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Excellence in women's leadership 2021

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Leading through disruption and into the future

The coronavirus pandemic – and the response that has been required by leaders in all sectors – is truly one of the most pressing challenges we have faced in our time. Many of us are experiencing serious ‘carers’ load’ and ‘vicarious trauma’ as a result of the challenges presented at work and home.This series of ‘recharge’ blogs explores themes and models that you can refer to in times of stress, to replenish your leadership capacity. In this blog, we look at how you can find the positives and lead productively out of disruption.What is disruption?Put simply, disruption is change. Often, it is characterised by unplanned, or significant, change. While COVID is the most discussed disruptor at the moment, the principles of leading through disruption can be applied more broadly – from environmental disasters, like bushfires and floods, to significant social change, like the Black Lives Matter movement, or #MeToo. One of the most important things to remember about disruption is that over time, a lot of good can come from it.What are some of the negative effects of disruption?Unfortunately, the disruption caused by COVID has had a significant impact on the energy reserves and wellbeing of leaders and employees. Research over the COVID period has found that 2020 was the most stressful year in history (1), with burnout levels increasing by 12 per cent in a single year (2). On top of that, nearly half of employees who worked from home reported that their mental health and wellbeing had declined. (3)These statistics go some way to explaining why leaders and employees more broadly are reporting decreased leadership capacity, burnout, and disengagement with their roles.How can we move forward?If we can find it in ourselves to look past the exhaustion of COVID, we can already see some effects that will help us move forward positively. Research has already told us that there has been a sharp increase in digital literacy skills across the global population (4), and that the dissolution of the ‘formal’ work environment has created a more ‘human’ culture in work environments (5). Both of these elements offer us opportunities to optimise the school environment.  How to lead through disruption: There are a few ways to lead positively through this disruption:Create a safe space You can create a safe space for people in your organisation to express their concerns in almost any environment. Making time for private one on one conversations online, over the phone or in person is one way, or gathering with small groups at a time. Having a regular all-staff meeting where people are openly invited to ask questions and raise concerns is another way.Communicate frequently with your team Understanding and utilising different communication channels on a regular basis will help your team feel connected and informed, reducing anxiety and fear about things that are ‘unknown.’ A regular update via online ‘team’ channels, and making time for regular chats in an informal setting are two ways you can stay connected and reduce stress for your team, and the organisation more broadly.Invest in opportunities that will enable your organisation to harness the new skills they have learnedReminding your team that they learned and achieved during the pandemic will help them to overcome a potential sense of loss, after two years of disruption. Giving them opportunities to put their new skills to good use in the organisation reminds them that they did achieve something tangible – and gives them something to be proud of. 1. Gallup, 20212. Glint, 20213. Qualtrics, 20204. McKinsey, 20215. The Conversation, 2021 We need more leaders like you​You're here because you care about being the best leader possible. We're here to support you at every stage of your leadership journey.For more leadership news, plus event updates and expert tips, subscribe to our mailing list.

Replenish your leadership capacity

“If you’re a leader at this moment in time then I don’t need to tell you how hard it is – finding a way to replenish and refocus isn’t any longer just a good idea, it’s a critical survival skill,” says Women & Leadership Australia CEO, Suzi Finkelstein.Investing in ourselves as leaders has never been more important than it is right now: as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, help our teams and organisations create a ‘new normal’, and plan for a brighter future.More and more, leaders like you need personalised, one on one coaching to reignite your passion for leadership and figure out what lies ahead for you.Women & Leadership Australia’s Replenish Coaching Package has been designed to support leaders to be at their best in the midst of the most disruptive upheaval of our times. This tailor-made coaching package is the perfect way to reinvigorate your leadership approach in readiness to take on new challenges and opportunities.The Replenish Coaching Package utilises a rigorous, best-practice approach to coaching which adheres to the code of ethics established by the International Coaching Federation.Here are some benefits of leadership coaching for you and your organisation:Feel inspired and energised:One-on-one leadership coaching gives you the space to step back from your current responsibilities and challenges and remember why you became a leader. Making space for yourself to appreciate your ‘why’ helps you feel energised and inspires you to continue with your leadership journey.Personal coaching that addresses YOUR issues:When you are working with a personal leadership coach in a one-on-one setting, you don’t just get general advice. You receive personalised guidance and expert support in a safe and confidential setting. Discuss your challenges, overcome your insecurities, and be supported by an expert who is there to help you.There’s a real return on the investment:Studies from the International Coaching Federation show that there is an average return for businesses of four-to-eight dollars for every dollar invested in personal coaching for leaders. This is due to an increase in productivity of around 86 per cent for organisations who invest in personal coaching for their leaders, compared to 22 per cent increase in productivity for leaders who undertake group-based leadership development programs.Create your priorities and find your path forward:After the upheaval of the past two years, knowing what to prioritise and figuring out your next steps can be hard. Gain clarity and focus with your coach, and create a plan that feels authentic to you, leaving you motivated to embark on the path ahead.In the same way that a great sports coach is integral to enabling peak athletic performance, a leadership coach enables great leadership by providing an opportunity for leaders to experiment, learn from mistakes and ultimately grow. Invest in yourself with the Replenish Coaching Package today.

