Three trailblazing women took to the stage at the 2016 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards on Wednesday (5 October) for an open and empowering discussion about leadership.
They were a diverse mix, having achieved a number of ‘firsts’ across very different sectors, and included 7 x World Champion surfer Layne Beachley, media exec and chairwoman of the West Tigers Marina Go, and the Honourable Linda Burney—the first Indigenous woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. They joined moderator and CEO of Professional Mums Kate Mills.
So what were the three key lessons?
1. Be the change you want to see
All three panellists were encouraged by the change they had witnessed in their lifetimes, stressing the importance of female trailblazers. Beachley referenced her own past as a young woman working 4 part-time jobs, earning a paltry $8000 per year. At this time, she was the world number 2 in surfing, and yet struggled to make ends meet. Today, top female surfers earn healthy incomes and sponsorship deals—a direct result of Beachley’s influence.
Similarly, both Burney and Beachley cited Julia Gillard’s legacy as the first female Prime Minister. As leader, Gillard was subjected to deliberate sexism and was regularly accused of playing the “gender card”. In her final speech as PM, she stated that she took pride knowing things would “be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that” following her reign.
For Burney, Gillard’s words rang true. She stated:
“It’s about critical mass and it’s about remembering, as we as women do, collaboration and cooperation– remembering as some of our speakers have already said, where we came from. Remember the shoulders given to you to rest on.”
2. Find people to back you
Marina Go said her confidence and success comes back to strong family support and networks. As a child, her father told her she would “be the first female Prime Minister.” While she joked that his premonition hadn’t played out, his words infiltrated her mindset and gave her confidence to pursue a challenging career.
She also “networks like crazy” and says for aspiring leaders, “visibility is everything.” Women need to be visible to find sponsors and climb up the ranks. Recently, through networking at an Australian Republican Movement lunch, Go was recommended for an ASX board.
Beachley’s organization, ‘Aim for the Stars,’ takes this concept further through mentoring and funding aspiring women and their dreams. Beachley’s vision was “to prevent the same level of financial hardship” that she had endured, and to give faith to aspiring women that “someone has their back and believes in them– especially when they stop believing in themselves.”
3. Have the right Attitude
For all three panellists, strong leadership hinges on positive attitudes. As Linda Burney said: “It is humble acts of generosity, kindness, intelligence and grace that bring about change.” These acts might occur at the dinner table, in your organization or they may be decisions you make about yourself, but they are “the real acts of leadership”.
Beachley shared this sentiment, saying that good leadership is predicated on authenticity:
“I live authentically. I live with the intention to make life better and leave a lasting legacy. That helps me with decision making processes.”
For Go, leadership is about backing yourself—agreeing to something first and figuring how to do it later. She encouraged aspiring women to be confident in their abilities, to take risks and be challenged. That is how lessons are learnt and characters are strengthened.
It is inarguable that Linda Burney, Layne Beachley and Marina Go epitomise true leadership.
Their career paths could scarcely be more different, but each has been a trailblazer—guided by passion, talent and conviction in their respective fields. Yesterday, they generously shared their time and were part of a poignant moment, where established female leaders and emerging ones came together to show the world how badass we can be.