In 2015 we talked about ‘Making it Happen’.  This year we’re being asked to make a pledge for parity.  I’m confused. If we ‘made it happen’ then why do we need to pledge?

Perhaps it’s because we talked about ‘making it happen’ but didn’t find time to actually fulfil the words. Because it stayed on the bottom of the ‘to do’ list of our busy lives. Perhaps we still intend to ‘make it happen’ when we find time. Or maybe we spoke about ‘making it happen’ without the intent to see it through or belief that we could accomplish it. Someone else will run with it, won’t they?  We hurried back to work and went about our daily lives because the doers or dreamers will take the lead, won’t they? Or perhaps we really tried but failed.  You know, like that diet that the Ben and Jerry’s setback spoiled.

This sound familiar?

Not for me.  I talked and wrote about three things I would do to ‘make it happen’.  I shared them widely.  And I crossed all three of them off my list.  It wasn’t hard.  Because I made them a priority. Not a priority in the future when my daughter starts her career.  I made it a priority today.

I said I would:

  1.  Choose my words carefully. Language should be gender neutral so as to be inclusive. It should be motivating and encouraging for all children. Most of all it should be kind to yourself – ban the words common in negative thoughts!
  2. Mentor and seek mentors. Giving and seeking out the same mentoring advice as my male peers. I wouldn’t just tell the women to work on their soft skills and the men to work on their business acumen. I would give them the same message regardless of gender.
  3. Make a stand for flexible working arrangements, regardless of the different meanings it has for different people. For me, it give me the ability to juggle my board roles, make time for my mentoring passion via Steel Heels, and most importantly, be a great Mum to little Chloe.

Over the last year I ‘made it happen’ by:

(1) Asking audiences and colleagues to correct me when my language fails the gender neutral test.  I’ve been conscious of language when conversing with Miss Chloe, putting particular emphasis on how I categorise certain occupations (I used ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’).  I was not perfect, but I got a lot better.

(2) Mentoring many women and men.  Face-to-face – I spent my daily coffee break meeting someone for a quick chat.  I spent my drive down the freeway in the morning mentoring those in remote locations. I also mentored thousands through Steel Heels and I grew my Steel Heels community by offering a half hour mentoring session in exchange for a Steel Heels guest blog.  Worked a treat!  Quid pro quo.  I also shared my own stories, experiences and ideas.

(3) Agreeing on part-time working arrangements with my executive role employer.  I said no to breakfast functions so I could spend that quality time with Miss Chloe.  And I found support via innovative resourcing methods to grow Steel Heels.

Step up and convert your words into actions

I love hearing the community conversation turning towards diversity, parity and equality.  But I love creating and implementing actions that drive change even more.  If you are talking but not doing, then take the next step.  Step up and convert your words into actions.  Make your pledge a measureable action.  Be open about it.  Commit yourself and tell others to hold you to account.  Don’t be shy.

So, to my pledge.

I pledge to maintain focus on my three actions. In doing so, I will continue to focus on implementing initiatives aimed at increasing the self-confidence of women in the workplace.  I pledge to continue talking but to ensure my actions speak louder.  I pledge to continue to grow Steel Heels (the online mentoring platform I founded).  I pledge to broaden the reach of Steel Heels, particularly to younger women who are just embarking on their careers.  I pledge to work with corporates around the globe to introduce Steel Heels as a tool to support their workforce.  And I pledge to be open to new ideas.

What is your #PledgeforParity?

What will you do to make it a priority?

Sharon Warburton has been smashing glass ceilings in the resources and construction industries for more than 20 years.  Today she is a Non Executive Director, a NFP Director, single mum to Miss Chloe and a mentor to many.  Sharon is the 2014 Telstra WA Business Woman of the Year and the NAB Women’s Agenda Mentor of the Year.  She is the founder of www.steelheels.com.au – an online mentoring platform aimed at increasing self-confidence in the workplace.


To say I felt like the black sheep is a massive understatement.  I thought I was going to work for an English chap I had worked briefly with in the UK years before.  He was the boss, I knew him, he would be my sponsor – it would be fine I thought.  A great learning experience.  A phone call a few weeks before I arrived in Abu Dhabi (UAE) in the Middle East changed all that.  My English chap sponsor was no longer the CEO.  Yikes!  A new CEO would be appointed.  Now all my work colleagues would be strangers and I’d be in a country a long way from home.