Creating Value Through Good Governance

This blog is part of our Expert Commentary series, bringing you insights into some of the unspoken challenges women face in the workplace, from experts with lived experience. The series explores a range of topics and perspectives to highlight the ways inclusive and compassionate leadership practices can benefit everyone.My personal success measure for my role as a non-executive director is that the organisation should be in a better state when I leave than it was when I joined. For that to be true, the organisation needs to be well-governed to mitigate intolerable risks and take advantage of opportunities to increase value.Good governance is the key to sustaining a successful business that achieves its goals, in the short and long term, while remaining legally compliant and maintaining a positive reputation in the eyes of shareholders, regulators and the community.The difference between a well-governed organisation and one that needs help in that area, is pretty obvious in my opinion. You can feel it in the culture around the board table and the relationship between board and management. The style of the Chair is also critically important as equal information and an equal voice for all directors is an important feature of a well-functioning board.Every time that I have sensed that I didn’t have all of the information that I needed to be able to support or challenge a recommendation from management, my instinct proved right. Don’t be afraid to scratch that itch and ask for greater clarity.Your organisation’s success may depend on your line of questioning. Certainly when things have gone horribly wrong for organisations, there has been shown to be a disconnect between board and management with critical information often not being brought to the board by management or requested of management by the board.There are a number of factors that collectively contribute to good governance. Well-functioning boards are usually collaborative and consensus-oriented, placing a high level of importance on accountability and transparency.Well-governed organisations are responsive, effective, efficient and follow the rule of law. They are also equitable, inclusive and diverse.It’s the impact of diversity, in all its forms, that can often be underestimated. The key to understanding the optimum mix of diverse views is to consider the customer base of your business. What does your addressable market look like and how does that compare with the decision makers in the organisation? Diverse perspectives at the board and senior management level ensure that a broader range of scenarios are considered before taking a course of action in order to maximise a sustainably successful outcome. Diversity requires inclusion to be effective. Without it is like being invited to play a team sport but no one passing you the ball.An investment in getting the governance of an organisation right will reap rewards.It will provide the organisation with a clear vision for business growth, ensure the organisation is ready to mitigate any major risk and remain compliant, and improve the reputation of the business.Governing bodies are responsible for overseeing the strategy that leads to sustainable business growth and that involves creating a clear vision of what the company could be in the future. Determine where the business can win and discover the right opportunities to act on. That will improve performance over time and create a strong narrative for the business that will make it easier to attract investment.To be risk-ready, get on top of current risks and gain insights about possible future risks. Create strategies for mitigating risk and learn from the experience of others.A focus on improving compliance should ultimately result in less time and resources spent on compliance because it will be embedded into the culture, systems and processes of the organisation. The starting point is to be clear about your legal responsibilities and regulatory requirements. It is important to understand the lines of defence and accountability at the operational level.A positive reputation can be achieved through best-practice governance. If you develop a culture of doing the right thing then that tells customers a lot about the business they are engaging with. A positive reputation is critical for business sustainability and delivering increased shareholder value.Marina Go is Chair of the Super Netball Commission, Ovarian Cancer Australia and The Walkley Foundation, and a non-executive director on the boards of Energy Australia, 7-Eleven, Autosports Group, Pro-Pac, Adore Beauty and Booktopia. Marina has been actively progressing equitable outcomes for women and culturally diverse Australians in her working life and as a volunteer for more than three decades. We need more leaders like you​You're here because you care about being the best leader possible. We're here to support you at every stage of your leadership journey.For more leadership news, plus event updates and expert tips, subscribe to our mailing list.

