re having in the community, for example, with innovative new products or environmental sustainability. As a mother of two girls, I feel a huge sense of responsibility to be not only a great mum but hopefully a role model for them as well.”
- Laura Wilson, marketing director at Sodastream Australia
“The woman that has most inspired me in my career, and in life, is author J.K Rowling. Through the power of creative thought and her own vivid imagination, her perseverance and determination, she was able to rise from rags to riches to become one of the richest and most influential businesswomen in the world. The reason this inspires me is that her story shows us that anyone can be anything if they’re willing to work hard, dream big, and let their imagination and creativity soar. It is the same philosophy that I take to my life and to my career. I admire her creativity, determination and perseverance. For me, this is the holy trinity. The three most important intrinsic values that I believe will most often lead to success. J.K Rowling’s story has shown me the importance and value of lateral thinking. Of self-belief, and the strength and determination to see an idea through, no matter the obstacles. With each campaign we run locally at SodaStream Australia, I take this same approach. I try to see it from all angles, even unconventional ones. Once I’m confident in the direction, I will work hard and stay completely focused until it’s executed to absolute excellence.”
- Debbie Taylor, chief information officer at NBN Co
“There are several qualities that are consistent in the role models I have admired: inspirational, authentic, courageous and humble. While there have been few senior female role models in the male-dominated technology industry I work in, I have been fortunate to have several male sponsors throughout the years. These sponsors have had a unique way of mentoring me on how to stay true to myself while being able to develop the qualities needed to successfully navigate through the tech industry. I feel strongly about the importance of male sponsors to support up-and-coming female talent. They provide a unique perspective on what qualities will help females progress and can also create opportunities. I also believe that in my current position, I can help others see the possibilities by sharing what I’ve learned over the years – qualities I wish I had developed earlier in my career: speak up, be fearless and have confidence in your abilities.”
- Danielle Wilkes, EGM retail channels at Metcash
“I’ve been surrounded by inspiring people, male and female, all my life. Mum was a stay-at-home mum who went on to study to become a teacher. I remember being so proud of her for working as hard as she did to achieve her dreams. My auntie is another woman who inspired me on the career front. She has always been passionate about her work and she pours her heart and soul into it every single day. This is something I have tried to mirror throughout my own career. My dad, however, has been my coach, mentor and biggest fan! He made me believe in myself and this resulted in me never seeing gender as an obstacle. I’ve never felt that I had to prove myself because I’m female, instead he helped me frame it as just being the best I can be. The biggest change came for me when I had my son Oliver. Roles with more purpose became my priority, roles that would let me use my skills for a ‘greater good’. That’s why I chose Metcash. We support 1,400 independently-owned IGA stores across the country, a good number of which are owned by incredibly generous, savvy and inspiring women too! I am very lucky to be surrounded by such amazing people.”
- Susan Wheeldon, country manager for Australia and New Zealand at Airbnb
“I’ve been fortunate to have strong female role models throughout my career, all of whom were inspiring for how they brought their whole selves to work and were truly authentic. These women stood up for themselves and were happy to be outgoing or informal, they had the courage to try new things like switching industries or moving countries, and the ability to say no to things that didn’t challenge them. As I moved through life and became a mother, it was great to have women who demonstrated that work life balance is fluid and even challenging at times, and that that’s okay. Some weeks work will take more of your time, while other weeks are all about family. These women taught me the value of a strong network, of having a support system that grows with you, gives you opportunities and acts as a sounding board. Their guidance is something I’m forever grateful for.”
- Elizabeth Byrne, PR & communications manager – community services & housing executive division at BaptistCare
“As a Kiwi living in Australia, I often look to the leadership, humanity and accessibility of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Politics and policies aside, Jacinda demonstrates a human-first approach to her communications. She values hope, compassion and unity – and when New Zealand celebrates or grieves, so does she. My role sees me navigating topics from domestic violence to homelessness; sometimes it’s hard to see an end to these complex social issues. Jacinda’s behaviours challenge me to continually create authentic communication; to show up, and channel emotion with strength and empathy for the sake of people, not just PR. Jacinda reminds us to be authentic and to back ourselves. She inspires us to believe that, as her mentor and former PM Helen Clark articulated when Jacinda gave birth as a sitting Prime Minister, ‘no doors are closed to women’.”
- Sara Palmieri, senior marketing manager at Lenovo ANZ
“J.K. Rowling! Her female characters are independent, intelligent, and opinionated – the perfect role models for young girls and women alike. However, it’s her efforts within the real world that speak volumes to me: J.K. Rowling is a model on mental toughness, hard work and resilience, who backed herself even during the toughest of times, when her book was repeatedly rejected by publishers.
In addition to being a philanthropist, she is also an outspoken feminist who uses her voice to hit back at intolerance, misogyny and ignorance, and who continues to show her 14.5 million Twitter followers the beauty in having a voice and the change it can create. She is a true example of a strong woman who is going after what she wants and lives her true beliefs, and it’s thanks to role models like her that I’ve had the confidence to do the same in my career.”
- Angela Chan, head of Innovation & growth at Schneider Electric Pacific Zone
“I look up to many role models for different reasons and seasons in life. The fundamental reason why I follow these (famous) people are based on their values:
Daring to Disrupt: Michelle Obama inspires me because she is not afraid to challenge the norm. She’s a rule breaker, mover and shaker. From persuading the National Park Service to plant fruit and vegetables to fight against childhood obesity and for a healthier America, to celebrating same sex marriage. It’s really changed my perspective of what leadership is. It takes a lot of energy and confidence to look at things differently and implement changes that are necessary for the environment.
Embracing Different: Emma Watson has used her influence to empower youth, speak about important issues like feminism and is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in – to open up the voices that are normally unheard and to publicise the ones that need help. As a result, I founded and now run the Women in Schneider Electric groups around Australia where our aim is to provide equal opportunities to everyone, everywhere. For women, specifically, we want to ensure they can work in a safe environment, support and encourage one another.
Act Like Owners: Bill and Melinda Gates are transforming lives for billions of people, particularly through the Gates Foundation where the core of their funding is to give every person a chance to live a healthy and productive life. Rather than sitting back into retirement, they have taken ownership of the situation and used their wealth and wisdom to contribute to make the world a better place.”
- Elyse Glenn, corporate communications manager – Pacific at Schneider Electric
“The three famous women that have shaped the values I live by are, one: Dr. Brené Brown for her research on vulnerability – it’s so important in communicating and building trust. Two: Oprah for her storytelling skills, not just in speaking her truth but encouraging others to share theirs. Three: Dr. Maria Montessori – a trailblazer, Nobel-prize nominee, and first woman doctor to graduate from the University of Bologna. She founded the Montessori Method of education of which I am a student.
My primary education was human centred, and gave me an innate understand of how we as individuals are important. It gave me an appreciation of being who we are in the time we’re born in, and that we have a responsibility as custodians of our planet. It’s part of the reason I joined Schneider Electric and why I feel so passionate about working for an organisation that focuses on sustainability and energy efficiency.”