My house was leased.  My worldly possessions packed.  I’d resigned from my job in Sydney.  I felt like there was no turning back – I was in too deep.

Upon arrival I was dazzled with the temporary all-expenses paid accommodation in Emirates Palace Hotel (the fanciest hotel I had ever seen).  The company representative who was supposed to greet me at the airport didn’t arrive.   No dramas – I found the driver and got to the hotel.  Little did I know that was an early warning sign of a very different way to work than I’d ever experienced.

The new boss was travelling on my first day.  I was shown to my desk.  Very clean.  No computer. No phone. No stationery.  Nothing but a desk.  And no idea where I was or what I was supposed to be doing.  And very quickly I realised no-one to ask.  It was three days before anyone came to see how I was going.  Three days without lunch too – I had no idea how to procure that.

The new boss was also English.  Pleasant chap.  We agreed the company was without a strategy and I was to get stuck into fixing that.  A direction and strategy is what I am good at.  Or so I thought.

Computer arrived.  Phone arrived.  Realised the assigned PA who spoke very little English was not going to work and hired in her place, the amazing Julia – an Aussie who had been successfully living the expat life in the Middle East for years.  Instantly I was breathing easier – she was a fountain of knowledge starting with where I could get some lunch!

Tip#1 – Align yourself with someone who understands the various cultures that exist

My first tip to outperform in a multi-cultural environment is to align yourself with someone who understands the local culture, the cultures of your peers from other countries and your own culture.  Julia was my saviour.  She taught me all the etiquette I needed to know – handshakes, introductions, appropriate dress and meeting etiquette.  And she was a friendly face – such a welcoming sight particularly when I was so  far out of my comfort zone.  Injecting the fun back into the workplace which was key in keeping me motivated and engaged.

Off I went – full steam into understanding where the company was at.  And seeking  contributions from peers as to where we wanted to be.  Organising ‘think tank’ workshops.  Sub-committees.  Engaging UK consultants.  Asking ‘why’ at every given opportunity.  Challenging decisions in the weekly Executive Management Team meetings.

My energy and efforts were not being received well by my peers.  What was I doing wrong?

Tip #2 – Take time to understand the lie of the land

I was applying my hugely successful strategic planning tools from Australia to a new environment in the UAE.  My colleagues had never seen them before.  And didn’t like them.  It was too much change too quickly.

My second tip is to take time to understand the local work practices.  Observe behaviours in meetings – who is aligned with who?  Who are the decision makers, what are the decision-making processes?  What drives these decision makers?  Who is behind the numbers? Finding old information gives clues as to how they work.  Save the challenging questions until you have settled in.

So I sent the ‘Western style’ consultants back to the UK.  I spent more time with the Emiratis and I read everything I could get my hands on to understand how business was done.   I took bottles of water to team meetings and drank water every time I wanted to ask the bl**dy obvious question and I developed a layer of patience I never thought possible.…..my time to ask the tough questions would come.

I was beginning to understand how and where business was done.  Unfortunately for me business was usually late at night in the majlis – a place where women are forbidden.  That’s okay I said to myself – I will just make sure I am aware of the business decisions once they are made.  I looked for the positive way forward.

Tip#3 – Identify your allies and your enemies early

I also started developing closer relationships with the few British and Australian peers on the Executive Team.  We shared ideas, frustrations and concerns.  They had been there longer than me and were a great source of information to me.  I put my trust in them and was open with them.  They would sponsor me – to the extent that an expat could sponsor another expat in the UAE.

We talked about individuals – in particular our peers.  I soon learnt that my suspicions were confirmed – no matter what I did I was never going to make it in the eyes of at least one peer.  And possibly a few others.  I appreciated knowing it was a cultural thing and not me – having a women at the Executive table was something some of my peers were not yet ready to accept.

Tip number three is to know your allies and your enemies.  And as they say – keep your allies close and your enemies even closer.  Knowing it was not me personally that made me an enemy made it easier for me to do this.  But it was hard.  Routinely hard.  Like the day my colleague said ‘do we have to listen to her?’ which was met with stony silence rather than any voice from around the table in my support.   I had never been so poorly treated so openly before – not in more than 15 years in the industries with the lowest female participation rates.  I needed ongoing support to adapt to this.