Returning to work: why affordable childcare and flexible working conditions are needed to redress the gender pay gap in Australia

This blog is part of our Expert Commentary series, bringing you insights into some of the unspoken challenges women face in the workplace, from experts with lived experience. The series explores a range of topics and perspectives to highlight the ways inclusive and compassionate leadership practices can benefit everyone.I returned to work part-time when my son was one. My partner and I co-parent: we’re both freelance writers who live off the grid in regional Victoria. We’re classified low-income earners, so the government’s childcare subsidy – which is means tested – covers 85 per cent of our costs. For us, Australia’s childcare system works. But we’re not the norm.Recent research by education advocate The Front Project found that, for 52 per cent of parents with kids in childcare, the system is ‘hardly working’. Despite the apparent array of options, parents felt they had little genuine choice once affordability, lack of available places and lack of accord with their beliefs or values were factored in.Australia has the fourth most expensive childcare system in the world, with 30 per cent of families spending more than a quarter of household income on childcare (the OECD average is 11 per cent). And it’s women who are most financially disadvantaged as a result.Childcare subsidies are capped at $10,560 per year per child (although this may change under proposed reforms). That means there’s a point where it becomes financially unviable for the second income earner in a household – usually a woman – to work more than three days per week. The Grattan Institute has shown that the Workforce Disincentive Rate – the proportion of income lost through higher taxes, reduced family payments and childcare costs – is particularly punishing for second earners thinking of taking on a fourth or fifth day of work. By the fifth day, some are effectively paying to go to work.Not surprisingly, this has led to the ‘1.5 earner model’ – where dad works full-time and mum part-time – becoming the norm.This in turn contributes to ‘the mothering penalty’: less workforce participation by women, fewer opportunities for leadership roles, training and career advancement, and less pay and lower superannuation long-term.It decreases a woman with kids’ earning capacity, leading to a greater income gap between women with kids and those without than the gender pay rate gap. And it has led to repeated calls for Australia’s childcare system to be overhauled.The calls are gaining traction. The cost of childcare has been highlighted as a potential key decider in the next federal election, with the Morrison government announcing changes to subsidies in its May budget (these won’t come into effect until mid-2022 and will only make a difference for approximately one quarter of childcare users). The changes come on the back of Labor’s calls for the subsidy cap to be scrapped entirely.Structural reform is needed to enable greater workforce participation by women – and there’s research to support its viability. While childcare subsidies cost the Federal Government more than $8 billion per year, modelling by the Grattan Institute indicates that, by increasing the contribution by $5 billion annually, workforce participation by women will increase the GDP by $11 billion over five-to-ten years, more than paying for itself.While affordable childcare is essential to increased participation, so too are flexible working conditions, such as personalised start and finish times, job sharing and working remotely.There are systems in place to support this: under The Fair Work Act, most employees are legally entitled to request flexible conditions if they have been with their employer for more than 12 months and are actively parenting or a carer.In fact, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, almost 70 per cent of private sector companies had a flexible workplace strategy in place in 2017–18. However, only 1.6 per cent of all industries had targets set for men’s engagement in flexible work. This suggests a distinction between meeting basic legal requirements, and a workplace culture that normalises flexible options, particularly for men.It’s also in keeping with what Annabel Crabb found in her Quarterly Essay ‘Men at Work’: that societal norms, workplace pressure and inadequate financial support prevent men who would like to more actively parent from doing so. Similarly, research from the University of Sydney found that, 10 years after the establishment of Australia’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme, men are largely locked out of shared care. This is because the minimum wage paid by the scheme is a disincentive (it equates to 42 per cent of the average Australia wage), because secondary carers are only given two weeks leave and because until 2020 parents could not split the 18-week ‘primary carer’ entitlement.Prue Gilbert, chief executive of the workplace gender equality consultancy Grace Papers, said this research showed that leaders needed to accelerate gender equality by ensuring workplace cultures permitted fathers to use flexibility.For those employers who fear a decrease in output, a clear link has been found between flexible work and employee engagement, productivity, retention and well-being – across all ages and genders.This suggests the problem is as much about redressing out-dated social norms as it is about creating structural solutions.As a society, we still see women as the primary carers and we still don’t value work that has traditionally been carried out by women as equal to men’s work. Until we acknowledge these biases and adjust policies and workplace cultures accordingly, we will continue to disadvantage everyone.Part of the reason why my partner is so comfortable co-parenting is because his mother was the breadwinner and his father the homemaker. This has led to him normalising gender role reversals, valuing child raising and insisting upon his right to flexible working conditions. And it has made it possible for me to prioritise my career.For us, the ever-shifting work-life balance has found a happy medium.Of course, what our family and work lives look like will change over time, as will everyone else’s. That’s why there must be structures in place that support the myriad of different work-life combinations of Australians, that don’t prevent women from working full-time and men from child raising.There’s no doubt COVID-19 has radically transformed the way we work in Australia, especially when it comes to working remotely. In this new era, we must keep challenging out-dated norms and fighting for childcare initiatives and flexible working conditions that promote gender equality – changes that will ultimately benefit us all. By Leigh HopkinsonLeigh Hopkinson lives in Barkers Creek with her partner and their two-year-old son. A journalist and editor, she primarily writes about issues of social justice. Her work has appeared in publications including Overland, Kill Your Darlings and the Guardian. She is currently working on her second book.​ We need more leaders like you​You're here because you care about being the best leader possible. We're here to support you at every stage of your leadership journey.For more leadership news, plus event updates and expert tips, subscribe to our mailing list. 

