Ten things we learned from leading women in 2015 Featured

Julia Gillard at the Women's Agenda Leadership Awards Julia Gillard at the Women's Agenda Leadership Awards

This year we’ve published 1572 stories on Women’s Agenda, playing witness to what’s been another significant 12 months for women in business.

We’ve had the opportunity to interview and hear from hundreds of leading women with plenty to say about how they’re managing their careers.

We also welcomed our excellent new editor Jane Gilmore, introduced our breakfast series after acquiring Network Central, celebrated another ten women at the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, and ran more than a dozen events across Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

We saw the fall of one prime minister and the rise of another. A gender pay gap that remained stubbornly high, and yet more stats that prove there’s still some significant work to do before achieving gender equality at work.

So as you can imagine, just like you, we’re all very much ready to take a break. And we’ll be doing so after publishing our final newsletter for the year tomorrow (23 December).

But before we get there, we wanted to share some of our favourite things we’ve learned from leading women over the last 12 months.

1. Fighting for gender equality is “like being stuck in the car with young children in the back screaming, ‘Are we there yet?’”

Former prime minister Julia Gillard shared this with us when she addressed the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards back in late February. It struck a cord. We all know we’re nowhere near achieving gender equality, and have a long way to go yet. 

As Gillard said, we’ll only know we’ve hit our destination when we look at every power structure in society and see a 50/50 split. Gillard also told us to continually challenge sexist stereotypes, to never leave others behind, and to work to assist the 58 million girls around the world who’re still denied access to an education. 

2. Forget “having it all” and make “self care” a priority  

Every now and again we need reminders like the above, and author Tara Moss delivered it perfectly, speaking at a Business Chicks event back in May.

Thankfully in 2015, the ‘have it all’ debate took somewhat of a backseat as women started sharing realistic ideas about what it means to balance family, work, wellbeing and everything else. Moss advised women to focus on ‘self care’  as a means to “having it all”, and to remember that your “all” will be very different to other women. "Whatever your contribution is to the world, value your contribution and learn self care," she said.

"If you can't breathe, you can't help yourself or anyone else. Get your oxygen first and then you can help others." 

3. We need to get more girls into tech and promote STEM opportunities for women

This has been an underlying theme for 2015 on Women’s Agenda. We’ve deliberately started profiling and learning from more women in tech, and advocated for the promotion of more such women on the speaker circuit and in the general media.

Almost every female tech leader we interviewed expressed a need to help encourage STEM-related subjects for more girls in schools, and to encourage more women to realise that technology can not and should not be a male-only club.

No matter what your skills and experience, there are opportunities for women in tech. As Avanade Australia managing director Sarah Adam-Gedge told us back in June: "Everybody's job in the future is going to involve technology. It's becoming less discretionary and more mandatory. That's the key here."

"The jobs we think are important now, may not exist in the future. We have to keep moving."

Around 100,000 technology jobs are expected to be created in the next six years, we can’t miss out. 

4. Voicing big ambitions can lead to very big things

This year Lauren Hall, founder of the all-in-one events management platform Ivvy, told Women’s Agenda she had a one billion dollar exit plan.

It was a bold and inspiring vision, and we wanted to jump up and down clapping when we heard it. 

Indeed, voicing such an ambition reflected what we believe is an emerging shift for women in business: with more of us speaking up and even shouting about our huge ambitions for the future, and just how large we believe our businesses can be. It’s a trend that is ultimately seeing more women achieving huge ambitions – putting more of us in leadership, and at the helm of innovative and game-changing businesses in the future.  

5. Great careers can come at any age and “you’re always ready”

We often share stories of women doing incredible things with their careers at a very young age.

But it’s also important to hear about the other side of the spectrum – women who’re exploring new career opportunities and adventures when they’re in their fifties, sixties and seventies.

Indeed, this year one of our favourite interviews was with Shirley Randell AO, a 74-year-old woman working in Bangladesh who pursued development work overseas when she was fired from a CEO role at the age of 55. Randell’s since been working all over the world in PNG, Rwanda, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Sri Lanka, and is having the time of her life. She puts much of it down to believing that no matter what your age, you’re always ready to say yes.

