Women in Trades and Leadership
Earlier this week, Jade Collins of Femeconomy, an organisation assisting in supporting favourite brands with women leaders, interview me and released an amazing article on being a successful female leader in industry. I thought I would share my responses, and the article, with you below.
Penelope Twemlow is an exceptionally accomplished leader. She has risen to her three concurrent roles of Chair of Women in Power, Chair of Queensland Electrical Safety Education Committee and CEO of Energy Skills Queensland through a series of challenging positions in heavily male dominated industries. Penelope’s career started off as a Warfare Officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), where she drove and navigated naval warships. On the way to her final RAN position of Chief of Staff, one of the roles Penelope undertook was Police Investigator with the Australian Defence Force.
Penelope was recently announced as the Queensland winner of the Telstra Business Women’s For Purpose and Social Enterprise Award, and is an overall Australian Finalist for that category.
We wanted to share Penelope’s story on a few fronts. She is a Board Director. A CEO. Has a list of undergraduate and post graduate qualifications that won’t all fit on this page in IT, Economics, Health, Safety, Environment, MBA, Quality, Auditing, Training and Project Management. But there’s more…
Penelope, what advice would you give to women who want to work in Trades?
Being a woman in today’s competitive job market can be a challenge, particularly if you are hoping to start your career in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as a trade, or in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. But there are certain things that can assist in minimising the challenges you will face as a woman starting a career in a trade.
First and foremost, find a mentor to guide your career. Many women have already navigated the typical male-dominated field and have learnt what works and what doesn’t work. Rather than repeat their mistakes, learn from these successful women and be advised by them by following up with them regularly.
However, this is not to say that you cannot learn from your male counterparts. Choose a male role model in your trade and learn from them. Understand their approach to work and learn how they have achieved success in the trade you have chosen.
It is always important, no matter what industry or job you are doing, to be confident. Being confident will help you get noticed more and will provide you and your colleagues a sense of ease as they will know that you mean business. Just be careful not to overstep confidence and becoming cocky!
You have to be different to the rest; you have to have something that everyone else doesn’t have. Once you have found what this ‘edge’ is, make sure you cultivate it and derive strength from it. Never succumb to people who says you need to change in order to conform. Make your mark on your field and be brilliant.
Most importantly, whatever you do, you must want it! You have to live, eat and breathe what you do, particularly if you are going to be spending a substantial amount of time training to get qualified and subsequently, working in a culture that is predominantly male-dominated. Knowledge is power, so continue to learn and prove yourself as an unstoppable force.
What do you think organisations need to do to encourage more female leadership?
The presence and status of women in paid employment has improved dramatically over the last half century. However, the progression of professional women into positions of leadership has been slow. Women find it more difficult to rise to positions of leadership in environments that are highly male-dominated, irrespective of the sector of employment.
For a long time now, there has been a strong case for enhancing the contribution of executive women to the achievement of organisational objectives. We have been talking about how to get more women into leadership roles for decades. The term ‘glass ceiling’ was coined more than 30 years ago and yet, women still hold less than 20% of the seats on corporate boards at S&P 500 companies. Whether from an ethical, public good or humanitarian perspective, the case for participation of women at the executive level is rising.
In order to encourage more female leadership, we need significant change. Each and every industry, organisation and person must have a committed leadership focus on the economic and broader performance dividend that can be achieved by attracting and retaining quality women managers and optimising the contribution of women in management.
A major problem in encouraging more female leadership is when an organisation only pays lip service to their ‘diversity’ goals. Leaders consistently outline that diversity is a priority for their workforces, but this expectation, generally, never holds any teeth. Leaders need to walk the talk and place actions behind the importance for diverse and gender balanced teams. Organisations must continue to adopt strategies to facilitate gender diversity within their workforces and must work diligently to weed out unconscious and subtle inhibitors that prohibit women in leadership roles.
