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Women championing women

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Women championing women

Meet four leaders in their fields who are mentoring, empowering and setting examples for others to follow. WORDS: Ingrid Nelson.

“I am woman, hear me roar!” The lyrics of the Helen Reddy song spring to mind when I think of International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8.

I am proud to be a woman. IWD is a poignant reminder to stop and celebrate female achievements, raise awareness about discrimination, take action to drive gender parity and continue to empower women in all aspects of life.

This year’s theme for IWD is #InspireInclusion because the day belongs to women everywhere, regardless of their background, race or culture.

This week, I am delighted to shine the spotlight on four remarkable Sunshine Coast women who have made a lasting impact in our community. Each of these women has contributed to our region through their unique voices and perspectives and, most importantly,
they lead by example.

As we celebrate IWD, let’s reaffirm our commitment to creating a more-inclusive and equitable world for all – one where women are given every opportunity to thrive and succeed. Together, we can create a brighter, more-empowered tomorrow for women everywhere.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • In 1910, women’s rights advocate Clara Zetkin proposed the idea of a global International Women’s Day.
  • March 19, 1911, saw the first International Women’s Day.
  • It took until 1975 for the United Nations to recognise and begin celebrating International
    Women’s Day.
  • The symbol for International Women’s Day is a female gender sign. It is usually accompanied by the colours purple, green and white.

Anna Owen – principal, Sunshine Coast Grammar School

What does International Women’s Day mean to you personally? –  Opportunity and hope. IWD provides an invitation to raise awareness about those who have faced or are facing gender-based challenges, obstacles and atrocities on a global scale. Equally, it is a day where leaders, policy makers and delegates are reminded of their roles in continuing to value all people, and all communities of people, into the future. Our goal as educators is to provide opportunity and hope in our schools every day and for every student.

How do you think we can better support and empower women in the workplace and in society? – Balancing work and home, children and career has been a very real challenge for me. I believe that every young woman who is about to enter the workforce or is in their early career will be considering their career options and the challenges they will face in balancing family, children and work. Conversations around career, family and personal aspirations must be inclusive and sensitive to individual circumstances. By fostering a culture of respect and support, we can create an environment where all individuals, regardless of gender, feel valued and empowered to achieve their full potential. A kind word from an experienced female colleague or mentor also never goes astray.

What are some of the key challenges you think women still face today? – In Australia, we have come so far . However, we are not there yet. The key challenges women face in Australia are under-representation in certain industries and in leadership roles and the resultant effects that this complex situation has on the gender pay gap and superannuation.

Who are the women who inspire you? – Every single woman, girl and young woman who lives in poverty, in some developing countries and in certain parts of this country and the world, and those who face minimisation, abuse and powerlessness every day. I am so inspired by their courage and determination to hold their households and communities together. Equally, I am inspired to keep advocating, empowering where I can, and being an annoying (at times) reminder that gender-based discrimination needs to stop now.

How can we encourage more young women to pursue careers in male-dominated fields such as STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine)? – Every female who is currently working in a male-dominated field (for example, STEMM) speaks about their upbringing. They tell stories about being taught to work with their hands, value manual and practical machinery skills, crack whips and being respected as a person in the same way as their brothers, male cousins or male counterparts. My academic background is in the area of STEMM and it remains my passion. The success indicator for achieving equal representation within our industry will be when we are no longer leading nor monitoring our gender agenda as it has become so completely infused, so inextricably interwoven that it is self-sustaining.

How important is your female friendship group to you and why? – My female friends are my lifeline – and in a different way to my gorgeous husband and family. They are hysterically funny, very open and direct and definitely do not let me see myself as anything else but as a very real person with all the lumps, bumps, flaws, superpowers and beauty of all people. My friends are the wise counsel, the listening ear and the vault. At other times, they are diabolically immature and a delightful waste of time. A good reminder to never take yourself too seriously.

How do you empower other women? – As an educator, I believe we can move the dial on most of the world’s biggest problems through education. When I think about the challenges faced by girls and young women around the world, and at times worryingly closer to home, I feel angry and I try to channel the anger in a positive way. I believe the most impactful work I do is through the empowerment of the next generation. This means creating an environment where gender-based conflict is replaced with collaboration and mutual respect. Grammar has a firm set of values and an unwavering identity. We create spaces for students to bring together their aspirations, identities and interests and this in turn creates a community that is a proper and wholesome expression of human interaction and flourishing.

Kathleen Hope – SunnyKids CEO

What does International Women’s Day mean to you personally? – International Women’s Day is a reminder to stop and reflect and to express gratitude for the suffrage of the women before me, to acknowledge the (albeit slow) progress towards gender parity. It’s an opportunity to remind myself of my dedication to continue the cause for equal rights, while also celebrating all the amazing contributions of women throughout history and today.

How do you think we can better support and empower women in the workplace and in society? – Firstly, implementing very practical initiatives can have an immediate impact, such as ensuring women and men are paid equally. Secondly, implementing inclusive policies and legislative changes to bridge the gender gap affirmatively. Investing in women and empowering them through leadership programs and proactive decision-making roles in the workforce is critical.

What are some of the key challenges you think women still face today? – If you’re a woman, you are more likely to experience physical and/or sexual violence. On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. Gender-based violence is one of the most-dominant crises women in Australia face right now. Strengthening legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms to hold perpetrators accountable and protect survivors’ rights is paramount in addressing the horrific outcomes related to gender violence.

Who are the women who inspire you? – I believe all women are inspiring. However, when I was a young girl, an incredible woman, Caroline Chisholm, stood out to me. I saw her face on the Australian $5 note at a time when this was about to be changed to recognise the Queen. I learnt early on that she represented female support, compassion and empowerment. I knew then that that’s who I aspired to be. She will be remembered as a trailblazer who challenged societal norms and worked tirelessly to create a more just and equitable society, leaving a lasting impact on Australia’s history and social welfare system. I will always think of her as a woman of incredible strength and determination.

