The Telstra Business Woman of the Year award were held last night (see here for a full list of winners and categories) and there were some great stories and truly amazing women being celebrated.
The winner of the Business Woman of the Year was not the typical privileged white corporate success story.
Captain Mona Shindy has seen 26 years’ service in the Royal Australian Navy, she’s won numerous awards and achieved seniority in an organisation not traditionally given to promoting women. Mona immigrated from Egypt when she was 3, and is rightly proud of the success and the service she has found in Australia.
As MC Jane Caro said last night, it is something special that it is this winner, at this time, this week.
Mona spoke to Women’s Agenda just after her win last night about the challenges she’s faced and the lessons she’s learned that she would like to pass on.
What effect do you think will winning this award have?
I think it will give a lot of women in the defence force confidence in themselves and confidence to see themselves as legitimate business leaders and operators, not just public servants. Because they are, they are doing genuinely important, complex and difficult tasks. Similar to or often even harder than people in civilian life. So this is a really powerful recognition of that work.
Also, women in my position, from diverse backgrounds, who have come to Australia as immigrants, or even second generation, where there is still some differences that can make them a little unsure about whether they can succeed. To be able to see somebody who has, and has been honoured in such a great way, I hope that will give people some inspiration and encouragement.
Who’s been your inspiration?
I’ve known lots of inspirational people, but I’m more the kind of person who just watches a whole lot of different people. I don’t necessarily engage a huge number of mentors or role models. I learn things from people through observation. So there’s things that I watch in people and I think “wow I really liked that about that person, that affected me in a very positive way, and I’d like to emulate that”. By the same token, I also observe behaviours that I say to myself “I will never ever be that type of person”.
I’ve also had some fantastic personal role models. My mother is the most wonderful example. With the early death of my father we were left with a family of young teenagers and very small sister – she was only 5. Mum really took it all on and she made us believe in ourselves, she got us all through school and university; she is a really gutsy woman. To have done all that, on her own, with no extended family support here in Australia as a first generation migrant, she’s a great role model.
Also, there’s lots of male role models too, I’ve got a couple in particular who have made an effort to really give me some guidance along the way and have really helped with the training I’ve received and the opportunities I’ve been given. They really supported me all the way and I really value those people and the contributions they’ve made to my career.
You’re now a role model for young women? What do you most want to show them about your career?
I’ve always been very honest with who I am, it’s very important to me to be true to myself, and it’s also important that people that I work with are also true to themselves and are able to express themselves. Allowing people to have that freedom, allowing them to tell you the truth about who the think and how they think things should be done and how they see things from a different perspective, allowing that two-way dialogue, weaving in everyone’s ideas together allows everyone to be part of the vision of where we’re going and how we get there, I think that’s really important.
I love to see young people feeling that they’re respected and valued for who they are, it’s not about trying to be something they can’t or put on some kind of act, it’s just about who they are. I think that’s how you get the best out of everyone.
What would you say to young women who want to make a career in a male dominated fields but might be intimidated by the challenges of attempting it?
I say to everyone, do whatever it is you dream, do whatever it is you hope to do. No matter how many setbacks you get along the way, pick yourself up and keep going. I would say to those young women that if you’re good at maths or science, if you’re good at those things, be proud of that, be proud of the talent that you’ve got and use it to the best effect you can.
And don’t be afraid. Sure you might come across some blocks in your life, or certain people who might not give you the same opportunities as a male counterpart, but just as often as you meet those people, rest assured that there are truly excellent people in the workforce too. And it’s just about keeping at it until you find those champions, those people who will back you and support you, even when you fall down.
Don’t give up, you will succeed.
It’s certainly true that you’re facing even more challenges being not just a woman, but a Muslim woman in a white male dominated organisation, and you’ve overcome them, but perhaps not everyone has that strength?
No that’s true, everyone has different levels of resilience, that is absolutely true, but for me, what drives me is the hope for a better future. So I figure that whatever I can do, however hard I can work to make that little bit of an inroad into my career that’s one less bit of work the next generation has to do, and that’s worth it. If we put that bit of effort in today, that’s one less thing the next generation has to do tomorrow.
And it’s just a matter of time. I really believe that, there are so many things people thought we could never do. Whether it’s technological advancements or huge cultural changes that happen in organisations or communities, they can and they do happen. That’s why we can never lose hope and we shouldn’t be afraid to keep working for change, even when it seems too difficult.
You’ve just got keep going.