what i will be celebrating on international women's day
By Jane Counsel Published March 2018
This International Women's Day I've chosen to celebrate the diverse and fabulous women who I admire and who continue to inspire me with their drive, passion, intellect, character and generosity.
I also want to showcase the diversity of style, thought and experience that women bring to the workplace to remind us that success isn't a one-size fits all proposition, where we need to fit a certain mould or style to be successful in our careers.
As an Executive Coach I am always encouraging women to lead with their strengths because it is these unique qualities that truly set them apart and allow them to bring their whole "authentic" self to work. That's the diversity that I will be celebrating this International Women's Day.
Today and throughout the month of March, I will be sharing interviews with women who I've met throughout my career, across different ages and industries who all have unique strengths and qualities that I admire and respect. I've asked these women to share their own career stories, lessons they've learnt along the way and their general insights about the experiences of women at work.
My first interview is with Mhairi MacLeod, the Founder and Managing Director of Astute Ability Finance Group who I know through our mutual involvement on the advisory board of the Mortgage & Finance Association of Australia's Community Initiative.
Mhairi runs a very successful equipment, commercial and mortgage broking business, is a proud mother of two sons and is involved in many great community causes. I admire Mhairi because of her work ethic, her ability to inspire confidence in others, her ease at building trust and rapport and her dedication to supporting and promoting women in her industry.
What do you love the most about your job? Working with long term existing clients, giving solutions for clients’ needs and wants, giving back to the industry through mentoring and education and working with disadvantaged groups within our local communities on money matters and financial literacy.
What has been the best career advice you ever received? Focus on the task at hand, don’t be intimidated by anyone, believe in yourself and always maintain relationships with colleagues to support you and your career.
What was the biggest lesson you've learnt in your career? To never put all your eggs in one basket – the Global Financial Crisis certainly taught us that. I learnt that it's important to pursue diversification with a focus and purpose.
What is your proudest career moment and why? The employment of Kirsty Bryson, Kirsty came to Astute in 2013 with a retail background. I feel immensely proud of Kirsty, I showcase her whenever possible. She started as a junior to look after the administrative aspects of my deals and had the spark and drive to learn a new trade. Most of all, she was motivated to achieve.
Her career progression as a woman could have been harder, but with my leadership as a woman who has paved the way before her, she’s now achieving more than she imagined and will continue to grow – a rewarding achievement for me to witness. I’ll continue to model this career development approach for every woman in my business well into the future.
How have you observed working conditions improve (or not improve) for women over the years? I have noted considerable improvements for both men and women which was proven through a survey conducted by Astute Ability Finance Group with male and female respondents from three traditionally male-dominated industries – mortgage broking, professional sports, and motor trade. A consensus view exists that there have been significant positive changes made.
More women now hold board and management positions in once male-dominated industries and are increasingly being recognised with industry awards and nominations. But challenges still remain. Our female respondents reported a general rise in respect from their male peers; however one declared: “There’s still a lack of trust in our abilities.”
And according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) men still out-earn women by an average of more than $26,000 annually across all industries in Australia. Notably, the Financial and Insurance Services industry still has the highest pay gap. Men earned 31.9 percent more than their female counterparts on average for the period surveyed, compared to a 22.4 percent discrepancy across all occupations. Our respondents resoundingly agreed that there is still work to do to bridge the pay gap and boost the number of women in leadership positions.
What do you believe remains the biggest opportunity to improve the participation of women in employment in your industry? There’s a need to create more positive information, messaging and communication about careers for women. Then, it’s crucial to ensure the right culture, policy and procedures are in place to promote this messaging.
By advertising the flexible career options, particularly in finance, and the many different career paths that can be taken, we’ll attract more women into these industries. In the mortgage broking industry, it’s important to make new entrants aware that being female provides huge opportunity because most purchasing decisions for mortgages rest with women aged between 35-55 years.
The natural ability of women to build rapport is second to none. Also, the ability to run your own business that fits with family commitments is a huge bonus. Perhaps developing case studies that showcase the full spectrum of career options and available to women will increase the visibility of opportunities.
What do you think it will take to achieve gender parity in leadership roles in Australia? It's critical that leaders are committed to, and involved in, the change. Businesses must also have programs in place that enable the change. Great examples are leadership development or mentoring and coaching programs that are designed specifically to support the necessary workplace shifts at the employee level.
Developing and retaining talented females is also very important with senior male executives needing to show a real commitment to supporting outstanding achievements of women and moving them internally to senior positions and career planning with flexibility for working mothers.
What do you believe are the unique qualities and capabilities that women bring to the workplace? The flexible working arrangements that were pushed for by women are now being celebrated by the men in these industries too. Finding harmony and balance between your work life and personal life enables better results and greater success for all. Women are empathetic and also very productive with their time - women working part-time in my industry are actually billing more than Full-time males.
Women also have the ability to communicate on many levels and outstanding negotiating skills.
What career advice would you give to your younger self? Find a mentor you admire, trust and respect who can support, guide and help you to achieve your goals and be a sponge. Also do your due diligence and audit the industry and workplace environment you are entering to ensure it’s the right culture and fit for you.
Be yourself. Believe in yourself, focus on the task at hand and don't be intimidated by anyone. Know when to play your strengths and know when to listen and understand that your natural empathy as a woman is a good match with the finance industry as often you’re an integral part of your customers’ lives during a major purchase and beyond.
Identify 12 key players for guidance and mutual support – and make sure 25% are men, share, brag and celebrate your wins.
What will you be celebrating about women this International Women’s Day?There’s no doubt that over the last few decades, many strong and determined women have become a driving force within many male-dominated industries. They’ve forged a path and paved the way for those who follow, and there are gains to be reaped by all. The most notable messages from men and women alike are not to do it alone – support, mentoring, coaching and networking are essential ingredients to success.
I would also like to celebrate that from the perspective of men that this shift has happened. Cultural attitudes have changed. But it’s an ongoing process as there’s still more to do. We need to maintain our focus and promote the benefits of complete diversity. More needs to be done to turn simple politically correct messages into real, merit-based opportunities so women can demonstrate they are the right choice for roles.