Shining The Spotlight On Women In Leadership – Jacqui Alder

 

 Leadership for women is a key issue and we’re putting it front and centre with our blog series. In this third instalment 100 Women member Jacqui Alder shares her thoughts on this issue.

 

Jacqui says she had what you call an accidental career. She dropped out of high school in year 12 and went to work in a bank and later went to night-school to get her university entrance, and started a commerce degree, but then life got in the way and she didn’t get to finish her degree.

 

Her employer, BHP, gave her opportunities to progress despite her lack of qualification. These opportunities included; a move from finance to HR, a large culture transformation project, and a transfer to Western Australia for an industrial relations role. It was here she finally completed a Masters of Commerce majoring in HR Management.

 

As Jacqui says, “Since then I’ve worked in variety of roles across a range of industry sectors, and in several countries. This was the accidental bit – I didn’t have a plan, I just took opportunity when it presented, and looked for new things to learn. For the past 15 years I’ve worked in my own consultancy – mainly on large projects in the resources sector. During that time, I’ve established HR capability in Asia and the UK, worked on a large corporate demerger, and worked with a variety of amazing people. Currently I’m devoting my energy to helping other women achieve success on their own terms through coaching and writing.”

 

What do you think is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?

I don’t think there’s one big thing, rather the barrier is the compound effect of multiple things. If I had to pick one, it would be how we as women define success and leadership. Because historically the role models for these were men, I think we’ve been getting in a bind trying to achieve and lead in ways defined by a masculine world.

 

I love Catherine Fox’s book ‘Stop Fixing Women’ because the title says it all. If we start from a premise that women should fix themselves in order to succeed, then we’re rejecting ourselves. The evidence that ‘feminine’ leadership styles are effective has been around for a long time. It’s about time we drew collective confidence from it and decided to ‘rock it’ rather than mask it.

 

Sure, we all need to have some flexibility in style to be able to work and lead in a diverse world. The fine line we tread as women is in getting the balance right and staying true to ourselves as well. There is more than one definition of success, and many paths to achieving it.

 

What leadership skills do you think all women should learn?

Following on from my answer to the previous question I think the single most important skill for female leaders is self-leadership. It is a foundational skill which applies to everyone regardless of gender or any other label.

 

By self-leadership I mean; knowing who you are, your values, strengths, and weaknesses. It also involves having the humility to self-reflect, the courage to seek feedback, and the discipline to act on the outcomes of these. If you can lead yourself effectively, you’re more likely to be able lead others.

 

We are all potential role models to other women, regardless of whether we are in a designated leadership position or not. That’s why I think self-leadership is a particularly important skill for female leaders at this point in time; it’s still a challenge but we have an unprecedented opportunity to make up some ground in the gender equity stakes. Female role models who remain authentic in face of the inevitable obstacles of life and career will inspire other women to realise they can achieve success on their own terms.

 

What company/area of government etc would you like to see a female leading?

I would like to see more female judges. Being married to a lawyer has made me realise how much the law impacts our lives in ways we don’t realise. The judiciary interpret and make law in a way that is often more impactful than the politicians who enact legislation.

 

Female representation in this arena got a big boost in 2016 with the appointment Susan Kiefel as Chief Justice of the High Court. However nationwide male judges still outnumber female judges by 2 to 1.

 

What do you think would change if more women were leaders?

When it comes to diversity achieving the numbers is the easy side of the equation. Achieving inclusion is a different story, and requires the challenging of many traditional notions. I do believe women in leadership, if they chose to do so, can positively impact equity and inclusiveness for women as well as others. Often, they have personal experiences that they can draw upon to help make organisations aware of the subtle ways people are inequitably excluded.

 

The impact Gail Kelly during her time at Westpac is a great demonstration of what can change. Women have strong voice in the organisation, are proactively promoted and given stretch assignments, and the organisation is very attuned to the power of women as a market.

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