What are the biggest career challenges women face today?

Kelly Rothwell

What skills do female leaders need most in the workforce? Can women really have it all? We wanted to speak with someone who was at the forefront of all things women in leadership, so we talked to Kelly, Head of School/Director at Women & Leadership Australia to find out her views on these questions.

Kelly, tell us about what Women & Leadership Australia does and what your role in that is?

WLA, as an organisation, is all about our vision to increase the presence of women in leadership roles in business and the wider community. Organisations realise that greater diversity (especially within leadership teams) not only positively affects their bottom line but also increases agility and innovation, among other things. So really, it simply makes good business sense to invest in female talent and find better ways to attract and retain such talent. That is what WLA is all about.

Currently, I am the Head of School/Director for WLA. What this means is that I develop all our leadership programs while leading a team of exceptionally talented leaders who deliver leadership development and diversity programs (for females at all career levels) and run events that celebrate women in leadership, such as our upcoming Women's Leadership Symposiums.

That sounds like an incredible position. Can you tell us a bit more about how you got there? What’s your background?

I am a registered psychologist by trade, so over the course of my career I have become a specialist in large-scale culture change programs, especially those underpinned by psychology and neuroscience. In particular, I focus on executive leadership and high-potential leadership development within organisations. In terms of industries that I have worked in, prior to having my daughter I worked predominantly in mining and related heavy industries around the world. As you would expect, I often worked only with males. While I enjoyed working in those industries, I really noticed the gender bias that was prevalent and how it impacted on decisions, but more importantly, how it affected what was considered ‘leadership.’

I joined WLA because I wanted to help individuals and organisations drive awareness of gender bias and further provide development for competent and passionate female talent in leadership. It is clear to me that the differences we bring to the table are all equally important, yet not enough female representation in leadership teams means we miss out. This has occurred for too long and it is time things changed.

Given everything you have seen, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing women in business today?

Well, unfortunately I think many women still face similar challenges to what we did a decade or two ago - for example, the ability to integrate all of our needs and wants from a professional and personal perspective, integrating work and life. We are also often faced with challenges in finding career and role opportunities that can satisfy these needs.

Then there is gaining equal pay. Are things getting better? A little bit, but we are still paid on average 16 per cent less than our male counterparts. This is compounded (in the aggregate) by our apparent reluctance to apply for a job at the next level up, though there is the fact that we are not often seen as having the greatest potential for success in higher level roles. This all comes down to unconscious bias and a society and culture driven by expectations of how females should behave.

Although these challenges all sound daunting, I am proud to say that at WLA we have tools and techniques to assist with all of these challenges.

Do you believe women can ‘have it all?’

Definitely. I think something to be mindful of with this question is firstly that what ‘it all’ is to me may not be ‘it all’ to you and vice versa. Also, who said we could not have it all? Why would we listen to them anyway?

And lastly, you mentioned that WLA has regular events. How do you think women can benefit from attending your events?

Firstly, the atmosphere at the events is incredible. Energy levels are always high with speakers who offer knowledge and inspiration around women and leadership. In addition, there are short development sessions focusing on offering tools to address the challenges noted before.

Of course, there are also the great networking benefits though, for me, our events go deeper than networking. We know from research that developing strategic networks is beneficial from a connectedness perspective and that key protective factors of our ‘fit, functioning and growth’ include working with other women. Often, as we move up in organisational hierarchies we tend to find a decrease in the number of peers who are female.

WLA events offer you the opportunity to surround yourself with these peers from all industries and sectors while benefitting from our leadership development expertise. They are the perfect place to strategically network and accelerate your growth potential.

Want to attend the next WLA event? You’re in luck! WLA is hosting the Women's Leadership Symposiums in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, Melbourne, Darwin and Hobart in 2018.

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