Organisations must set clear, numerical goals or quotas and hold leaders accountable for meeting them. Commitment must be shown through actions AND words, showing true corporate leadership. This includes ensuring recruitment, development and HR-related activities are on board as well. Most importantly, organisations must build and sustain a culture of inclusion, collaboration and innovation. Old systems and processes such as recruitment, performance management, succession planning, and talent development must be reviewed to ensure there is a non-biased and consistent process to identify, develop, and advance leaders in their organisation.
If we want to finally make real progress on promoting more women in to leadership roles, after decades of talking about it, men, women and organisations all need to step up and take decisive action to make it happen.
What do you love most about what you do?
A great man once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.” That man was Steve Jobs.
I firmly believe that you should love what you do rather than do what you love.
In each of my career roles, I know that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
I love what I do because it involves people and improving a process. An organisation is not successful without its’ people; human capital is an organisation’s number one resource so I enjoy making sure that my team are consistently engaged and happy. I also enjoy taking a process and improving it so that it is more efficient and effective.
What has been the most significant step in your career?
I have had many proud moments in my life, from blitzing my beam routine in gymnastics when I was a young girl to defending and representing my country in the Australian Defence Force. However, in the last five years, my proudest achievement has been two-fold as they are interlinked: the first was attaining my five-year goal of the CEO position; the second was graduating from the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) whilst being employed full-time as a CEO.
Since I was a young girl, I have known that I was destined to lead and manage teams and organisations. I have worked diligently and tirelessly throughout my career to position myself, both experience and qualifications-wise, to attain the CEO position. In 2015, I was recognised for my efforts in the energy industry and my abilities for leadership and management, subsequently gaining the title of CEO of Energy Skills Queensland. I am unbelievably proud that I have reached this position, particularly in the high-risk and male-dominated industries in which I have worked.
Since 2010, I have wanted to complete the AICD course so that I could achieve my goal of remunerated Board memberships. In early 2016, after five years of dedicated on-the-job learning and coaching/mentoring from experts, I graduated from the AICD.
Along the pathway to the above two achievements, I learnt the following:
· The pursuit of happiness is about finding meaning – the lifelong pursuit of happiness is elusive; it’s not based on a particular outcome; it’s really about pursuing meaning and living a meaningful life
· Seeking validation from others invalidates you – the only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday. Prove yourself to yourself, not others. You are good enough, smart enough and strong enough. You don’t need other people to validate you; you are already valuable
· Regret hurts far worse than fear – it is only when we risk losing that we truly open the possibility to win
· Life is too unpredictable for rigid expectations – when you stop predicting and expecting things to be a certain way, you can appreciate them for what they are
· Unanticipated hardships are inevitable and helpful – it’s not about how hard life can hit you, it’s about how hard you can be hit while continuing to move forward.
However, I must admit that my recent award of the Queensland Telstra Business Women’s Award for the For Purpose and Social Enterprise category has definitely left its mark on me and my family. I am honoured that my hard work and dedication over the last 16 years has been recognised, and I am thankful that my family have been rewarded for putting up with me for so long!
To be recognised for doing something that I love is the absolute icing on top of the cake.
Did anyone mentor you in your career and how important was this?
I see mentoring and networking as an essential leadership skill. In addition to managing and motivating people, it’s also important that we can help others learn, grow and become more effective in their jobs. Mentoring and networking is a critical component to success and an essential element to support career development and progression. Mentoring and networking opportunities allow access to an experienced source of advice and guidance, provides support with problem solving and handling difficult situations and delivers a non-judgemental and safe place to voice challenges and frustrations. Most importantly, it offers access to resources and networks that would have otherwise been unknown to individuals.
Throughout my career, I have had a number of mentors, each of whom have assisted in making me the person I am today. During the Forces, I was provided career direction and assistance from a very successful Naval Officer named Commander Larry Menon and an Air Force Airmen called FSGT Sean O’Dowd. Each of these two men provided me strength and saw me through some difficult times as a Warfare Officer and Military Police Investigator.
