Four things I learnt at a women’s conference that are not baby-related | Women's Agenda

Four things I learnt at a women’s conference that are not baby-related

As a woman working in communications, I was thrilled to attend a recent leadership conference featuring a number of amazing women kicking goals in senior media and communications roles. The impressive line-up of speakers included CEOs of global PR consultancies, heads of corporate affairs for banks and telecommunications, and senior executives of Australian and international media.

However, as so often happens at a “women’s conference”, the conversations leaned towards baby-related topics like maternity leave, how to support return-to-work mothers and how to balance work and life. By work and life, we nearly always mean work and children. While these discussions are necessary, it can sometimes alienate women who are not considering children now, or ever.

It is just as valuable for women to share the lessons learnt around career development, embracing change and building resilience. A “women’s conference” isn’t just for working mothers. Here are four things I learnt from awesome women that apply to all working women (and some blokes too).

1. From Stacey O’Dea, Head of Corporate Affairs, PWC

Know your shit – As a communication specialist with 16 years experience, O’Dea was headhunted by PWC last year to lead a strategic communications capability. Communication successes and failures cannot always be measured by profits and losses; rather it is determined by the quality of your advice, and your ability to influence others beyond hierarchy.

To succeed, be extremely well read in the theories of your discipline. Never stop building your knowledge and business acumen. Be continually “in the know” about your (or your client’s) company, industry and competitors. Develop informal networks. O’Dea expects her team to have 20 “go-to” people from all areas of the business. Don’t underestimate how much time it takes to do this or how valuable this is to your success

2. From Karina Keisler, Executive General Manager, Corporate Affairs, NBN Co

When Plan A fails, develop another Plan A – In the late nineties, Keisler joined Telstra as a Corporate Affairs Officer. After ten years in various communication roles, she was poached by Vodafone to manage the company’s reputation during the dismissal of 500 employees. Forty-four days into the job, and after moving her family to Sydney from Melbourne, she found out that she was one of the 500.

Keisler discovered that her position wasn’t “redundant”; rather Vodafone planned to replace her with a junior. So she developed a plan. She asked her boss for the opportunity to prove her worth. If she could improve public perception of Vodafone during the coming months and achieve neutral or positive media coverage of the redundancies, Keisler challenged her manager to keep her. During the next few months, she toiled to achieve her targets. She did not look for another job (that was not the plan). Her results spoke volume and through resilience and hard work, she kept her job.

3. From Christine Jones, CEO, Burson-Marsteller

Fortune favours the brave – Of the many accounts Jones has worked on in her thirty year PR career, she fondly remembers one particular client: a disposable nappy company in crisis. There was a myth that the gelatine used to make the nappies absorbent was dangerous to infants. Despite persistent PR efforts, the perception did not shift.

So during a media conference, Jones ate the nappy to prove its safety. Two key industry groups provided on-the-spot endorsements and the story was covered in most major newspapers. She became very popular with clients, peers and the wider industry.

4. From Amanda Gome, Group Head of Strategic Content and Digital Media, ANZ

Hone your skills, not for your job or your career but your “expertise” – As a business journalist in the early days of her career, Gome learnt that all aspiring, young business journalists wanted to write features on the top 100 business as listed in BRW. As one of the many chasing the same story, she couldn’t see her “value add” so she looked for a niche and sought to understand a different market: small business. She wrote to all of the major Australian universities, seeking funding to research the small business market. And eventually, the idea for SmartCompany (a sibling site of Women’s Agenda) was conceived.

SmartCompany is now a leading website for emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses. Since leaving SmartCompany, Gome continues to use her expertise in her current role at ANZ. Recently, her team launched Blue Notes, an ANZ publication featuring insights, opinion, research and news about the economy, financial services and investments. In its first five months, Blue Notes has attracted 80,000 unique visitors.

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