On International Women’s Day 2018 I’d like to stop and take time to recognise and thank three women who have been instrumental in my professional life.
Kath Martin, my first boss at Kenloch
Kath was the owner of the business that gave me my first job, which was at a restaurant and wedding reception centre in the Dandenongs. I was 15 years old when I started working there and continued to work there through my final years of high school and throughout university. Kath started the business after her husband passed away, as a single mother raising two young kids. She decided to open the restaurant as a way to help support her family. She built it up over 50 years, and through the business, she created lots of opportunities for young people who lived in the area to get their first job, learn hospitality, invest in their skills and understand customer service.
Kath inspired me because she had the courage to go out and start her own business. She chose to be a business owner through necessity, but she was incredibly passionate about it. Kath wanted to build a restaurant of international renown. I remember one night, I was working at a wedding in the reception centre when she asked me to join her for dinner in the restaurant. She and I sat down, ordered some food, and then she said to me, “Today, my dream came true.” It was quite a strange statement, so I paused and said, “How so? Tell me more”. She said, “I always wanted to build a restaurant of international renown. That couple seated in the window today were from Germany. They said that they had been advised that if they ever came to Australia, they should eat at Kenloch!”
To see her in that moment, to feel and acknowledge her joy, helped establish in me the value and self-worth that people can get from work. Perusing a dream can sometimes take a really long time to come true, but if you get there, especially after so many years of hard work, it can be so very powerful.
Working with Kath gave me so many opportunities. It was my first managerial role, and by the end of my time there, I was running the dining room with around 30-40 staff working for me. She really backed me and gave me the experience well ahead of when I thought I was ready for it.
It’s people like Kath, who believe in you and give you confidence, that allow you to develop.
Elizabeth Hilton, colleague and friend from Harvard University
Liz and I met as MBA students together at Harvard. It was the power of conversation with Liz that really sticks with me. I remember numerous conversations where we talked about careers and life after business school. She was the first person for me who really brought home the difference in what she thought she had to bring to bear as a woman in her career.
Her thinking was that if she was not able to provide for her future family economically, then that was her responsibility, but she would also need to ensure her kids would be healthy, well-adjusted, able people. She always felt and anticipated the direct tension between those responsibilities. Still in our early 20s, with our careers and personal lives ahead of us, we engaged deeply in conversation, challenging our own perspectives and thinking.
From Liz I learnt that feminism was not about men and women having the same things, but that the next stage of feminism was about women being able to succeed as women, having a fulfilling life and career, and that picture might look different to the fulfilling lives and careers of men. From Liz’s viewpoint, we were going to be facing different responsibilities, so how, when we were preparing to become business leaders, could we create workplaces that allowed both of us to succeed? A lot of the issues and conversations we were trying to tackle in those days is what the Male Champions of Change are acting on today.
At MYOB we’re focused on initiatives that will help us to shift the balance. We try to maintain contact with our employees when they’re on parental leave; we make sure they can have the flexibility they need; and we don’t let time away or flexible work patterns hamper their careers or exclude people from promotions or new opportunities.
Christine Holgate, personal friend and chief executive of Australia Post
Christine is a good friend of mine. We met a decade ago and I have got to know her well during that time. Christine is really inspiring because she is courageous and very empathetic. She has great EQ skills and in no way does she avoid any challenges being faced or the issues on the table. I really love her humanistic skills and particularly love her courage.
I was reading an article about her last week where she was talking about the challenges they’re facing at Australia Post. Christine knew it would be a challenge when she took the job as chief executive last year. The business is going through massive transformational change, but we can be sure that it will be well serviced by having Christine at the helm and she will have a great impact on the people around her. She does not shy away from the issue, but instead, stares into the heart of any problem with courage. Courage is essential for good business, but so too is empathy. We have to ensure that our actions take into account the impact of all the people involved. The result is that we can then think more holistically about the role we play and our impact on a variety of stakeholders.
I have always found Christine so inspiring because she leads the way I would like to lead. When you see that kind of leadership in action, it doesn’t change the way you lead, necessarily, but it does reinforce your vision and gives you the confidence to maintain those standards — and to set your own bar higher to achieve at another level.
In celebrating International Women’s Day, we want to reflect on all of the ways that women contribute to our lives. The number one thing we each need to be responsible for is taking care of the people that we love. While International Women’s Day provides a chance to recognise and acknowledge the accomplishments of women in business — which we should do more often — it would be remiss of me not to reflect on how I have benefited from all the love and support of the women in my life. I would hope that other men (and women) can do likewise today.