From a personal perspective, I cannot underestimate what I have learnt from my family. My mother and father have never ceased to amaze me with their energy, dedication and time to myself and my brother and sisters. My twin sister and I have always been competitive, but she has made me competitive in the sense that I must strive for greatness; she has been my rock for my entire life and will continue to be my mentor for the remainder. My elder sister and elder brother have always been able to provide a home-base, grounding me and ensuring my dedication to my causes are for the right reasons.
Most recently, I have had the unwavering support of two mentors: Peter Price, who is the Chair of my Board, who provides me generalist management guidance and CEO-specific assistance, and Mark McKenna, who provides me guidance on team management, safety and leadership. Without these two gentlemen, I do not believe that I would be as successful as I am today, nor would I be as sane! J
Over the course of my career, I have learned that, while having a mentor is one of the most valuable things you can do in your career, being one can also be a hugely rewarding experience. However, mentorship involves more than just giving career advice. When you are asked to be someone’s mentor, the mentee is actually asking you to champion them and actively them grow and succeed. My mentorship experience has proven that mentees want someone to make a personal investment in their professional success and believe in them. To me, being a mentor is a project with tangible results: the success of your mentee.
Anyone can be a mentor; being a good mentor takes time and energy. A good mentor is one that is patient, listens, provides advice and understands what the mentee wants to accomplish. Any advice they give should be clear, without conflict, and transparent. Equally, the mentee must identify their goals and determine what help they need to accomplish these.
It is critical that each of us understand the value that mentoring and networking tools provide our career. We must also understand that both being a mentee and mentor require preparation and effort and the investment of time should be seen as an investment in one’s career.
What is your vision for Women in Power?
As we are all well aware, there has been a noticeable push by the government to promote the skilled trades for women and a number of governmental agencies and interest groups have been established to give women a helping hand for their start in trades. Women in Power is one such organisation. Women in Power is a Not-For-Profit organisation whose mission is to promote and improve the electrical and electrotechnology industry by the advancement of women within it. It provides a forum for its members to meet and exchange information, ideas and solutions and offers individual members an opportunity to expand personal and business networks, maintain awareness of industry developments, improve skills and knowledge, and make a contribution to other women in the industry.
Over the coming years, my fellow Women in Power Board members and I will be the voice for women in the Electrotechnology industry. Women in Power will provide ongoing coaching, mentorship and advice to women already in the trade, or women whom are thinking about joining the trade, to ensure that the electrical workforces of the future are without gender bias. Women in Power will provide concrete, actionable practices for women seeking to transition to the next level of leadership while maximising their contribution to their organisation. Women in Power will start the conversation, assisting women to redefine their roles and impact as leaders and will assist in the development of new possibilities for us all. Women in Power will grow each individual’s power and influence, leaving a legacy of women who are visionaries and women who are connected.
Being a woman in today’s competitive job market can be a challenge, particularly if you are hoping to start your career in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as a trade, or in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. First and foremost, find a mentor to guide your career. Many women have already navigated the typical male-dominated field and have learnt what works and what doesn’t work. Learn from successful women.
Choose a male role model in your trade and learn from them. Understand their approach to work and learn how they have achieved success in the trade you have chosen.
It is always important, no matter what industry or job you are doing, to be confident. You have to be different to the rest; you have to have something that everyone else doesn’t have. Once you have found what this ‘edge’ is, make sure you cultivate it and derive strength from it. Never succumb to people who say you need to change in order to conform. Make your mark on your field and be brilliant.
If there was one piece advice you would give to a future female leader, what would it be?
Never compromise on your integrity.
Integrity is a choice, and while it is influenced by a myriad of factors such as culture, upbringing, influences etc., it cannot be forced. Our standards of integrity are our core principles and values that guide our behaviour. If you have strong and well-defined standards of integrity, you lead by example, and you behave with honesty and do right by yourself and others.
Those who are guided by a strong sense of integrity fare much better in professional life, and will be successful where others fail.