Tip#4 – Use your mentors

I relied on my mentors.  Former bosses and peers around the world who I knew I could call.  It had been years in fact since my last call but they were there to lend support.  Having some external opinions – from people I respected who were disconnected from the business – was invaluable.  They helped me separate the emotion from the logic of my situation.  They helped me ‘let go’ of the small stuff.  They listened.  And they put the spring back in my step – they gave my self-confidence the boost I needed.   Every time.

I connected more with my mentors during my two year stay in Abu Dhabi  than in the rest of my career added together.  No surprise that using your mentors is my fourth tip to outperform in a multi-cultural environment.

As the months passed I developed a strategic blueprint that had buy in from my peers and my board.  It took what seemed like an eternity and it was tough going but I got there.  My adversaries tried their best to undermine me at every opportunity and derail the process.  Despite trying every trick I knew it was glaringly obvious I was not going to be the one to change their mindset about gender diversity.  I was flogging a ‘dead horse’.

Tip#5 – Have courage to act when ‘enough is enough’

The most courageous career decision I ever made was deciding ‘enough was enough’ in Abu Dhabi.  My adversaries behaviours were hurtful, demotivating and contributing to the evaporation of my self-confidence in the workplace.  I decided the best move forward was to find a new environment – one where I was respected and valued.  The answer was not to keep ‘banging my head against a brick wall’.

In making this decision there was not a moment when I felt I had failed.  Rather I felt liberated for having the courage to walk away from a dysfunctional and unhealthy work environment. And I have never looked back – my career has gone from strength to strength as has my self-confidence in the workplace.

Whilst Abu Dhabi was not a long-term option for me, the lessons from my Abu Dhabi journey are endless and I share them often through my www.steelheels.com.au online mentoring platform. Despite it being a difficult time for me personally, I remain open minded and welcoming of the diversity multi cultural work environments offer, even when I am the ‘odd one out’.

Regardless of whether you are part of a multi-cultural team in your home country or whether you are abroad I suggest these five tips to help you outperform.

Sharon Warburton by Shaun PattersonSharon Warburton is the founder of Steel Heels, the 2015 NAB Women’s Agenda Mentor of the Year and 2014 WA Telstra Business Woman of the Year.  And most importantly, she is Mum to 5-year-old Chloe.

 


Are you a female currently working in a male dominated industry who is looking for ways to get ahead or stand out from the crowd? We know it can be tough and we know our readers are seeking articles on mentoring and advice on how to succeed in the workplace so we thought we’d go straight to the top to get the best advice.

Sharon Warburton has been smashing glass ceilings in the two sectors with the lowest female participation rates (construction & mining) for more than 20 years.  She is currently a CFO, a strategist, a Non-Executive Director and a Not ForProfit Director.  She contributes her successes to hard work, cross cultural experience, great mentors and a powerful sponsor.  She mentors many and is the founder of the online mentoring site www.steelheels.com.au (@Steel__Heels).

Sharon says there are 6 things everyone woman should strive for to become successful in their industry, and she has made them all C words to make them easy to remember. She says:

1. Confidence

Firstly, and in my opinion most importantly, Confidence.

We have to focus on increasing the self-confidence of women in the workplace. The literature says young girls graduate from high school full of confidence. Give them a few years of working in a male dominated environment and my experience is most of that self-confidence has evaporated. I encourage you, regardless of your role, to support the creation of mentors for women from the first day they enter the organisation.

If a mentor does nothing other than halt the evaporation of self-confidence then I believe you will see more women emerge through the ranks. I mentor a number of both men and women. Generally those women have issues with confidence. They are wary of setting goals high and question themselves at every turn. The males on the other hand are brimming confidence and want to formulate strategies to make their big dreams a reality.

Generally those women have issues with confidence. They are wary of setting goals high and question themselves at every turn.

I suspect many of you are familiar with the case studies that suggest that if a male can do 10 % of a job description they’ll apply, whereas if a woman can’t do at least 90 percent they won’t. Imagine if all the women who do this had the support of a mentor to help give them that confidence boost they need to ‘have a go’….

You might be wondering what Steel Heels is all about and why I have created such a a community . This is my personal commitment to increasing the self-confidence of working women. I encourage you to check out www.steelheels.com.au if you have not already done so.

