Dear Friends and Readers,
Many young women like me find it difficult to find focus and set goals when it comes to our professional lives. Despite being competent and competitive, we somehow still find it difficult to take on leadership roles. Do you wonder why that is? Does being a woman with a career weigh you do sometimes? Do you find it difficult to manage work and home or are you plagued with guilt at leaving your kids at day care?
Well I wanted some insight and therefore when opportunity presented itself in May this year, I signed up for a Women’s Leadership Symposium in Perth.
To tell you the truth, as the excitement wore off, by the time I reached the venue, I was having second thoughts on wasting a perfectly good work day, but, it turned out to be a very insightful and inspiring event.
I got an opportunity to hear wonderful inspirational women from completely varied backgrounds. Women who had overcome demands of raising kids single handed, faces life threatening disease, faced death, tragedy and mental illness and come out on the other side as winners.
Tress Walmsley, CEO of InterGrain, recounted her story of moving to Three Springs, a small town of about 300 people at the time. She was lazing around the house in her pyjamas when someone showed up on her door asking if she could drive a tractor. Thus began her long and fruitful journey at the Department of Agriculture and Food, WA. An organisation that I am proud to be working with at present. She and her husband, like true partners, raised kids requiring frequent medical attention, sharing the responsibility. They both took off time from work to raise their family. She overcame bias at work and worked with her husband as a team to achieve professional success. She was named the WA Rural Woman in 2015. Her story was a journey of accepting and adapting to numerous changes and challenges that life throws at you, including cancer. Her positive, happy-go-lucky attitude got to me the most.
Professor Colleen Hayward had a completely different story. Overcoming cultural differences, discrimination and bias, she has managed to give voice to many. Having worked in so many different areas including health, education, employment, child protection and law and justice, her life story was awe-inspiring. She overcame a different background, difficult relationship and even cancer to get to where she is today. Helping people to be more culturally aware and knowledgeable about their rights is a regular day for her. Her apparent strength, grit and determination was inspiring.
Jassica Smith, the famous paralympian shared the story of her disability, trying to conform to mainstream society standards, her struggles with performance pressure and a decade long battle with depression. Her story was dark, deep and very touching. I appreciate the courage it took for her to come on stage and open up to a room full of strangers, baring her soul. In the end, overcoming all, she too has found her purpose and balance in life. She talked about investing time in right things at the right time. Her message of believing in what we say, communicating with people around us and acknowledging ones limits was simple yet powerful.
Then came the trio panel of – Linda Wayman, General Manager at Southern Cross Austereo; Abbie Wright, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Aurecon and Avril Fahey, Head of Metro Allied Heath and Home Care Packages at Silver Chain Group. Linda talked about how she has managed to be successful in one of the most competitive worlds – Media. She attributed her success to curiosity and making the most of opportunities. Her advice – Who dares wins. Where Linda had years of experience with a tough and no bullshit attitude, Abbie was sweet, smart and friendly. Abbie works in human relations and her approach to diversity and inclusion has placed Aurecon in the top 25 for LGBTI inclusive organisations. She was humble in accepting that opportunities that came up in her life were surprising at times, but she realised that she had been asked and this meant that people had placed their trust in her. There was only one way from there – Upwards. Her message – Most of us do not recognise the leaders in ourselves, but when opportunity comes, don’t fight it. If it is the right thing to do, don’t wait for approval from others. Avril talked about translating her learnings from test cricket to health care and how her determination and sportsmanship came in handy. Her advice – Change your self talk. Remember your accomplishments and use them to motivate yourself.
Another keynote speaker Sonja Cox, Assistant Director, Strategy & Planning, WA Police shared the story of how the murder of her teenage boyfriend steered her to a career in law enforcement. She has faced death in her family, broken marriage and is raising 3 young sons as a single parent, all this along with a full time successful career. She encouraged all to realise the strength in ourselves and actively letting it out. She said women are afraid of being confident as confidence turns thoughts into action. And sometimes what holds us back is a choice not to try. Her advice- Be brave to try something without the guarantee that it will be a success. Be brave. Be authentic.
Rabina Siddique, Human Rights Lawyer, Author and a Mother of young triplet boys in her acceptance speech talked about the power we all have to create the change in the world we wish to see. She talked about how confronting reality, ability to change perception, faith in oneself along with courage to stand up for a cause, even if at times it means standing alone, can cause a ripple effect of change.
Professor Lyn Beazley, Science Ambassador for WA was all plush with pride for all that women who have achieved great feat in the field of science and technology. Brimming with experience, she recounted tales from her life as well as other women scientist who seized opportunities, that were not their first choice and accomplished great thing by being curious and courageous at the same time. She was very open about the fact that women hold themselves back. For instance, if a women was applying for a promotion, she wouldn’t unless she could tick every box. Does it sound familiar to you? Well, it did to me. And I found her advice very effective – if you know something and can learn the rest- go for it. And seize opportunities, even if they are not your first choice.
Ronni Khan, Founder and CEO of OzHarvest was an absolute darling. She is loud, colourful, naughty, unapologetic and fun. She regaled the audience with her sentimental stories from growing up in South Africa to running a successful event management company in Australia. The desire to make a difference in peoples lives led her to OzHarvest. OzHarvest has delivered more than 32 million meals to women, children and men in need while rescuing more than 10000 tonnes of food from ending up in land fills. She inspired us all to be the best versions of ourselves. And not to despair if we are still looking for a purpose in life…..it will come to us.
The event overall was a great leaning experience. The speakers and discussions with attendees all made me realise that we all have a leader within us. Sitting in that very room were women who had conquered mountains, won battles against life threatening diseases, overcome adversity, managed work and home and still refused to recognise the leader in themselves. Oh! Heck!! I had failed to recognise my accomplishments and a budding leader in myself. The symposium was a true learning experience. It was an exceptional tale of ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things. Of how through thick and thin, through soul wrenching darkness, people had still managed to stay positive and succeed.
Insight from all the speakers and the group serve me as a source of inspiration and much needed motivation everyday. Before attending, there were some things that I already knew and practiced, but others that I learnt and have stuck with me. My list of top takeaways from this leadership symposium is as follows:
- Award yourself for small wins to keep yourself motivated.
- Do what you love and love what you do.
- You cannot help others if you are not okay yourself.
- Do the best you can do everyday and new doors will open.
- Have a good support system of people you trust and those who have nothing to gain by being in your life.
- It is important to have a team as part of the decision making process and have them own the decisions made. It keeps teams together.
- Believe in yourself and dare to win. Change your self talk.
- Do not fight the opportunities that come your way. If it is the right thing to do, do not wait to approval from others.
- Translate your learning from other areas.
- We all have strength in us, we don’t need tragedy to bring it out.
- We all have the capacity to create ripples of change, and
- Seize the opportunities that came your way, even if they are not your first choice.
So dear friends and readers, hope you enjoy reading this post and find it helpful in clearing some of your doubts. Hope this helps you to identify the leader in yourself. Share your experiences with me. Leave a comment below or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org