Eight lessons from 22 female leaders on embracing change | Women's Agenda

Eight lessons from 22 female leaders on embracing change

Twenty-two female speakers took to the stage to share their own leadership and career-transformations at YWCA’s Third Annual She Leads Conference in Canberra on Tuesday.

So how can we all embrace change? These are the 8 lessons I learnt:

1. Always say exactly what you think and care about what you do

For Jane Caro it was a case of following her heart that led to a gratified and successful career. Caro challenges young women to question themselves. “What do you care about? What are you passionate about? What do you scream at the television about?” Conviction for what you are doing will drive positive career change. 

2. Turn failure into success

RoboGals founder, Marita Cheng spoke about her challenges as a female engineer and her many attempts to launch her idea which often resulted in heartbreak. But Cheng would outline her mistakes and vowed to learn from every last one of them. Her biggest piece of advice for young women aspiring to lead is “keep using lessons to make yourself better”.

3. Don’t forget your skillset

Indira Naidoo’s decision to transform her career from news anchor to urban gardener was life-changing. But when asked at the conference whether she believed her career change would have been so successful if she hadn’t started off as a media personality, her answer was “almost certainly not.” Naidoo knows that the communication skills she learnt in media are now used in her championing of urban gardening. Indeed, it is possible to transform your career, but your skillset is often transferable.

4. Think Differently

Prominent career coach, Rita Joyan encourages women to change the way they think about their profession and the challenges they face. By “treating your brain like a Google search” aspiring female leaders will prompt “how do I?” questions, rather than “why can’t I?” ones. We should also try to envisage the fruits of what success would look like, rather than the obstacles associated with the change.

5. Don’t be scared to challenge the status quo

When Captain Jenny Daetz joined the Australian Navy in the 1980s, it was the definition of “a man’s Navy.” Although succumbing to the boys’ club culture early on in her career, Daetz inevitably chose to be herself and stand up for what she believed in. She become the first female to command a ship and went on to help shape and implement programs that attract and support female talent.

6. Stay determined

Marita Cheng’s mother was bitterly disappointed with her daughter’s decision to pursue engineering, believing she was better suited for a career in medicine. Despite feeling enormous guilt, Cheng knew that she had to persevere with her choice. She spent the following year building up the Robogals empire and creating a global movement. Determination in the face of push-back is vital to leadership success.

7. Seek out good mentors

Leaning on female mentors for guidance is crucial. As Research Scientist, Amber Beavis suggests “be your own best advocate but don’t work in isolation”. Asking for support is not a weakness and can actually define you as a collaborative leader. Beavis also recommends looking out for women “who are walking the walk and talking the talk” — true mentors will be leading positive change themselves.

8. Be brave

Lucy Perry, CEO of Sunrise Cambodia, encourages women to “test their nerves”, arguing that fear is only an uncomfortable feeling that we’re capable of pushing through. We can’t prevent moments that might “kick us in the vag”, but we can be brave and learn strategies for coping. This will help to shape us as resilient leaders.  

No leader runs the same race for their entire careers. A great leader needs to be able to grow and transform, if only in small ways. The inspiring speakers at yesterday’s conference embodied this idea and selflessly provided an essential guide to aspiring female leaders on embracing change themselves.      

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