Trust your gut, have confidence in yourself and remember the processes available to you. These are among the words of wisdom aged care leaders had for their emerging counterparts at an International Women’s Day event this week.
Anchor Excellence – an all-female aged care consultancy based in Sydney – hosted an IWD event on Monday afternoon attended by 30 or so women connected to the aged care sector.
“Anyone who knows me well, knows I really care about supporting women leaders,” said Anchor Excellence managing director Cynthia Payne. Ms Payne hosted a discussion where she asked the panel of three women leaders the top thing they’d say – based on their own experience – to an emerging female leader.
Instinct is key, said Southern Cross Care NSW & ACT chief executive officer Helen Emmerson. “Always trust your gut,” said Ms Emmerson.” It’s something I learned early on. Your gut doesn’t lie to you. It’s got no reason to lie. And as females I think it’s usually right.”
It is important to believe in yourself, said Alexandra Davis, the CEO of disability services provider Inala.
“Have confidence in yourself and your skills. Because as women – as the ladies have said – we often second guess ourselves,” Ms Davis told the event. “And you have to be kind to yourself,” she said. “Within the friendships that you develop, make sure you are finding people who bring out the positive and then focus on the positive, not the negative.”
Ms Emmerson – a registered nurse – echoed Ms Davis. “Just trust yourself. Be kind to yourself. Surround yourself by amazing people – people that make you feel good,” she said.
For those working in an environment with a poor culture, Ms Davis – who has a background as a registered nurse – said mental health was most important. “You cannot have a good day and help other people if your mental health is not there… If you need to take time out, you take time out. You cannot do anything unless your self-care is up to standard.”
Karen Jacobs – head of people and culture at aged care sector builders Total Construction – agreed and added the need to be bold and brave about speaking up.
“To add, I would say there is a process available to you as well. If you have an HR department – it goes back to being bold and being brave – go and ask them. What’s your policy? Or what’s happening here? What are your core values? And where are they? And if they are not there, challenge your executives because they’re the ones standing there saying we are this way,” Ms Jacobs told the group.
Sometimes, it can also be important to consider whether an organisation is right for you, she said. “It may not be the place for you and that’s okay. That is perfectly fine. You don’t need to ruin your mental state to try and fight for something they don’t care about.”
Ms Davis also talked about the option of leaving when things weren’t right. “If you need to, leave. If it isn’t cutting it, leave. It’s that simple.”
International Women’s Day – which takes place annually on 8 March – has #EmbraceEquity as a key theme this year. It is a destination not yet achieved in aged care, according to Monday’s discussion.
“We know that the vast majority of the [aged care] industry are women. But as we move through the layers, we see a reduction in the ratio of women,” said Ms Payne. “My feeling is we’re not there yet, are we?”
Ms Emmerson agreed. “It’s not just about the numbers of gender and in this particular case of women in senior roles, it’s about their voice still isn’t being heard,” she said. “The female voice still feels a bit tokenistic.”
On the importance of a flexible workplace that meets an individual’s needs, Ms Jacobs compared equity with equality. “Equity is everyone gets a pair of shoes, but equality is that the shoes actually fit you; so everybody gets a pair that fits.”
A question from the audience asked the panel whether there was a bigger role for women colleagues and networks to support other women.
“Yes, 100 per cent we can do more,” said Ms Davis. “We don’t utilise our teams and our networks as well as we can. Sometimes that’s because of the fact that we get so busy,” she said. “It is important for us to get more female mentors and particularly ones that are real mentors, not just friends.”
Ms Emmerson agreed female support groups were great but added the need for men to also be involved.
“For our voice to be really heard at whatever table, it needs to be in unison with men and working with men and educating them and vice versa.”
Main image: Anchor Excellence’s International Women’s Day event panel (from left:) Karen Jacobs, Helen Emmerson, Alexandra Davis