Suzi Finkelstein: I have seen the power of an engaged, kind network​ in 2019


Well, the holiday season is upon us once more… a time for reflecting on the year that has passed, taking stock of what we have learnt and thinking forward to the New Year, both personally and professionally.

This year we celebrated our fifteenth birthday at WLA, which gave us time to pause and look back at everything we have achieved. From humble beginnings in Albury Wodonga with 60 women in a room, we have grown and expanded both in Australia and New Zealand, and this year Women & Leadership International was launched with our first cohorts being run in the UK. We took time as a team to celebrate and reflect on how far we have come from the early days, with development sessions focusing on ‘how to lead in heels’ ( how shocking!). Thankfully, research has caught up in practice and we focus on leadership identity and really taking time to explore what that looks and feels like as a female leader.

We are now `amplifying’ difference and celebrating diversity. This year we worked with Catherine Fox and Dr. Kirstin Ferguson to create activities and development sessions around the idea of #celebrating women by using amplification. Their book, Women Kind, was highlighted at our Symposiums, with delegates all around the country exploring the power of amplification and how they can amplify others in the workplace and their community.

As a part of this theme we ran a development session with every woman at every Symposium around the country, by exploring what it looks like to amplify yourself and others. Following the celebrating women campaign process, we asked delegates to share the top three words that they felt described their life to date. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprising, themes emerged which aligned to the campaign results: at every event the most used word was `challenging’. Seeing the unifying theme across the country and overseas in New Zealand really reminded us how much depth our lives have and how many things we as women will juggle and prioritise throughout our lives.

We also considered the `competency trap’. The concept originated from Herminia Ibarra’s work, where being in a role professionally that you excel at may in itself prevent you from expanding your leadership opportunities. Building on Marshall Goldsmith’s gem `what got you here, won’t get you there.' More and more we need to be able to adapt to new and changing workplaces and seek out opportunities for growth. Marina Go told us to “Get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who champions you. They introduce you to networks and lift you up.” There is such power in women coming together and supporting one another, as Catherine Fox noted in her wrap up of the 2019 symposium season.

This idea has been the catalyst for us to establish an Advisory Board for Women & Leadership Australia. Catherine and I are so proud to be joined by Dr. Terry Fitzsimmons, Julie Chai, Kat Henaway, Adam Fennessey, Virginia Haussegger, Michelle Dixon and Professor Rosie Campbell to explore how WLA can continue to advance gender equity in Australia’s workplaces and the community more broadly.

We also launched our inaugural Indigenous Women’s Leadership Symposium. It was such a joy to be in a room with so many amazing Indigenous leaders from all over Australia with diverse backgrounds and sectors, and very humbling to hear stories from the women in the room. I am so grateful to every woman in that room who had the courage to share their story, and so humbled to have been allowed to be part of that experience. June Oscar AO gave the opening and spoke to our delegates about leadership, telling the room, “We have had enough of business as usual… It is our responsibility to not rise above anyone, but to stand and bring people together.” Dr Michelle Evans took the room a step further to explore the concept of leadership authorship.

Looking to the New Year, I am excited to be stepping into a new role as the Global Executive Director, Women & Leadership Australia, Women & Leadership New Zealand and Women & Leadership International. It is a role I am proud to accept and look forward to working with my colleagues in Australia and overseas to support our community in advancing women’s leadership development and gender equity around the globe. As well as leadership development programs, we will also be holding our inaugural UK Symposium, so please connect any of your colleagues based there with us!

Finally, one of my favourite parts of my role, and Women & Leadership more broadly, is the connections that are made. Whether it is at one of our events, through our development courses or through networks that we are a part of, I have seen the power of an engaged, kind network, especially in 2019. I believe that developing authentic connections for our personal and professional life is so important. To that end, I am excited to share that we are launching a new offering in 2020 that will allow us to boost our connection with all of you, and allow our networks to meaningfully connect with each other. This will be launched early in 2020, watch this space!

I would like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who has engaged with us this year - those who have attended our events, invited me to speak at your events, undertaken our development courses, engaged with us on social media, recommended us to family and friends and helped us spread the WLA spirit. We have so much fun at WLA while working towards advancing gender equity, and we couldn’t do it without each and every one of you. So thank you, and have a lovely summer break. 

​More from WLA: 

Suzi Finkelstein: What's your word for the year?

Catherine Fox: On taking account of women's work

The 2020 Australian Women's Leadership Symposiums