As she told Women’s Agenda: “What I've learned over my career is to say yes to opportunities. I would, coyly and modestly say, 'I don't know if I'm ready!' And then find I wouldn't be asked! Women need to be confident about who they are and recognise the strengths that you have rather than the weakness.”

6. Give women a voice and they’ll bring down the house

This year we had the pleasure of running a number of workshops and events with Twitter Australia as part of their #PositionOfStrength campaign, urging more women to have a voice on social media.

We built a ‘soapbox’ (a small wooded box sitting a foot off the group) and invited more than 20 women to get on it and share an idea for women’s empowerment in 140 seconds or less. The ideas that emerged were innovative, energetic, passionate and very, very good.

We realized that when women have a voice and an audience, great things happen. Connections are made. Ideas come to life and those who witness such activities leave feeling inspired, empowered and ready to initiate their own change. 

7. Speaking up about working flexibly will help change the game

Once again, flexible work was hot on the agenda for Women’s Agenda this year.

And once again we were more interested in the potential for ‘flexible careers’ over flexible work – careers that can genuinely continue and get bigger and better while working flexibly -- and to highlight employers that are really creating such opportunities for men and women.

As such, we went on the hunt to hear from women in powerful positions who’re working flexibly – and speaking up about it. We wanted to prove that there’s significant influence in working a way that meets your needs at home, rather than merely the needs of your employer 

And we believe we did – especially by delivering our 2015 Part Time Power List, featuring more than twenty women who’re leading significant teams and responsibilities in large corporates.

These women shared their own ideas for making flexible work the “norm” for employers. They urged businesses to adopt a consistent approach to managing their flexible work policies and to better promote what’s on offer; to shift the perception that flexible work is only available to women; to reward people based on delivery over physical presence; and to use senior leaders to endorse flexible work.

8. Resilience can be learned, and taken to work

We made resilience a core theme of a couple of our breakfasts events this year, where we heard from former Apple MD turned business owner Diana Ryall, Pandora MD Jane Huxley and author and coach Margie Warrell 

What we learned was that resilience is an essential trait for success in business. But thankfully it’s also a trait that can be strengthened.

So what can be done? Well according to our experts, we all have the ability to change our mindsets at any time. A bad day can quickly be turned into a good one, by changing your outlook. Meanwhile, it pays to know that the good majority of feedback is often about the person giving it to you, that having a big vision will help in managing the small adversities that come up day to day, and that investing in rituals will help you renew, recharge and refocus on what you can do. 

And as Huxley advised, always remember the following: It’s Not Personal (INP).

9. Mentors can transform your life – if you find the right ones

We’ve all heard the lesson about getting a mentor – they’re frequently cited as playing a vital role in the careers of successful women.

Yes mentors are important. But how do you actually find one? And more importantly, how do you find a good one?

These questions were raised at one of our breakfast events this year focusing on mentoring, where we heard from Holly Ransom who, although still only in her mid twenties, has already created a successful advising, consulting and speaking career and puts much of what she’s achieved down to an “army of mentors”.

As Ransom told us, a great mentoring relationship starts by asking. She’s reached out to CEOs, the chief of the army and even the captain of the wallabies for help. All said yes and made the time. “It’s one second of courage pushing send on an email. That’s all it takes. If you can do that you’ll be blown away by the reception it gets.” 

Meanwhile, Ransom added you need to be straight up about what you need and to establish a clear goal for the relationship. And you can never, ever, have too many mentors. 

10. But don’t forget to get a sponsor

Mentors are great for offering guidance, support and answers to some of your biggest career and business challenges.

But once again this year we were reminded by many leading women that mentoring is not enough. We should also look to get sponsored.

As Gillian Fox told us, it’s the women who get mentored and the men who get sponsored, and guess which gender then gets the promotion?

A sponsor will give you direct career opportunities. He or she will directly advocate for your potential and put you in front of the right people and clients to help. They usually hold powerful positions.

So how do you get a sponsor? Well you need to impress them. Fox told us. It takes time and patience, and a willingness to get in front of people with clout and influence. 

Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the Publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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