How can we encourage more young women to pursue careers in male- dominated fields such as STEMM? – We need to start with early exposure and education in fields that differ from traditional stereotypes. I believe its two-fold: while we support women to enter male-dominated roles, we need to encourage males into traditional caring and teaching roles. Women already know they can undertake any role they put their mind to. The real work is in convincing more men to step out of their comfort zone and enter professions that wouldn’t ordinarily be considered masculine.

How important is your female friendship group to you and why? – I have a diverse friendship group. The women in my life are loyal and trustworthy. I have a friend who will solve all the world’s problems with me over a glass (or two) of wine. Another will critically unpack any issue I am facing and hold me accountable when all I want to do is stomp my feet. Each of my friends mean the world to me and help remind me of what I am capable of with love and respect.

How do you empower other women? – I take role modelling very seriously. I intentionally carry the weight of many women before me who paved the way for me to feel safer and have a voice. I am committed to doing the same for the rest of my life, with the confidence that my daughters and many others will benefit. In my career, I am surrounded by incredibly strong women every day. They make the challenge easier and they share the burden. I hope that I am doing the same for them.

Josie Collins – Commercial analyst, HeliMods Pty Ltd

What does International Women’s Day mean to you personally? – It’s a day to celebrate the incredible women worldwide and recognise their contributions. Every IWD, I find myself reflecting personally on the adversities I have faced, particularly those intensified by being a woman, and being proud of the resilience I have developed in those circumstances. I am actively seeking opportunities to prevent these things happening to other women, and to speak to the younger generations to provide tools to navigate these situations.

How do you think we can better support and empower women in the workplace and in society? – Through equal opportunity, inclusivity and education around gender bias, flexible work arrangements throughout different stages of life, and providing genuine support and encouragement. As an advocate for networks and communities, and as women, it is so important that we collectively foster these relationships with each other and provide support and mentorship for one another.

What are some of the key challenges you think women still face today? – It is great to see we are moving in the right direction, but I feel a key issue women still face today is equal opportunity. Women are still being negatively impacted by gender bias for career opportunities and this leads to systemic under-representation in leadership, the gender pay gap and a tarnished perception of the ‘successful’ women to being there as a quota. Beyond the workplace, domestic violence and sexual harassment continues to be a heartbreaking reality for our women of today.

Who are the women who inspire you? – I am surrounded by amazing women who inspire me professionally and personally, and in person and (dare I say it) on social media. I recently realised that all the women I admire are, among other qualities, courageous, resilient, determined and possess a high level of integrity. I follow Grace Beverly closely. I am consistently inspired by her advocacy for championing other women, working hard for your goals, environmental sustainability and defining and fostering your version of balance. Plus, she is a ’97 baby like me, and is hilarious.

How can we encourage more young women to pursue careers in male-dominated fields such as STEMM? – We should be providing early exposure to these industries and providing real-life learning opportunities to these sectors in general. For young women, we need to nurture a space that they feel safe and supported in to speak of the challenges and adversities they may experience or are facing and be able to speak to the positive change that is continuing to evolve. Mentorship, role models and proof they can do any career they want to, regardless of stereotypes, is so important.

How important is your female friendship group to you and why? – I struggle to put this one into words. I would not be who I am today without my girls. The support, empowerment, honesty and safeness that comes with being able to lean on your girlfriends, and have them lean on you, is unmatched for personal growth.

How do you empower other women? – As the eldest daughter of six kids, I have always strived to be a role model and lead by example, while being courageous in standing up for what I believe in and celebrating each other’s achievements. As I have gotten older and into the ‘real world’, I have continued to stand strong and aligned with my values, albeit on a larger scale. I love getting involved with events where I can empower the women around me, particularly events for students of education providers. I am an active member and on the board for multiple not-for-profits on the Coast and I am involved with CPA (Certified Practising Accountant) committees and promotional activities. This helps me to be involved in decision-making processes and to be an advocate and champion for positive change. In my immediate circle, I encourage and support those around me to go after their goals and I’m along for the rollercoaster ride that the journey brings.

Kim McCosker – Founder, 4 Ingredients

What does International Women’s Day mean to you personally? – I have come to really anticipate IWD because it’s an opportunity to read about and listen to some amazing women doing amazing things in our region, state, country.

How do you think we can better support and empower women in the workplace and in society? – I make a conscious decision to speak encouraging words, and practise words and actions of support. When asked and when able, I help. Don’t be afraid to educate those around you when they make sexist or inappropriate comments: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.

What are some of the key challenges you think women still face today?– Self-belief, a lack of confidence. We tend to over-think what could, would, should whereas boys are more likely just to do.

Who are the women who inspire you? – My mother Jennette McCosker. She is such a strong and positive woman. I love her dearly. My personal assistant Melinda Dines: she is the kindest person I know and makes me want to be a better person. Taylor Swift – what an incredible talent and role model on and off the stage.

How can we encourage more young women to pursue careers in male-dominated fields such as STEMM? – Start early. Introduce the benefits of such career paths in Primary school.

How important is your female friendship group to you and why? – They are my support, my balance, my entertainment, my adventures, my life. My best friends have been in my life since Primary school and will be for life. I thank God daily for the incredible network of amazing women I surround myself with every day here on the Sunshine Coast. It’s a sisterhood I’m extremely grateful to be part of.

How do you empower other women? Leading by example. Being a role model to our younger generation. Showing them it is possible to laugh at yourself, to give things a go – that failure is fine, so long as we learn from it.

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Ingrid Nelson is the Co Editor of My Weekly Preview and a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience.

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