Can the words caregiver and ambitious be in the same sentence?

Professor Jan Thomas takes a look at how society can move away from tacit assumptions about caring and ambition to champion diversity for all.

Laura Maxwell

Laura Maxwell's career journey​

Laura Maxwell is Chief Commercial Officer at NZME. She has over 20 years of experience in media and is also currently serving as a Chair of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a Director of the Newspapers Publishers Association and a board member of the Radio Bureau. Laura will be speaking at the upcoming NZME New Zealand Women’s Leadership Symposium so we sat down with her to discuss her career journey.Tell us about your career to date?After completing a BA at Otago University I began a fantastic OE that ended up lasting….much longer than planned! I did get to experience working in a range of industries, improved my skiing and to my father’s relief, started my first ‘real job’ in sales and marketing at the University of Canberra, at 26 years of age. Given the commute was sensational, I also completed a Post-Graduate Diploma in Marketing while I was there.I have worked in small businesses where I have rolled my sleeves up and been involved both along and across the business. This taught me so much and gave me experience in manufacturing, importing, exporting, retailing, packaging, pricing, negotiation, marketing, advertising, sales and finance. Once I joined larger organisations (where your role is more defined), I then had the confidence to challenge and add value to areas ‘outside my remit’. I have been within the media business since 2001 and still love the pace, the brands and how we connect with Kiwis. For me, being in an informal, creative and fast-paced environment suits my ethos of taking the role seriously but having a good time too.What have been some highlights (and low lights!) in your career?Highlights for me have been working with slick, global brands where I got to experience planning, strategy and execution at a level that was simply top notch and at a scale larger than we have in New Zealand. These include working alongside big brands and organisations like Team New Zealand, Louis Vuitton, the America’s Cup, the All Blacks, and the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. Working for a business and creating commercial success in a short window, such as for an event, was a steep learning curve for me. For the America’s Cup programme we developed, branded, packaged, retailed, marketed and sold over 90 new products specific to the event with every step of the chain needing approval from the event brand owners. And we hit our targets!  One of the biggest career challenges for me was when I was leading Yahoo!NZ and the Xtra email issue arose. I would not call it a lowlight (although being on conference calls to the States every hour throughout the night seemed like a lowlight at the time!) as it was a great learning experience.  I have used the skills learned during that episode again and again.You are recognised as a leader in your field. What advice would you give other women who aspire to this?Plan where you want to go and create a pathway to get there. Be honest with what your gaps are and improve them. Find businesses where you can make a difference, that excite you and where you ‘fit‘. If you rate a particular leader, then either get a job with them or see if they will mentor you.Choose your battles and understand the impact of your decisions on the business, the brand and other people within the business.Outside your business, give your time to contribute to the betterment of your industry – this will also raise your profile. What groups are there you can join? What initiatives can you develop and lead that will improve the business ecosystem for the industry?What do you think are the most important strengths/skills women need in the workforce now and in the future?The same skills any person needs to be successful. I do not see the key strengths/skills as being different for women. Own your ideas, speak up and add value. However, if you want to position yourself for an executive role, do not volunteer to take notes in meetings or organise the coffee or bring in the baking.When negotiating your remuneration, show how you add value to the business and know what the market rates are for your role. Make sure you have a list of the achievements in the previous year and what your plans are to move the business forward. Take the emotion out of it. The business is not hiring you. They are hiring what you bring to the company.We all know how important networking is. What is your networking strategy?I like talking to interesting people who can see new ways of solving challenges. I seek out people who may have similar challenges to me and share ideas with them. I do not believe it is a numbers game. I would rather have fewer good people that I can call than have the largest list of people.What do you think the biggest challenge facing females in the corporate world, and females in business more generally, at the moment?Confidence. This is the biggest difference I see between men and women in a work environment. I thought it was a Kiwi thing, but I think it is more of women underestimating what they bring to the table. Find the forums to accelerate your worth to the business. If you are delivering value and your employer is not valuing it, then ask for feedback and do not be afraid of what you hear. Then you can decide if there are changes you need to make at work or if the current business is not one that will fulfil your goals and instead find a new one.Would you like to hear Laura Maxwell and other inspirational speakers share their journeys and leadership advice? Join us at the NZME New Zealand Women’s Leadership Symposium from 21-22 June at the Langham Hotel in Auckland. To secure your seat at this phenomenal event, register now.  

