UNSW Canberra community shares advice for International Women's Day

| 05 Mar 2021

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Rachel Packham
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Find a UNSW Canberra Expert

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down with some of our amazing UNSW Canberra alumni, staff and students and asked them to answer your #WomenLead questions. 

Here are just a few of their responses. Full interviews are available via the links below.

How do you promote belonging for diversity and inclusion while maintaining the balance of challenge required to inspire innovation? 

Professor Helen Dickinson: In my experience – and a perspective that seems to be backed up in the research evidence – one of the positive impacts of diversity is this often leads to more innovative teams and organisations. Having a diversity of thinking is a really great way to drive innovation as it involves seeing a range of angles you might not in less diverse settings. But I think there can sometimes be a tendency to think of inclusion as a great big rainbow hug where everyone gets along and never argues or challenges one another. To me this isn’t a good example of inclusion but of pretending to tolerate one another. You have real inclusion where everyone feels safe to put their perspective across knowing that there might not be agreement, that this is ok, and the world won’t end just because there is difference of opinion. If you don’t have this, you can have diversity but if people don’t feel safe to explore this then it won’t necessarily lead to innovation. So, before diversity can lead to innovation making people feel included is a key part of the process.   

Do you have any advice for changing the culture of an organisation to facilitate women in leadership positions? 

Wing Commander Angeline Lewis: Organisational cultures that value professional excellence and real leadership naturally draw high performing people to the top. It’s in their interests to do so! If this is not working for women, then we need to know what the obstacles specific to that organisation are, as well as common societal roadblocks. One of the key challenges is to ensure that the published values of the organisation are the same as those actually lived by the team: Is excellence actually developed and rewarded in a way that is transparent for everyone? If not, why not? How can we change it? To be valued in leadership, women must be valued as themselves at all levels. 

What do you see as the difference between leadership and management?  

Brigadier Ana Duncan: They are complementary but different things. Without sounding quaint, leadership is an art, which comes from an individual’s character to inspire others to do something. Leaders consider context more so than managers. Management is more a science of coordinating and administering. Both deliver outcomes and realise objectives. 

Do you have any advice for starting a business in a male-dominated field? 

Penelope Twemlow: All it takes is a confident woman to take the leap. 

Know your stuff: to get taken seriously, you’ll need to know what you are talking about. Knowing that you can answer questions and talk about your business with authority will help your confidence, and help others respect you. 

Commit to learning: Commit to lifelong learning, and you’ll always be top of your game. 

Build a support network: surround yourself with people that believe in you, and that are quick to give you a boost if you need it. Build a support network of people that will always be there for you when you need them and will stick with you when times are tough. 

Look at the positives: when you are having a bad day, stop for a second. Take a step back. Forget your to-do lists and your emails and look at the positives. Look at everything that’s great in your life, all of your skills, everything that you can do well, and everything that you have achieved so far. It might also help you to write them down so that you’ve got something easy to look back on the next time that you need a boost. 

What is it that I can do right here and now as a straight, white male to make a difference and to better support and promote female leadership? 

Dr Bianca Capra: We need more people like you to listen, learn, and champion change. My advice is don’t be a bystander. Call out bad behaviour and bias (conscious or not) when you see it. Don’t leave the heavy lifting to the women and minorities. Mentor a junior staff member, help connect them with networks and opportunities that will help develop their skills. If you are a senior leader – listen to the women and minorities in your team. Learn what the real barriers are for them. Create the environment where these barriers are removed. Commit to increasing all diversity. Reflect on your career – can you honestly say that you would be where you are if you were female? A minority? At the intersection of both? Look at the structures that supported you – it is possible these are the ones that need to be dismantled. 

Do you have any advice for handling change? 

Tara Elisabeth Jeyasingh: It feels as though a lot in my life has changed recently – I’ve moved to Australia and started a PhD for a start – this past 12 months has certainly been chaotic. I really think it’s important to remember where you’ve come from, those important people, events, pressures, privileges and setbacks, which have made you who you are today. That’s my ‘big’ answer. On the other end of the scale, when life feels turbulent, it helps me keep track of all the small things that need doing, making plans and ticking things off, which helps me feel in control. 

What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever been given? 

Kate Munari: Don’t change who you are. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Learn from other leaders and their styles, the good and the bad. Take note of the leadership traits you value and apply them to your leadership style. By remaining true to yourself you will be a more authentic and effective leader.   

Full interviews can be found here: 

 

Dr Bianca Capra

Professor Helen Dickinson

Ana Duncan

Tara Elizabeth Jeyasingh

Wing Commander Angeline Lewis

Kate Munari

Penelope Twemlow 

 

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