2. Courage

My second tip is be courageous. To quote Sheryl Sandberg:

“Have the courage to lean in and take a seat at the table.”

All very well, but what does this really mean? Well it means you need to have the courage to take risks and have a go. And the courage to speak up and be heard. My view is that when it comes to their careers, women are risk averse and in male dominated industries where it’s likely there are no female role models, this issue is magnified. Take it from a Chartered Accountant turned Strategist… take on a role outside of your area of technical expertise or comfort zone and if you need to, be the ground breaker. So what if you think you can’t do 90% – back yourself to learn the rest on the job. I had the courage to take risks, and I encourage you to do the same, particularly early on in your

Courage is most important when something is not right. If you’re stuck in a toxic or negative work environment it takes courage to get out. But the sooner you find this courage, the sooner you’ll find a place in a more positive, engaging environment. That is where I was when I was in the UAE. I made the move to make change and haven’t looked back since.

A mentor recently rang me in an anxious state because she was being asked to falsify an environmental report. I didn’t tell her what to do, she knew what she had to do about it but she needed support to find the courage to do so. Mentoring is invaluable in helping women dig deep to find the courage needed in tough situations.

3. Commitment

Like buying a puppy you are either in or out. There is no such thing as in between. If I gave up the first time a male colleague berated me or made me feel unwelcome, I would not be speaking to you today. On the face of it, I have shown I was thick skinned when often I have felt totally vulnerable. I’ve had to remind myself not to sweat the small stuff and to remained focus on the broader goal.

But commitment is not just about being resilient and giving it a go. It’s also about committing to making our industries and workplaces better. About chipping away at the behaviours and practices, which are less than ideal. Rome was not built in a day and the crusty old builders and miners aren’t going to change their entrenched behaviours or workplace cultures overnight, but we have come a long way and can continue to celebrate further improvements.

But commitment is not just about being resilient and giving it a go. It’s also about committing to making our industries and workplaces better. About chipping away at the behaviours and practices, which are less than ideal.

Having a mentor when you are in this environment is invaluable. They can encourage you to take the time to adjust, not to lose sight of your long term plan and goals and not to throw in the towel when change in not happening at the pace you perhaps first think it should.

I am watching (and supporting where I can) an amazing example of this at the moment. I met a lady who did it tough in her community for many years. She then decided to join up to a VTEC program with an aim to getting a job on the mines. And she succeeded. Now she is trying to make the transition from operator to supervisor and finding it hard. But she is not giving up. She is showing great commitment by reaching out for support and having another crack at moving to the next level. And she is grateful for people who are taking time out of busy schedules to offer support and encouragement. Imagine if all the women in our workplace felt they had this level of support to continue to commit when their short term outlook is hard.

4. ‘Can do’ attitude

When you focus on the positive, opportunities will reveal themselves. As I said before women question themselves at every turn. Their first response is often “I can’t” “I don’t” . We need to adjust this negative mindset and our vocabulary. To view new challenges, roles or volunteering as an opportunities to expand our experiences.

Mentors influence positive mindsets. They can encourage their mentees to give themselves licence to try new things. And to be the person who volunteers to give something new a go. It would have been so easy for me to say no when I was contacted about the FMG Non Executive Director role some 2 years ago now. It was not great timing – my daughter was only 3. My plan had been to wait until she was well settled in junior school before I began my transition to board roles.

My experience is that opportunities rarely, if ever, arise when you want them too. My attitude is to believe you ‘can do’ them then focus on working out the how. I accepted the FMG role in addition to my Exec role at BM and I have continued to maintain a very healthy ‘work / life balance’. Because I believed I could.

Shifting mindset and encouraging positivity are areas I often hear myself talking to mentees about. And it is amazing to share in their energy when they get into top gear. The positivity is infectious and for this reason alone I encourage all the leaders in this room today to do some mentoring.

5. Communication

A problem shared is a problem solved…..

Far too often I hear young women have resigned from the business. In addition to HR undertaking exit interviews I attempt to seek out these ladies and have a chat. More often than not they have been bottling up a raft of issues….. keeping them all to themselves. Then one day they wake up and determine it is just all too hard. So they go and find another job (usually in some project management firm in a desk based role) and resign.