An excavator

The unique challenges of women working in the construction industry​

We know that gender diversity (let alone diversity in general) makes good business sense – huge bodies of evidence exist demonstrating that when we have more women in workplaces, organisations have greater economic growth and improved organisational, financial and market performance. Yet we are also told by the World Economic Forum that it will be a very long 117 years before we achieve true gender equality.I was raised around the construction industry. I worked for my Dad’s road construction company during my school and university holidays, and after I graduated I worked on research projects in the logging industry. I then joined a consulting company that delivered large-scale safety cognitive-behavioural culture programs (underpinned with psychology and brain science) to the mining, construction and heavy industries globally.I was often the only female on the entire site, and even more frequently the only female in meetings. Any challenges I had with this were primarily the result of being treated like what I can only call a child. I often found myself being ‘protected’ by clients (with the best of intentions I confess); clients and colleagues alike at times seemingly needing to protect me from ‘aggressive’ and ‘rude’ behaviour, or even pre-framing my work in the room with ‘be nice to this young lady’. Though I felt capable, competent and confident in sharing information and discussions, let alone managing these kinds of behaviours when they were evident, many people who were older, primarily male, were often unconsciously not setting me up for success, certainly not as the specialist in my field.There are many examples of these kinds of unconscious biases and hindering behaviours (and I know of many more covert and overt examples of undermining females, including blatant harassment and discrimination), many of which can be directed towards women in male dominated workforces.While unconscious thinking, stereotypes and biases are our everyday life as humans, there are a number of unconscious biases specifically related to gender in organisations that have systematically negative effects on women. We are more likely to use unconscious thinking processes at certain times, and workplaces often provide many of these conditions for unconscious thinking to occur: having to divide our attention across multiple tasks at once, having to make rapid judgements and decisions, and carrying out routine tasks.There are a number of reasons why unconscious bias and stereotyping present issues for business, and there are three key phenomena that primarily present challenges to gender equality in organisations.Firstly, ‘think manager, think male’ gender stereotyping has negative consequences for women in organisations generally, and particularly in terms of the number of women in senior or leadership roles. Masculine leadership behaviours are heavily weighted towards our view of what a leader should be like. Because our biases are frequently unconscious, processes like candidate search, selection, advancement and remuneration can be skewed against women despite equal opportunity policies and practices.‘Backlash’ talks to how people are more likely to react negatively when they encounter others who do not fit their stereotypical expectations. In the case of gender, people prefer women to behave like stereotypical women, and men to behave like stereotypical men. When women display traits or behaviours that are more stereotypically masculine, they are likely to be penalised and evaluated more negatively – that is, experience backlash from others. Likewise for men who display stereotypically feminine traits. However, backlash affects women in organisations far more than it does men, because women more closely associate leadership with masculine traits. Male-dominated cultures can experience an ‘impossible dilemma’, that is if they do not behave assertively they cannot demonstrate leadership competence, but if they do behave assertively, they are considered less promotable.Finally, ‘stereotype threat’ is a phenomenon where we become aware of others’ stereotypes about us and as a result we are more likely to conform to them and behave in accordance with others’ expectations. Research shows, for instance, that women perform worse on mathematical tasks when gender stereotypes about maths competence are mentioned prior. So being made aware that, by virtue of her gender, a woman should perform worse at some tasks than her male counterparts can contribute to poorer performance. It is simply an awareness of the stereotype that influences the outcome, not actual inferior competence in a task.A woman’s fit, functioning and growth within the workplace comes down to some quite specific protective and risk factors. Two of the protective factors in particular include job network and support, and other women working in the area, among others.This is the main reason why Women & Leadership New Zealand (WLNZ) has ‘female only’ leadership development programs and ‘female focused’ events. If women work in predominantly male workforces, they are not likely to consistently interact with other women working in their area, and very often do not have a female network or support within the workplace. This is also the case the higher up a hierarchy we go, where there can be even fewer females in leadership and executive level roles.WLNZ has set up a networking group on LinkedIn called Professional Women’s Network Australia/NZ, where women have the opportunity to support each other, collaborate on ideas and share strategies for career advancement. We encourage readers to join this group.Gender equality is not just a ‘women’s problem’ for us to deal with alone. Yet the reality is we have some way to go and there are some things we can do as individuals, for our own fit, function and growth within our workplaces.One statement that often comes to mind is something a previous colleague once said to me: “you educate people in how to treat you through setting your expectations and boundaries.” Be clear on what you accept and do not accept, particularly when it comes to your own goals and ideals.Do you want to join WLNZ’s next event and hear from inspirational leaders like Barbara Kendall MBE, Makaia Carr, Mai Chen and Rachel Smalley? The inaugural NZME Women’s Leadership Symposium will be taking place on 21 and 22 June at the Langham Hotel in Auckland. You can book your tickets now. Author: Kelly Rothwell, Head of School at WLNZ 

