Thursday, 5 March 2015

International Women's Day

Today is International Women’s Day and to celebrate I was lucky enough to be invited to a business breakfast hosted by Senator Penny Wong and sponsored by my employers, UniSA (among others). It reminded me why I love working in Higher Education, a sector where I have always been surrounded by strong, inspirational women and have been lucky enough to receive excellent mentoring, advice and guidance from them. HE is a field where I DO believe that the gender divide is narrowing and where women are treated more equally than in other career choices, which is lucky. It should not feel lucky, though, it should be standard.

Equality and fairness are massive drivers for me – but you know this if you have ever read my blog before, I rant write about it often.

On a day where progress in gender equality is celebrated at the same time as the need to do more is acknowledged, I want to pay tribute to the women who have inspired me and who set the bar exceptionally high in their ability to lead, create, love and celebrate life while kicking metaphorical ass in their chosen professional fields. I am lucky to know all of them and they all continue to amaze and inspire me with their drive, their vision and their passion for life.

My mom – Christine Price.
Since I was tiny I knew I could do whatever I wanted to do because of this incredible woman. I was allowed not to play with dolls (I just didn’t like them) and gender stereotypes were not imposed as standard. I watched her determination to pursue a career whilst juggling 2 children on her own, watched the work she put into her Nurse training and then watched her turn this into a specialism in mental health. I watched her go back to University and graduate in Occupational Health and then get repeatedly head hunted by large private sector firms for her expertise and ability in the field. I continue to watch her fly and am so proud I could burst. In addition to this she is my friend, confidant and source of eternal wisdom. Words just don’t do her justice really.

My Mentor – Jan Gilder
An exceptionally gifted manager and strategic thinker – Jan encouraged me to do my MBA when I worked on her team at University of Wolverhampton. She subsequently guided me through the tough times of completing the course whilst simultaneously mentoring and developing my practical skills in leadership. I have recently been complimented on my ability to inspire loyalty in my team members and this is entirely down to watching and learning from one of the best with Jan. Leaving Jan’s team when I emigrated was so very hard because by that point she was not only my manager, she was my friend, but I would not have been able to do credit to her without spreading my wings myself and she always conveyed such a belief in me that I know she was fundamental to my ability to relocate half way round the world. I owe her my professional ethos and leadership style and so much more besides.

My peer idol – Danielle Lester
There aren’t many people who just “get” why I am so interested in organisational behaviour or can talk with me for hours around the relative merits or holes in methodologies for project management (it’s ok if you are thinking “wtf?!” at this point). Dani is all that and more. She has kicked ass in male dominated fields for many years (Quantity Surveying and Construction Project Management) and she has forged her way in new countries from scratch twice. She is now a PhD candidate at University of Queensland and I am not sure whether she realises how in awe of her I am. Whenever I think I can’t do something I think about the various hurdles and barriers and nonsense that she has successfully navigated and I have never known anyone so completely focussed on getting where they want to be regardless of the difficulties involved. I am motivated to go for my PhD at some point in the future because of Dani. It also helps that she remains grounded, funny and shares my appreciation of good food and wine.

My long time comrade – Claire Davis
Part of my adult “holy trinity” with Dani. Claire has astonished me with her spontaneity, drive and sheer sense of adventure for many years. I should have known at age 19 when I casually asked if she fancied a trip to California in a few weeks-time (and she jumped at the chance) that she shared my love of travel and of new experiences, since then she and I have travelled together many times and had some entirely unrepeatable adventures. On top of her wonderful embracing of a life lived for the moment, Claire totally rocks professionally and has carved her own niche in Australia (where she emigrated on her own with just the clothes on her back) because she is scared of bugger all and believes hard work can get you anywhere you want to be. This ethos has seen her achieve CEO status at the age of 35 and without her my life would not have been half as scattered with funny stories.

Women often find it hard to, or don’t see opportunity to, celebrate each other and their achievements. I believe all of the above women and many more (the key ones listed below) have affected my life and my attitude to it in fundamental ways. All of them have taught me things, all of them continue to inspire me and I take great pleasure in calling them my friends. Tonight I will be raising a glass to these very special women and celebrating their achievements on International Women’s Day - though I wish it was normal to do it all the time (and perhaps we should).

The supporting cast of other impressive, sassy, amazing women who inspire me:

Sarah Taylor – taught me so much about networking effectively and professional integrity whilst wearing high heels. Also introduced me to Chablis.

Rhea Alton – has successfully made a name for herself as a businesswoman and is Director of her own PR company whilst simultaneously raising two small children, this lady proves you CAN have it all.

Emma Taylor – Another super-mum and business whizz – Emma has long been my confidant and a key support through many trying events. I love her like a sister and always will and she is one of the strongest women I know.

Michelle Depper-Westwood – the only person in the world that I am utterly telepathic with in meetings, I don’t think I will ever have such a close relationship with a colleague ever again and I hope one day we are reunited in business.

Fi Cheshire – my Cristina Yang. In Australia I just don’t know how I would have coped if I hadn’t found this amazing woman so early in the journey.

Jacqui Dean – confident, funny, so incredibly engaging and more sarcastic than me (!). Jacqui is someone who I can utterly trust to provide emotional support and/or alcohol and to know which quantities of each are needed at any given time. A fearless traveller and a woman after my own heart.