Upon resigning they open up and tell me what has been bothering them. It’s rare that any of the concerns they raise couldn’t have been fixed earlier but often it’s a case of too little too late. I find it frustrating that still we find a culture in today’s male dominated industries where young women feel they have no-one to talk to.

I mentioned earlier than I support the identification of a mentor for women from day one of their careers. This would help encourage more open communication and enable us as leaders to address the concerns of today. To the women here today I encourage you to find someone in your organisation you can talk to about your concerns, fears and frustrations. If you can’t identify someone within your organisation then find someone externally.

To leaders focus on creating an environment where any member of your team, regardless of seniority, feel they can approach you. We hear about ‘open door policies’ all the time but do we actually do it or just talk about it?

You don’t want me to start on the gender pay gap, but I will say this. There are so many things that employers, especially in WA, should be doing to eliminate this gap. However females need to take the lead too by finding their voice (and again some courage) to say what you are worth and asking for that pay rise. Negotiate hard and if you are feeling nervous, get support from your mentor.

There are so many things that employers, especially in WA, should be doing to eliminate this [gender pay] gap. However females need to take the lead too by finding their voice (and again some courage) to say what you are worth and asking for that pay rise.

I appreciate that speaking up is not always easy in a room full of male builders or miners. But mentors can provide tips on how to speak up, how to not be afraid to ask questions and to share what has worked best for them. I often take internal mentees with me to some meetings so they can see how I lean in. For one of my more introverted female mentees support in this area has been invaluable and she has found her voice and is kicking goals as a result.

6. Creativity

My final tip is be creative. Invest in yourself and make your own luck. As I have already said it is very likely in today’s male dominated industries that you won’t have female role models in the jobs you aspire to do in the short to medium term. But I always viewed this as an opportunity. And there remains lots of great opportunities for talented driven women.

I encourage my mentees to identify roles that interest them within their organisations and to pursue them. And if nothing appeals, to create a role. Many years ago I was offered a role in another company not long after joining Multiplex. I joined Multiplex in an accounting role and I was bored with accounting. So I met with my boss and said I wanted to move out of accounting, saw an area of opportunity and put a role description on the table for what I wanted to do.

Essentially I created a new role supporting the Deputy CEO. I called it General Manager – Operations Support, Mergers & Acquisitions. Notwithstanding that I had a fallback position of an interesting role with another company I was committed to the business so I took the risk, adopted some creative thinking and put forward what I really wanted. The rest is history – that was the start of a successful career in strategy.

So there are my six tips – confidence, courage, commitment, ‘can do’, communication and creativity.

What are your best tips for  working in a male dominated workplace? Tell us in the comments below!

Sharon Warburton by Shaun PattersonSharon Warburton is the founder of Steel Heels, the 2015 NAB Women’s Agenda Mentor of the Year and 2014 WA Telstra Business Woman of the Year.  And most importantly, she is Mum to 5-year-old Chloe.

 

 

Photo credit: Telstra


Our third Day in the Life series interview subject is an inspiring woman who wears many, many hats in the business world. Named the 2014 WA Business Woman of the Year winner, Sharon Warburton, is the Executive Director – Strategy & Finance of construction giant Brookfield Multiplex. She also holds other titles including Non-Executive Director of Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), Not-for-profit Director of Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, Management Committee Member for arcs, Advisory Board Member for Curtin Business School Asia Business Centre, and most recently founded Steel Heels, a business aimed at mentoring and supporting females in male-dominated industries.

Which begs the question on everyone’s mind – how does she do it?! Here’s a sneak peek into a typical day for Sharon and her tips for other aspiring businesswomen and entrepreneurs:

1. What time do you wake up?

Between 5am and 5.30am – depending on how many times I hit the snooze button and whether the noisy birds that hang out in my garden are in full song. My 4-year-old daughter usually wakes around 7am so I love the free hour of ‘me time’ in the morning. Usually I use this to exercise in my home gym.

2. What is the first thing you do when you wake up?

Hydrate – water.

Then I check my Brookfield Multiplex emails – most of my Brookfield Multiplex team are based on the East Coast and I am based in Perth. With the current 3 hour time difference their day is underway when my alarm is going off. So just a quick email check to deal with any super urgent matters (and the rest waits until I get into office).

I find I often do my best thinking when working out in my home gym with my IPod on or ABCNews24 in the background.