Three women networking

3 ways to progress your career this year that are not simply ‘getting a promotion’​

Often, when people talk about ‘career progression’ they really just mean getting promoted, which is a shame – because there are so many other ways to progress your career! As women, ‘progression’ can mean any number of things and it is time we embraced that. Whether you want to start exploring different career paths, take a break from the workforce, start your own business, or simply garner a deeper understanding of your current profession, ‘progression’ really means anytime you learn more about yourself and your goals, and start moving towards them.So, for those of us out there that want to progress our careers this year in ways that are not simply getting a promotion, here are 3 key strategies:Grow your (female) network Everyone knows that networking is important, right? You get to meet people, which in turn leads to more opportunities. You also get to hear more people’s stories, which can help you clarify your overall direction. However, research shows that it is not only important to grow your network. More specifically, you need to grow your female network. Why, you ask? Because when women are surrounded by like-minded women, they are more likely to succeed. So, whatever form of progression you are after this year, having a group of like-minded females to support you will no doubt help. Learn more about the complexities of women in leadership Even though we would all love for it to not be the case, unfortunately women in any kind of leadership position, whether it be an executive role or as a small business owner, still face challenges that our male counterparts, on the most part, do not face or understand. If you are an aspiring or current female leader of any type, it is always useful to understand these challenges, and, more specifically, how other women overcome them. Doing so can help you get clarity on what your next move should look like. For example, if your organisation is not supportive enough of your requirement for flexibility, should I move to an organisation that is?Be inspired by someone that has been there and done that Leadership of any kind can be a lonely journey. Sometimes it is easy to feel as though no one understands you and it is all too hard. A great way to overcome this is to be inspired by others who have been there and done that. Speaking directly to other women who have been in your situation can inspire you to better understand your challenges and how to overcome them to move your career in the direction you want.  If you want to progress your career this year by growing your female network, learning more about women in leadership, and being inspired by those that have succeeded, then look no further! The NZME Women in Leadership Symposium, due to be held from 21-22 June in Auckland, offers all of these benefits plus many more. For a limited time only (up until 28 April – so hurry!) you can grab an early bird ticket, which entitles you to up to $500 off the standard price. Grab yours ASAP.Author: Natasha Gallardo, CEO, Working Mothers Connect and Strategic Partner, WLNZ

