What were some of the barriers that you encountered in your career?
When I was starting out in the police force, I understood that there were limits about how many women there could be. The most senior woman at that time was an inspector and I guess the attitude of some of the men was that women shouldn’t be there at all. And if they were, they were relegated to directing traffic, talking to school kids and taking sexual assault statements.
What advice would you give to those women who are seeking out a career and finding themselves rebuffed? What do they do and where do they find the resilience to try again?
Have the confidence to put yourself forward, and when you do get rebuffed think about it: is it the system, was it some aspect of yourself, or was it the fact that you were the best person for the job and you just didn’t get it? I think women get rebuffed because they’re not quick enough to pick themselves up and I think it’s tragic because you’ve got to let some of it go.
How would you describe a successful modern leader, and for people who are aspiring to that role, how would you suggest they prepare themselves?
They’ve got to be people who have networked and who are prepared to listen to a whole range of perspectives. Obviously, if you have a profile you’ve got to be media savvy. You have to be focused, you have to have clarity about what you want and be willing to hold people accountable for delivering on that. I have often asked groups about how many managers they’ve had that they’d be willing to walk over hot coals for, and many people say they’ve hardly had any. Of those people who have had good managers, the common theme is that they “cared about me, supported me, and pushed me to do things I never thought I could do. They were people who pushed boundaries for me and raised the standards so I could improve and do better.” That aspect of a manager is important, that warmth or a sense that they care about you as an individual, and that if you make a mistake they will have your back.
In your role in the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, what were some of the programs you put in place to help people overcome their fears and move forward?
From the beginning, it was about attitude. It was about a kind of confidence you can give to people, particularly when you are dealing with community groups. People in those circumstances have lost everything, so they themselves are just really lost. What they’re looking for in their leaders at that stage is confidence. People don’t even understand their own emotions in those circumstances, and there will be very different behaviours from one day to the next. I think part of that is being calm and confident in what you’re trying to do. In working with communities it’s important to get them to start thinking about what is best for them, how are they going to start to help themselves. That became about giving the group back the work, and encouraging community spirit. They thought, ok if you think we can do this then we can. We ended up with 32 groups that started to help those communities.
What are the key success factors in managing a change program?
I think it is being open and respectful of the people in the organisation and the people you are working with. Getting to know and understand the organisation is important. You need to set goals that are clear to everybody and ensure everybody knows they are accountable. It is about setting some big goals and supporting people, recognising their skills and strengths and trying to draw them in to help them achieve things. I think you also need to bring in people from the outside, you need to bring in support for people, and invest in the people within your organisation to be able to do the job.