My daughter Grace stopped me in my tracks recently. “It’s good to see successful females,” she said, referring to Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
I thought that was a strange and random comment from my 14 year old but when I probed her it seems she has a genuine belief it is harder for women. "All the leaders are men," she declared, pointing to the current political leadership and the BRW Rich 200 List as her evidence.
That is a really interesting point. In the corporate world the way a leader acts, what they focus upon, how they work with a team, respond to a crisis and their everyday decisions as a leader inevitably casts a long shadow over the culture of the business.
That got me thinking … I have always been conscious of my role as a leader in the corporate world. Everything I focus on, what I say, how I work with my team to respond to a crisis, the everyday decisions I make, and the way I go about my job as a leader, casts a long shadow over the culture of the business I lead.
So this comment from Grace made me think about whether my decisions at work (including the job choices I have made) have cast this shadow beyond the corporate world and into my family home; and whether this has had a positive or negative impact on my three children. It is something I’m sure many parents, explicitly or not, would have thought about.
The issue is that parents have such a profound engagement with their children, there is a deep, abiding fear of disrupting the status quo by taking on a big promotion that involves relocating or requires frequent travel away from home. And there are few female role models from whom women can learn.
Yet when I asked Grace about this she told me that the times our family had relocated for my work had taught her to be confident and take risks herself. She told me that relocating challenged her status quo. She told me she now knows you have to seek out new and different opportunities, and you will be successful if there is good planning and support behind you.
And even better than that, it is clear she has no doubts she herself will be successful. She passionately believes talent and ability are gender neutral (despite what she sees in the public eye). It’s great to see her creative determination, motivated by being shown how to dream big.
Hannah, her 16 year old sister, also has big ambitions. She has seen that my career has flourished with hard work and commitment. She too demonstrates hard work and commitment in her approach to her studies, sport and her well-articulated aspirations for herself.
Personally, the experiences of being a career woman, making the transition to a stay-at-home mum, to re-entering the workforce part time, back to being a career woman again, has been an evolution for our family that has worked. Why? Because we approached each change with good communication and 'buy-in' and I think we work as a team to ensure everyone in the family – my daughters, my 12 year old Thomas, my husband – is successful and happy.
It’s this approach that helped give us the courage to back ourselves to relocate out of Sydney, to regional NSW, then to Mildura and then Melbourne, as well as take on my current role as chief of staff to ANZ CEO Mike Smith, where I travel extensively.
I took to heart Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick’s advice on being a role model for others and demonstrating how it can be done.
Staying true to my values of setting stretching goals, doing your best, being better together and being brave have been very important qualities to demonstrate to my teams. But it’s been important for my children too.
Balance is essential but what is also important is giving yourself permission to succeed – and that is all the more gratifying when you are able to share that pride and success with the ones you love the most.
As a parent there is inevitably a certain selfish pride that my career has prompted curiosity, admiration and a desire to follow a similar path from my children. And as many parents have learnt, the reality is kids are resilient and as long as you love them and give them quality time, they will be happy.
In fact, I think it's very important for your children to see you happy and being successful. This too casts a shadow – or maybe a light – and hopefully provides them with some inspiration because at the end of the day you are a role model for aspiring women at work and for your own daughters and sons at home.