Written by Liz Derks on the 10th of October, 2016
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Sometimes all it takes is one remarkable woman to encourage another to believe ‘I can do it’.
Someone who has broken through the wall and paved her own way; whose story lights a path for others to follow.
These role models, and their stories, can change the world…
“The simple act of telling stories can have a really profound effect on people and how communities are built. Seeing other women managing the different demands helps young women to build confidence and inspires them. It’s hugely important.”
Anne Ward has been on a 30-year leadership journey. For more than two decades she worked her way up in the legal profession from articled clerk to partner, before taking on senior legal roles in the financial services industry and then successfully transitioning to a full-time career as a non-executive director across a portfolio of companies, including MYOB.
Anne overcame many challenges throughout her career – breaking the mould as a female leader in the male-dominated legal profession – but it was the move into directorships that had her standing on the edge of a cliff, wondering if she could do it.
In the 1990s, there were very few women on boards (and even today, the latest WGEA report found women hold just 14.2% of board chair positions and 23.6% of directorships in Australia). But the first ones through the wall made it possible for others to follow.
“In the ‘90s there were a couple of really prominent women who were starting ‘board careers’,” Anne recalled.
“I knew some of these women in Melbourne and I thought ‘wow, that’s possible?!’. Having role models or examples of how to be successful in the way that I might be able to was really important to me.”
Anne now serves on eight boards as a non-executive director and chairs five of them across a range of different industries. Having been inspired by the women who came before her, Anne is now an inspiration for others – for women in leadership, women in business and women in startups.
While a lot has changed throughout her 30-year career, Anne said some key challenges for women remain.
“A lot of the barriers are self-imposed and they’re about society’s expectations that women will take the lion’s share of the family responsibilities and caring for all of the family and it’s often very difficult for women to say ‘I’m going to be the major breadwinner and my husband will look after the kids’ because that’s not meeting their parents’ expectations or society’s expectations and it feels like failing or doing the wrong thing.”
For Anne, having role models who did things differently – who bucked society’s expectations – made it easier for her to make her own way. That, and learning to outsource.
“There’s no magic formula. The advice I always give to young women who are in a career and are thinking about starting a family is figure out what works for you,” Anne said.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help and outsource whatever works for you, whatever you need to outsource: the cleaning, the ironing or the babysitting or the cooking. You need to make trade-offs and you need to make sacrifices… Giving yourself permission to make those choices and trade-offs that work for you is an important area.”
So what’s her advice to those thinking of applying to SheStarts to build their own high-impact startup?
“To take that kind of step means you’re taking a big risk. But without taking risk you don’t achieve anything. So I would say… be confident, be courageous and be bold, to take that risk and believe in yourself.”
Anne’s message is one that resonates with the next generation of female leaders in MYOB – women such as Natalie Feehan, Executive GM Group Marketing.
“So many women are prevented only by their own perceptions of what is or what is not possible. We need to believe we can, and look for ways to make it happen,” Natalie said.
Throughout her 15-year career in marketing across several different industries including banking, automotive and digital businesses, Natalie searched for role models she could relate to.
“The women in leadership roles that I had exposure to early on in my career did not lead lives that I was inspired by or wanted to replicate,” Natalie said.
“It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I started to see women in senior leadership roles who really were balancing families and careers, and I’m so pleased to be seeing more of these women executives today.”
As a leader within her own organisation, Natalie is determined to break down stereotypes that often restrict women in leadership – such as the idea that women must choose between family and career.
“This is a stereotype that has been around for a long time, but the reality is it still exists” Natalie said.
“We need to get more women back into the workforce after kids, and that doesn’t have to be only at the point of 12 months when maternity leave finishes. Women need to be able to re-enter the workforce at different times, and have pathways back into their careers.
“We also need more women in executive roles that are outside marketing and HR functions. And we need to find ways to get our kids – the next generation of female entrepreneurs – better education and more interest in studying science and technology.”
For Natalie, MYOB’s involvement in SheStarts is a crucial step toward achieving these big changes.
“The tech and startup space can be daunting for anyone. Starting a business can be terrifying. And if you have a great idea, often you have no idea what to do with it. SheStarts overcomes all of these things. It brings women entrepreneurs together, it gives them a platform to get their ideas off the ground, it’s inspirational, and it most importantly gives women with great ideas access to the tech and developers they need to see that idea come to life.”