Companies can't afford to lose women leaders. We spoke to 19 women thriving in leadership positions across a range of our Endorsed Employers. By sharing their personal stories, they aim to encourage you to speak up and pursue your goals of progressing your career while spending time on what's most important to you.
With data such as that found by McKinsey disclosing why organisations can't afford to lose women leaders, it's no wonder progressive companies are making significant investments in building more flexible and inclusive workplaces that retain women leaders.
Promoted while having caring responsibilities
Carol Miller | Head of Procurement, Hutchison Ports UK
After almost 10 years of working in different roles at Hutchison Ports and two maternity leave periods, I secured the position of Procurement Manager. It was one that was tabled a few years earlier but I didn’t have the appetite or nerve to even consider it then.
However in 2009 I was ready, I had an excellent line manager that believed in me and made me believe I was ready for something different. This then gave great scope and a fantastic opportunity for me to develop my skillset and knowledge and to lead a large team with many disciplines. In 2015 I was promoted to Head of Procurement which is my current position. The flexibility in working hours was always granted. I believe that my passion to always work was evident, that my hard work ethic was appreciated and flexibility being available on both sides delivered a successful outcome for us all.
Alison Coutts | Director, Ernst & Young (EY) Australia
I had my baby, Harvey, in July 2019 and was promoted in October while on parental leave. I applied for the Director position and was thrilled to even be considered.
I always saw highly experienced people in leadership, but never imagined myself stepping into the role. I worked hard and knew my contribution at EY was valued. This gave me the confidence to present my business case to the Partners and HR, while I was heavily pregnant with my second child. Read Alison’s advice for career success
Jill Allen | Director, Bulk Manufacturing (Operations), CSL
At CSL there is no stigma in working part-time, there are a range of supportive policies, and my career is testament to that.
We are whole people. We have families and lives outside of work, and getting that balance is a challenge. It was part of my deliberate pathway. CSL has been consistent for many years with having flexible work hours which makes managing family life easier. I enrolled my children in the onsite childcare centre when I was in the Parkville office. Read Jill’s career planning tips
Liadan Woods | Senior Manager – Resourcing & Talent, Hutchison Ports UK
I have been able to forge a career for myself with the support of my colleagues and line managers which has seen me take on four positions since I joined Hutchison. Five years down the line and I can honestly say I have not missed an opportunity in this business due to working part-time!
I returned to work in 2016 after 6.5 years of being a stay-at-home mum. I was keen to return to work but did not think my background in Recruitment would work in my favour. I was looking for a change but also knew I had core skills that I could use in other roles. HR had never been a consideration. However, I saw an opportunity at Hutchison Ports Port of Felixstowe within the HR Department supporting the delivery of their recruitment agenda. Throughout the process, I was encouraged to be clear about my expectations – which at the time were to work part-time so that I could still spend time with my three children.
Nikki Graham | General Manager, Product and Risk, Commonwealth Bank
I was promoted to one of the most senior positions within our retail operations division whilst on parental leave.
Lots of women I speak to, including those in my own team, find inspiration in my situation, I've had quite a lot of feedback about it and a lot of people ask for advice. One of the things I tell them is to stay true to yourself. Everyone is different and whether you want to take six weeks off or six years off, it's an independent choice and you should not fear judgement. At the end of the day, the effort that you put into your career will stand you in good stead. You shouldn't feel like you need to compromise.
Jessica Parletta | Stability Manager, CSL
When I went on parental leave I knew I was ready for a new challenge. A position in Stability – where you look at product stability throughout its shelf life – came up, and I interviewed for it six months into parental leave.
The role was advertised as full-time. I was freaking out a bit about coming back so early, but I spoke to my manager and he said, ‘take your time’. We established a return to work plan and they pushed out my start so I could settle my daughter into child care. Then I returned on a staggered shift basis – one day a week. Read Jessica’s tips to overcome the mum guilt
Amanda Strauss | Deloitte Audit & Assurance Manager, Deloitte
My husband and I always dreamed of living and raising our kids on our own farm. Little did we know that the opportunity would jump on us during my second period of parental leave. This was an opportunity of a lifetime, but I didn’t want to give up my career with Deloitte to make it happen.
Following a conversation with my coach, I had the support of Deloitte to trial a remote working arrangement! I now work remotely four days a week from Port Macquarie, NSW, with monthly visits to the Sydney office. Flexible working has made it possible for me to balance my career with family and life outside of work. The two hours I get back every day by not travelling to and from the office, I invest in my kids or helping out on the farm. By working remotely, I have found there are less distractions and my productivity has increased. As the Greek philosopher Aristotle once said: ‘Pleasure in the job, puts perfection in the work.
Sonia Liston | Team Leader Scheduling & Field Services Planning, Unitywater
Unitywater's commitment to supporting diversity has positively impacted my professional career by giving me an opportunity to work with technical teams to develop my knowledge of our sewage and water infrastructure. They have supported me with a flexible working arrangement, so I can balance leading a team with my role as a parent.
Development and mentorship: structured support
Nadia Schiavon | Head of Securities Services, Australia and New Zealand, J.P. Morgan
Helping women grow and develop, sponsoring women and challenging them to consider opportunities outside of their comfort zone is a role I take seriously. Our focus is to attract, retain and develop women that thrive at J.P. Morgan.