Announcing the Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership

Women & Leadership Australia (WLA) is delighted to announce the 2022 recipients of the Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership.Nominated by members of the public, the annual Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership celebrate exceptional women nationally who’ve led across various industries and capacities, specifically those who have made outstanding contributions to the narrative of leadership equality.We are delighted to share that Christine Holgate, CEO of Toll Global Express, has been awarded the 2022 Australian Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership.Ms Holgate said of the honour, “I am truly humbled and proud to receive this award amongst so many inspiring female leaders.“The last 12 months have been a very challenging period for many women.  Amongst the hardships, we witnessed women come together, stand up and speak out, exposing the harassment, discrimination, and intimidation of women, of all ages, occupations and beliefs in our country.”WLA CEO, Suzi Finkelstein, said of the recipients, “The Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership are an important opportunity to shine a light on women's leadership and increase visibility to shift the dialogue and showcase role models for the next generation of leaders. Today we celebrate the inspiring leaders who have affected change and opened doors for other women by challenging inequities and disrupting the norms, all whilst navigating the complexities of a global pandemic. We are extremely thankful for their work and contributions.”The State and Territory recipients are as follows:Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward, CEO, Australian College of Nursing (ACT)Lisa Cox, Disability Advocate and Media Professional (QLD)Shivani Gopal, CEO and Founder, The Remarkable Woman (NSW)Jahna Cedar OAM, Executive Director, IPS Management Consultants (WA)Professor Nicola Spurrier PSM, Chief Public Health Officer, SA Health (SA)Antoinette Braybrook, CEO, Djirra and Co-Chair, National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (VIC)Professor Kate Warner AC, 28th Governor of Tasmania (TAS)Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM, Aboriginal Elder; Renowned Artist; Activist; Writer; Public Speaker (NT)Dr Anne Walters, Chief Plant Health Officer (NT) Award recipients will accept their awards at various WLA events throughout the year. To see more information about the recipients, click here. 