3. Breakfast – on the go, work brunch, meal with the family first etc?

Breakfast is with my daughter before she goes to school and I go to the office. I avoid early work meetings and rarely attend brekkie functions. I try very hard to have meals with Chloe every day. This is our special time.

4. How do you get to work and how long does it take?

I drive to work which can take between 20 and 40 minutes depending on traffic. I work from home if possible until after peak hour to minimise driving time but I use that time on the car phone for the entire journey – chatting to mentees, my PA or my staff.

5. Lunch?

Usually a five minute break for a quick soup or salad and I read the online newspapers. For me it’s best I don’t take a lunch break so I can get out of the office earlier at the end of the day. But there is occasionally a business lunch, seminar or networking function in the CBD. Face-to-face meetings with people are really valuable.

6. What are the typical things you do every day?

Exercise, keeps me grounded and provides thinking time. Meal times with my daughter and reading stories at bedtime. Keeping up to date on current affairs and industry news through online newspapers including all press articles on mining and construction industries. Brainstorm ideas for Steel Heels. And my Steel Heels and personal email, Facebook and Twitter accounts are time consuming but rewarding, I love the interaction with people on these.I also catch up on the phone with my boyfriend.Daydream about my next holiday…

All my work related items are structured flexibly, so I can make this all work.

7. What decisions do you make and what is their impact?

I rarely get involved in the day-to-day running of the businesses I work for, however I provide support to my colleagues when requested. I also try to get to site whenever possible – it is both the people and the on-the-ground construction activity that interests me the most about my role. As a Director I make strategic decisions impacting the long term direction of businesses which are significant and far reaching.

8. What do you love most about your job?

I love that no two days are the same, and the variety of my work given the “multiple hats” I wear. I love being able to think across the entire value chain of the businesses. And the people I work with continually inspire and challenge me. I highly value the autonomy I have and the flexibility I have around where and when I work.

9. How do manage all the tasks you need to do including Steel Heels?

I have a positive mindset – ‘yes I can’ attitude. I focus my energy on ways to get things done. I am sympathetic to the view that ‘women can’t have it all’ however I believe we can each have and do a lot more than we think. I constantly prioritise and focus on the important stuff. I have very strong boundaries to help me stay focused. I rely on a very strong and diverse support network to help me. I employ amazing and talented people and I empower them. I spend time in the evenings after my daughter is asleep working on a range of things – including FMG Board and Committee papers or developing my business: www.steelheels.com.au

I challenge myself daily to ensure my own self-confidence levels are maintained and I create space to allow personal growth. I believe self-confidence is the key to anyone’s success – whatever their gender.

10. When is hometime?

This varies. I love being able to pick up my daughter from school and try to do that whenever my diary permits. My PA has a “no meetings after 3pm” policy to give me this flexibility. My preference is to leave the office early then finish my work after my daughter is asleep.

11. How do you relax when you do get home?

Spending quality time with my daughter, hearing about her day at school and we try to go for a walk along the beach and watch the sunset. Storytime with her is lots of fun too. On Wednesday evenings I do yoga, mid-week yoga is essential for me maintaining a healthy body and mind.

I enjoy reading, taking care of my garden and occasionally will watch some trash TV to unwind.

12. How do you manage the balance between work and personal life?

Most importantly, I believe in myself and believe I can balance how I want to. Then I focus on the things that are really important to me. I accept I am not superwoman and I don’t aspire to be. My values are clearly defined; unless things are directly connected with quality time with my daughter I don’t feel the need to do them personally.

I hear myself regularly saying three things to my mentees about work/life balance: empower your team, create strong support networks, work out where you need help and get it – no guilt. And most importantly believe in yourself.

13. How has the work environment/business changed from when you first began?

When I first joined the mining industry it really was very blokey. I am so pleased to see how much it has changed over the last two decades – there is always room for improvement – however we should acknowledge the good work that has been done to date.

I used to often be the only female in the work environment and at times was the only female visiting the mine sites. I was one of the first female managers in Australia. It is so exciting to see women in many site based roles these days.

In the early part of my career it was commonplace for people to think you were promoted for reasons other than hard work. I don’t see or hear this behaviour today.