Our Women On The Move Interactive Network provides a platform for women (and men as allies) to come together to foster women advancement. It incorporates career development, networking, sponsorship and an increasing focus on intersectionality with other employee groups as part of the diversity agenda. It makes a huge difference. I am also extremely proud of our partnership with Women in Super, and last year we established the Women in Leadership series to provide opportunities for women to raise their profiles, share industry thought leadership as well as career stories. It is our hope that we inspire women (and men) to take ownership of the advancement of their careers and provide a broader network of future talent.
Jill Haigh | Senior Manager, Expense Productivity Reporting, Commonwealth Bank
When the Mentoring Programme came out as one of our team initiatives, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to broaden my network and take my development further. There was a list of leaders who had put their hands up to be official mentors. It was great to see the willingness from these people to give up their time to develop others.
I told my mentor I was trying to get promoted - she gave me tips on how to increase my personal brand, prepared me for interviews and lots of other valuable advice. If you've got a short term specific goal, the mentoring programme is extremely useful. However long you decide to have a mentor for, you're bringing someone into your network for life. Read more insightful highlights from women leaders at Commonwealth Bank
Sally North | Director Worksafe Service Industries and Specialists, DMIRS
Women at DMIRS are supported for both formal and informal opportunities.
For example, in terms of having some study leave when I was doing formal external study, I've also been supported to attend a range of development opportunities, and I think quite importantly there are opportunities to act in positions that might provide a little bit of stretch, or a challenge, or an opportunity to learn something new.
Lingzhi Zhou | Executive Manager, Chief Data Office, Commonwealth Bank
CommBank has supported me to get to a level that I'd never dreamed of – leading large teams, managing multimillion-dollar IT services and delivering programs that have long-lasting impacts. Since the bank is so big there are so many career and development opportunities to explore. And there are so many amazing people who you can reach out to for support.
Ngaire Moran | Head of Health and Safety, CS Energy
CS Energy programs to provide greater visibility of high potential employees through the talent and succession framework have led to advanced career pathways for women.
I’ve always worked in non-traditional women roles and the difference for me when you work in a company that values diversity is that minority groups are enabled to be who we truly are, rather than becoming who we need to be accepted.
Michelle Markham, Digital Sales Manager, Microsoft Australia
Having recently completed the Women Rising programme, it has changed the way I look at leadership and made me realise what I am truly capable of as a woman leader.
Speaking with other women at Microsoft, Women Rising has helped increase their career clarity and confidence, enabled them to become more authentic leaders, and improved their impact by developing greater levels of grit, wellbeing and resilience.
Nicky McCarthy | Acting Senior Manager, People Strategy & Development, Toyota Motor Corporation Australia
TMCA is doing a great deal of work toward achieving gender balance. One of the most recent initiatives that I am proud to say has been launched is the Female Sponsorship programme.
We had great buy in from senior management across the business and strong support from the leadership group wanting to participate as sponsors. This has enabled us to run a programme designed to open doors for high potential women talent in our business.
Check out our top initiatives and programmes for Women in Leadership
Flexibility does not need to be justified
Nicole Wildman, Head of Credit Management, BOC member of The Linde Group
Flexibility applies to everyone, regardless of their stage of life or family structure. I am trusted to lead my team whilst working flexibly to deliver the outcomes expected of my role.
There are times that my team and I have walk and talk meetings with our headphones on while working remotely to ensure we get our exercise in for the day. If you can get the formula right, achieving balance is a great feeling and leads to higher productivity overall! Understand what flexibility and balance means for you and don’t be afraid to put forward an arrangement that works.
Lisa McComb | Deloitte Private, Senior Analyst, Deloitte
In addition to pursuing my corporate career at Deloitte, I also spend winters as a freestyle ski coach in Australia and Canada. The accessibility to flexible leave is great and it starts with having small conversations with Partners, team members, clients and the talent team.
As an example, I work remotely during the Australian winter to spread commuting to/from the Australian ski fields. I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in May 2019 and in September of the same year I achieved the highest qualification for ski instruction, the internationally recognised APSI Level 4. These achievements were made more accessible with workplace flexibility.
Suzi Leung |Chief Operations Officer (COO), Australia & New Zealand at Zurich Financial Services
I’ve been with Zurich on and off for 16 years. I’ve left Zurich multiple times – to study Law, to have two children, and to move to the U.S. to support my husband’s career. I keep coming back for two things — the culture and the opportunities.
What I was most proud of when I became COO was that I was able to take time out for my family over the past seven years, but when I stepped back in Zurich didn’t hold that against me. Read Suzi’s inspirational career journey
Women in leadership to achieve gender equity
Gender equity is about more than addressing the pay gap. Gender equity means creating equitable opportunities for high-paying positions, evaluating areas of bias that may prohibit hiring and promotions, and factoring in work environments that could increase pay progress, such as flexible work arrangements and time off for parental or personal leave.
The clear targets and deadlines offered by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a universal way of benchmarking companies’ progress. WORK180 Endorsed Employers listed in this article had specifically committed to taking affirmative steps towards the UN’s SDG target 5.5 - Women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership. Find a workplace that supports your career goals on the WORK180 job board.
As part of our continued efforts to empower every woman to choose a workplace where they can thrive, WORK180 is in the process of aligning our social impact goals with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for women. Watch this space!
Want to keep on top of emerging trends, news and events? Subscribe to our monthly Women at Work email.
About the author
To help women find a workplace that will work for them, we prescreen employers on their gender pay gap data, parental leave policies, flexible working, and more. Find your next role on the WORK180 job board.