The case for accommodating women’s menstrual cycle at work

This blog is part of our Expert Commentary series, bringing you insights into some of the unspoken challenges women face in the workplace, from experts with lived experience. The series explores a range of topics and perspectives to highlight the ways inclusive and compassionate leadership practices can benefit everyone.While women’s monthly cycle is key to the survival of the human species, it’s an experience that is often shrouded by silence and shame. We can do better and workplaces can help lead the way. Over the last few years year, the words ‘menopause’ and ‘menstruation’ have started to be uttered in workplaces – often in hushed tones - in relation to health and wellbeing, diversity and inclusion and gender equality.  More articles are appearing in mainstream and professional publications stating that menopause and menstruation have been a taboo topic in the workplace for too long and it’s time to bring them into the open. A few workplaces are doing so in Australia, but the majority are not.In an era where workplace diversity and inclusion agendas include age, disability, gender identity and even our sexuality, why not also include these natural life cycles that half of the population experiences, and that can affect workplace performance? Fear is usually the reason why not. Fear that it will cause too much discomfort naming such personal matters, fear that any benefits will be abused or fear that it will make things worse for women by re-enforcing negative stereotypes of women being the weaker sex. Such concerns are not new. Workplaces can be cognisant of these concerns yet still prioritise creating a culture that genuine cares for real human beings. All humans inhabit a body that has an internal ‘operating system’  imprinted with daily, monthly and life-stage rhythms. In women, these rhythms are more obvious in the case of the monthly menstrual cycle and the grand cycle of our reproductive life that menopause marks the end of. If we want to elicit the best in people, it only makes sense to care for the human body according to its innate design.   Instead we have a situation where the cultural stigma around menstruation and menopause leads women to try and hide what is happening in their bodies, especially when at work, and to push on despite the pain and discomfort that can accompany women’s periods as well as menopause, according to a survey of 3,000 women conducted by the Victorian Women’s Trust in 2013. My own confidential interview series with women working through menopause found similar themes (report here). As one survey participant said of menstruation, “I was taught to hide it and never show weakness.” This kind of conditioned cover-up prevents women from asking for simple and practical supports at work that can make a world of difference to their wellbeing and their productivity.Left unchallenged, negative attitudes to the natural function of women’s bodies, can also influence people’s perceptions of women’s abilities. A study investigating attitudes towards menstrual status found that when a woman accidentally dropped a tampon out of her handbag, she was considered less competent and less likeable than a woman who accidentally dropped a clip. Workplaces can play a key role in shifting attitudes, simply by acknowledging the cycling female body as a natural, and rather amazing, fact of life.   Workplaces that also accommodate the female body through menstrual and menopause wellbeing programs, training, policies and simple adjustments can expect significant business benefits. These include improved employee health, productivity and retention of female talent.  Improved Productivity & Wellbeing.   Small changes to the workplace environment can have a positive impact on menopausal women’s menopausal symptoms and ability to work, according to a study from Monash University Business School and Yale University. These changes include temperature control, a supportive manager and greater autonomy – measures that all staff will benefit from. Menstrual flexibly, which grants women more time to rest when energy levels are low during menstruation, and then to compensate by working more when their energy levels are higher, typically mid-cycle, results in fewer symptoms the following month, according to the anecdotal research of Dr Lara Owens who conducted her PhD on menstruation in organizational contexts and is the author of ‘Her Blood is Gold’. When Owens trialled a menstrual flexibility policy at Coexist, a small social enterprise in the UK in 2016 and 2017, she found that while there was a large variation in women’s needs regarding menstruation at work, these individual differences didn’t appear to influence the participants' solidarity with other staff. Male employees expressed no resentment and said that it gave them more permission to also adjust their own working day to their bodies when needed.Paving the way for more women to progress into senior leadership roles.  Organisations with more women at the top do better financially than those with fewer women in senior leadership, so it is in a workplace’s interests to remove or minimise any of the many barriers to advancing women into senior roles. While we don’t know the exact degree to which menstrual or menopausal health challenges interfere with women’s career progression, a survey of menopausal working women conducted earlier this year, involving 700 women found that of those who were going through menopause 45% considered retiring or taking a break from work. Four percent of working aged women actually do quit their jobs due to menopause, according to a 2019 survey of 1,000 working-aged women conducted by BUPA UK. It’s the silence, not just the symptoms, that makes work untenable for some. The last 18 months have demonstrated just how much workplaces can change to accommodate the real lives of workers. Increased flexibility and transparency about what is happening in employees’ personal lives have been hallmarks of work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Normalising conversations about menstruation and menopause in the workplace and treating it like we would any other life-stage or health condition, is another important step towards re-humanising our work ethic. As the title of the Victorian Women’s Trust research declares - it’s about bloody time!  We need more leaders like you​You're here because you care about being the best leader possible. We're here to support you at every stage of your leadership journey.For more leadership news, plus event updates and expert tips, subscribe to our mailing list.


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