Mai Chen

Mai Chen, Inaugural Chair, NZ Global Women, shares invaluable advice for women​

As far as career achievements go, you do not get much more impressive than that of the incredible Mai Chen. A lawyer by trade, Mai is currently Managing Partner of Chen Palmer Public and Employment Law Specialists and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Auckland School of Law. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg of her amazing professional accolades. Mai is also a BNZ Board Director and a superdiversity expert. She holds many roles that showcase her unique skills in this area, for example, Chair, New Zealand Asian Leaders; Chair Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business; and Inaugural Chair, NZ Global Women and SUPERdiverse Women. With a list of achievements that impressive, it is of little surprise that she has been a finalist for New Zealander of the Year in 2014 and 2016 and was also in the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life in the Global Diversity List 2016, affiliated with the Global Diversity Awards (producer of the annual European Diversity Awards) and supported by The Economist.Given the fact that she is arguably one of New Zealand’s most respected and recognised female leaders, we thought we would ask her to share some words of wisdom for any females aspiring to roles like hers.  Here is what she had to say.MeditateMai believes that women need to meditate as a form of self-reflection. Essentially, she says, meditation can give you clarity on where you really want to go and help you create a plan to get there. According to Mai, "Ultimately, meditation will help you to find your own truth…rather than accept a projection of other people’s expectations and biases."Do not wait for perfect conditionsMai truly believes that done is better than perfect. She says that women "do not take opportunities because we never feel quite ready…stop waiting for perfect conditions and make the most of conditions right now. Life is always going to be difficult!"Live every day as though it is your lastMai thinks that we all need to embrace the now in a big way. She has achieved this by accepting that she will not be around forever. Accordingly, she makes decisions about how she spends her time, whom she spends it with, and what sacrifices she is prepared to make every day. Of this, she says, ”It is liberating! When I am not sure, I say to myself, give it a go. If you wait much longer, you might not have the opportunity to try.“Make a move!Related to her last point, Mai thinks it is important to give things a shot and see how they go. By doing this, Mai says that women will get a chance to find out whether whatever it is they are trying is right for them, and even if it is not, they will not have to die wondering!Do not make life harder for yourselfOne of Mai’s favourite quotes is from Tim Sole, and it goes something like this, “Unless you are in a diving competition, there are no points in life for difficulty.“ In a nutshell, this is Mai’s philosophy on life: do not make it harder than it needs to be. Examples she cites are: getting a 6am flight is rarely essential; saying no to taking on seven things at once on short deadlines is fine; letting yourself sleep in and not running another 5 km when you are knackered is okay; and talk to the boss, that is you, and let up on yourself.And we could not agree more.If you want to hear more from the inspirational Mai Chen, along with an incredible line up of other speakers, then grab your tickets to the NZME New Zealand Women’s Leadership Symposium. This phenomenal event is due to be held from 21-22 June at the Langham Hotel in Auckland. Early bird tickets are currently available, but only until 28 April, so get your ticket today for a discount of up to $500. 

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117 years to equality? 

Let's close the gap sooner​

Children in classroom

As our working year commences and children settle into their new school year, what commitments will you make to help achieve gender balance? And what might you do to accelerate its achievement in fewer than 117 years, the current prediction from the World Economic Forum?

2015 saw increased momentum towards gender equality in the board room and across organizations, a sign of great progress.

If we want to achieve balance in our board rooms and in leadership roles, and for that to be sustainable over time, we need to pay closer attention to what five year olds are learning about gender and how it shapes their identities. To achieve gender equity in 117 years or less, we need more change in the class room, the school yard, and at home.

Five year olds have clear gender identities, with implicit beliefs about gender that are consistent with stereotypes. That puts the prediction of 117 years on shaky ground. The prediction is based on the number of women in senior leadership roles steadily increasing. That steady increase will hit a roadblock unless the pool of aspiring leaders gradually shifts its composition, ensuring more women are ready for senior leadership roles. Many senior organizational roles require STEM qualifications and experience, where gender stereotypes prevail and women remain underrepresented.

Five year old boys and girls understand gender expectations traditionally attributed to boys and girls. They are not just aware of and so able to describe the expectations and attributions, they also hold them implicitly. Girls' self esteem is more strongly related to their gender identity.

And as Sheryl Sandberg pointed out at the recent Davos summit, we assign home tasks differentially to boys and girls, contributing to a 'toddler wage-gap'.

Five year olds are being shaped by the same beliefs and expectations that shape our current business practices, which places the nature of the change required in jeopardy.

What might you do to contribute to sustainable change?

  1. Pay more attention to providing a full range of options and choices to both boys and girls. Assign tasks at home and at school with deliberate randomness. Self-monitor.
  2. Expose girls and boys to opportunities and role models that challenge traditional choices.
  3. Encourage boys and girls to experiment with and experience the full range of behaviours: girls can be equally focused on their own needs and concerned for others, understanding or tough. Boys can be empathic and task oriented, independent or submissive. Allow them to build a broader repertoire of styles and responses that cross gender arcs, and we'll all be better off.

 

While progress towards gender equality has accelerated recently, there are many systemic challenges that remain.

If the current generation of children continues to reflect the gender stereotypes we hold, the choices they make about their careers will be similarly limited.

These challenges can be overcome with awareness, vigilance, and action. Girls and boys can enjoy a broader array of options with fewer limitations caused by stereotypes. We'll then do better than 117 years, and perhaps today's five year olds will experience equality in their lifetimes.

As my five year old step-grandson would say, let's do it!
Author: Dr Karen Morley​

Women and Leadership New Zealand
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