The construction industry has also changed dramatically. A management meeting ten years ago was full of rough language and all the behaviours you might imagine. There are times I recall chairing meetings where the rest of the people around the table (all male) would almost freeze you out and the meeting would happen as if you were not there. They wouldn’t talk to a female. Thankfully I don’t see that extreme behaviour now. These days the industry nurtures a very respectful environment (certainly in the organisations I work for).

The construction and mining work environments have come a long way. I would certainly recommend them as great career options for females.

14. How did it feel to win WA Business Woman of the Year?

It was a very strange feeling – I was overwhelmed and shocked and surprised. But above all I was so excited. Until the nomination, I did not realise I had such a powerful career story to tell nor did I realise that others would want to acknowledge my successes.

I had many friends, family and colleagues there with me on the night. It was so much fun to be able to celebrate with them. Celebrating success is so fundamental to creating a winning culture. I was surprised about how many women contacted me after the win, seeking mentoring support.

This, as well as the self-confidence boost I got from winning the award, led me to create www.steelheels.com.au.

15. Who and/or what inspires you?

My desire to provide for my daughter and be a role model for younger peers in male dominated industries drives and inspires me. I hope sharing my experiences helps attract and retain women in these industries.

I am motivated and inspired by many. Top of my list at the moment is our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. I admire her ability to stand tall and outperform on the world stage, shine in a male dominated environment and to maintain her health and fitness. I absolutely love her jewellery collection too!

16. Why do you do what you do?

I do things because they make me happy. I do things that are fun and which I enjoy. If something is not fun for me then I stop doing it. I am passionate about supporting others in their quest to find success in what have been traditionally male dominated environments. These days I get just as much of a kick out of this work as I do closing a big deal or locking away another strategic plan.

I am inspired to connect with kids in the bush who dare to dream. As a country kid myself, I know what it takes to work hard and succeed around the world. I will encourage them to think big and to go after their dreams.

I have done the hard yards particularly around having self-confidence in the work environment. I am inspired to share my learnings with the next generation with the aim of helping to achieve greater gender diversity in the workplace. This is my vision for www.steelheels.com.au.

17. Tips for aspiring businesswomen?

My lessons for success:

  1. Act with confidence. “Focus on why you can do things, rather than why you can’t.”
  2. Learn from your peers. “Don’t underestimate the power of what you can learn from those around you in your current work environment.”
  3. Be authentic and open. “Show your emotions, communicate openly and always be approachable and supporting”.
  4. Identify good leaders in the community and follow them. “You can follow a leader and learn so much from the way they’re doing things.”
  5. Expand your skills and knowledge. “As early as you can in your career, look for roles to broaden your experience.”
  6. Develop experience in strategy. “Great leaders have the ability to think strategically. Get some experience in strategy, whether that’s through reading or study or coat-tailing someone in leadership roles in your organisation.”

18. How do you define success?

Success is anything that gives me the feelings of contentment and happiness.

19. What challenges have you faced in the business and how do you overcome them?

There have been many challenges over the years. Some that come to mind are:

(1) In the early part of my career it was commonplace for people to think I was promoted for reasons other than hard work. I was ill-equipped to deal with such feedback and I responded by putting my head down and working even harder.

(2) These days I am a ‘reformed workaholic’. I found the transition from globetrotting workaholic to flexible working Mum very challenging. Dealing with feelings of guilt was really challenging – guilt that I was not home with my daughter 24/7, guilt that I wasn’t working the hours I used to, incorrectly assessing what was required to support my work colleagues! I relied heavy on my friends, family and my mentors during this period. I spoke openly of my thoughts and found comfort from sharing my feelings regularly. I found that people did not judge me, and the productivity of both myself and my team increased because we were in a positive open environment.

(3) I was announced 2014 Telstra WA Business Woman of the Year but did not achieve success at the National awards. Through not achieving this goal, I realised why winning is so important to me. To succeed in the male dominated industries of construction/mining I have had to outperform to feel accepted and I always ‘won’. Acknowledging success without winning has been a challenge and I congratulate the winners again – these women deserve huge accolades for the work they do. I overcame this sense of failure by sharing my thoughts via my blog post Why winning isn’t everything. I truly believe this has been a defining moment of personal growth and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.

What challenges have you faced in the workplace and how have you overcome them? Tell us in the comments below!

Photo credit: Shaun Patterson