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9 Lessons From Some of Australia’s Top Women in Leadership

Are you ready to take the next step in your leadership journey? We’re taking a look back at Series 1 of the podcast The Leadership Lessons to share insights and advice from some of Australia’s best and brightest women in leadership.

Calling 2020 a difficult year is the definition of an understatement. However, the challenges of ‘the year that shall not be named’ have demonstrated why it’s important to have leaders who are purposeful, empathetic and dynamic. In particular, more women in leadership positions can bring the diversity of thought and experience that our businesses, boards and institutions desperately need right now.

Over the course of the past year, Women’s Agenda, supported by Salesforce, has been sitting down with women leaders from a variety of industries and backgrounds for the podcast series The Leadership Lessons. The discussions centred on the changes that need to happen in the next decade to meet the challenges posed by a rapidly changing world, and the critical role women in leadership will play in rising to those challenges.

Series 2 is out soon, but before you press play, listen back to some of the insights we gleaned from the nine women featured in series 1. Stay tuned for leadership lessons from former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, entrepreneur and activist Raji Ambikairajah, business trailblazer Dr Kirstin Ferguson and more.

1. Get optimistic, but be aware

Julia Gillard has witnessed the best of leadership — and the worst. As Australia’s first female prime minister, she personally experienced the hurdles women in top positions have to clear to be taken seriously. 

In this episode, Gillard shares insights she has gleaned from years as a politician and public figure about how to deal with sexism and its many manifestations. She also looks to other women leaders around the world including Hilary Clinton, Jacinda Ardern, Michelle Bachalet and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as inspiration for the types of leadership we need to move through the crises we face.

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2. Kindness in leadership is powerful

Yasmin Poole has so far devoted her career to challenging the status quo. At just 21 years old, she has been described as a ‘human megaphone for Gen Z’ thanks to her work advocating for more representation of youth voices in important decisions.

During her conversation with podcast host Kate Mills, Poole shares why it’s important to challenge what conventional leadership looks like, as well as why institutional representation of young leaders is so important.

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3. Storytelling and advocacy have a role in leadership

Think storytelling doesn’t have a place in business? Think again, says Brianna Casey, CEO of Foodbank Australia. It’s a skill that has helped her as an advocate and executive in a wide range of industries, and something she tries to impress on other women moving into leadership positions. 

However, as Casey explains during this episode of The Leadership Lessons, being a great leader means first seeking to understand, and then to be understood. Listen to her conversation with host Kate Mills as she shares the importance of leading by example, her hopes for more flexibility in the world of work and why you should never be afraid to say no to even the craziest-sounding opportunities.

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4. Passion and purpose make it happen

Dr Raji Ambikairajah lives life by the three Ps: purpose, passion and problem-solving. These three traits, combined with her background in engineering and business, have afforded her a wide-ranging career, including a number of leadership positions across tech startups, finance businesses and organisations in the not-for-profit sector. 

In this episode, Ambikairajah draws on this wealth of experience to explore why the pandemic has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the world and create better systems, particularly for women in the workplace.

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5. Extreme transparency in leadership is essential

Dr Kirstin Ferguson has spent a large part of her career in very male-dominated industries, including the military and law. Although she admits that at first she kept her head down and tried to blend in, now she makes it a point to emphasise diversity and openness as core values guiding her work. 

As she looks ahead to what skills future leaders will need, Ferguson speaks with The Leadership Lessons podcast host Kate Mills about why radical transparency will be needed to move forward.

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6. Seize the moment – it could change your life

In the early stages of her career, comedian Kirsty Webeck was thrown into the deep end when she was offered a spot in the line up of a big comedy gala. Although at the time she didn’t feel ready, today she can confidently say that saying yes to that opportunity was a turning point in her career. 

In this episode, Webeck talks about why it’s important to push yourself out of your comfort zone and not be afraid to say yes to things — even if you don’t quite feel qualified yet.

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7. Feeling daunted by your next move is OK

A little bit of fear is perfectly fine when it comes to choosing your next career move. In fact, as Jo Masters explains in this episode of The Leadership Lessons, sometimes the best thing for developing yourself is to get uncomfortable. 

Masters, who is currently Ernst & Young (EY) Oceania’s Chief Economist, speaks from personal experience that figuring things out as you go isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s helped her build valuable traits like resilience and curiosity. Tune in as she speaks with host Kate Mills about the lessons she’s learned living in ‘the grey areas’ of her industry and why it’s ok to keep asking questions.

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8. Challenge assumptions and push to set the record straight

As the head of the legal profession in NSW, Sonja Stewart understands the value of truth and justice. And as a Yuin woman, she thinks it’s essential to challenge biases and prejudices held against Aboriginals and women in leadership.

In this episode of The Leadership Lessons, Stewart shares how she confronts issues like sexism, racism and general bad behaviour in life and at work. What motivates her to face these issues head-on? As she explains, she is very conscious of her role as a leader, and believes that everyone should think about the legacy they leave behind and the paths they pave for others.

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9. Take opportunities to hit reset

The pandemic has been devastating for many reasons, but if there’s one silver lining, Shirley Chowdhary, CEO of the GO Foundation, thinks it could be the chance we now have to reimagine our institutions so they are more equitable for everyone. 

However, without urgent action, she also feels we risk losing years of progress in the workplace. In this episode, Chowdhary reflects on her career as a changemaker, and shares her thoughts on what needs to happen to make sure the next decade is a more equitable one.

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Series 2 of The Leadership Lessons podcast, presented by Women’s Agenda and Salesforce, is now streaming for your listening pleasure. Listen in as Salesforce CEO of ANZ and ASEAN Pip Marlow shares the lessons she’s learned and advice for future leaders here.

Salesforce Staff

The 360 Blog from Salesforce teaches readers how to improve work outcomes and professional relationships. Our content explores the mindset shifts, organizational hurdles, and people behind business evolution. We also cover the tactics, ethics, products, and thought leadership that make growth a meaningful and positive experience.

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