Overcoming the hurdles in the way of women's ambitions: panel

Overcoming the hurdles in the way of women’s ambitions: panel

women's ambitions

Like many women, Kate Morris, co-founder of Adore Beauty and Glow Capital Partners, is no stranger to imposter syndrome.

But over the years, she’s learnt how to separate these thoughts from herself, so they don’t bring down her confidence. Her technique is simply to call the intrusive voice inside her head ‘Kevin’.

“You know, you can zip it, Kevin. Thanks very much. Thanks for your input, Kevin. But I can’t be listening to that because you are not actually contributing to where I want to get to,” Morris shared at Women’s Agenda’s panel on women’s ambitions on Thursday.

Kate Morris appeared on the panel, alongside prominent board director Shirley Chowdhary, Senior Deputy Dean of the UNSW Business School Leisa Sargent, and Women’s Agenda’s Angela Priestley, to launch the 2021 Women’s Agenda Ambition Report, supported by AGSM at the UNSW Business School.

The report, based on a survey of more than 1400 Australian women, found that women’s ambitions are as high as they’ve ever been, with many looking to get a pay rise, a new promotion or start a new business. But 39 per cent said they were concerned that burnout – a side effect of the pandemic – would hinder their progress, and 47 per cent said ‘confidence in my abilities’ may get in the way of their ambitions over the next two years.

On the panel, Shirley Chowdhary opened up about how her confident exterior is often in competition with a less confident interior, and it’s something she’s grappled with throughout her wide-ranging career.  

“We’re our own worst enemies and even when the outside world is telling us we’re doing a great job, I know with me, I’ll sit back, and I say ‘Really? Really? Did I do a great job?’,” she told the panel.

“I think we all have a role to play in that to kind of lift each other out of it. It’s about faking it till you make it and putting your best foot forward and taking a chance on yourself.

“But I’m no different than anybody else. Like it’s a confident exterior and a very questioning, analytical, vulnerable interior.”

For women working flexibly or remotely, Leisa Sargent suggests making sure you give yourself the opportunities to connect with others to boost confidence.

“If you’re working remotely or flexibly, make sure that you have those opportunities to see others who are being successful and to have those conversations that build you up,” Sargent said.


The report shows that women are concerned about burnout, perhaps a reflection of some of the realities and additional burdens placed on women over the last 18 months during the pandemic. There’s a longtail of exhaustion and fatigue that COVID has created.

Leisa Sargent confirmed that there are gender differences around the issue of burnout, and there’s a real problem around emotional exhaustion for women. So how can you make sure that you’re replenishing yourself, so you can continue to pursue your ambitions?

For employers, Sargent suggests shorter working weeks can be effective, as well as vertical job sharing, and having good on-ramps and off-ramps for employees.

“Ways in which women can come back into the job or exit roles in different ways is also important,” she shared. “If you’re working, in a different physical location, making sure you’re having those short check-ins, right? So, you can do that online or it might well be that you want to connect with people for a coffee somewhere locally.”

Shirley agreed, saying it’s incumbent upon employers to replicate social cohesion and connection differently, to make sure people starting out their careers, or beginning new roles during this pandemic period, are not isolated from their co-workers and mentors.

“It’s really isolating to be in a new role, at home, on Zoom, you know? Just connecting occasionally audio-visually and we need to make sure people feel connected,” she said. 

“As leaders, there’s a greater responsibility to understand the working environments that people have at home. So are they sharing a really small space with a number of other people so that they’ve got a corner of a desk and they can’t Zoom at the same time?”

Looking forward into the post-pandemic years, Kate Morris wants to see more women in control of where the money goes in business.

“It’s really where the power to change things is,” she said. “When more women make investment decisions, more women receive funding, and more things in women’s interests receive funding. In the startup and entrepreneurial space where I am, there’s a bit of a groundswell forming.”

“For most women founders, when you try and raise capital at just about any level, you’re presenting to rooms full of white guys in suits,” Morris said. “Some of them are willing to do the work to understand businesses, for instance, pitched female consumers, but not many of them.”

You can read the 2021 Women’s Agenda Ambition Report, supported by AGSM at UNSW Business School, here.


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