Helping women accelerate their leadership journey

Thursday, 2 March 2017
Diversity is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’ for businesses says leading consultant and trainer Michelle Redfern.

In supporting International Women's Day next month, we'll be sharing profiles of women in engineering in the lead-up to our two events planned for Melbourne and Sydney.

Michelle Redfern is a passionate advocate of diversity, and has held senior roles in the telco, BPO and 3PL industries with companies including NAB, Telstra, Serco and Aegis over the last 25 years. She is now a partner in Lighthouse, Leadership, Strategy and Training.

Here, Redfern discusses her views on diversity, as well as her upcoming workshop, part of a series of events organised by Engineers Australia marking International Women's Day on March 8 and 9.

When did you start to become actively involved in promoting diversity in the workplace?

I have been aware of women being considered differently all my working life, but it was when I moved into the corporate world that I started to face overt bias. I usually reacted like a raging bull; I would confront it and call it out.

Then about ten years ago, I had an awakening and thought: ‘It’s not them, it’s me!’. I knew I wanted to leave the world a better place for my daughter and my nieces, so I had to change my language and approach to activate change. As a result, I now promote the business case for diversity; that it is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’ for businesses.

What is the current situation in Australia with regard to diversity?

Currently - with a few exceptions - the performance is highly variable, and generally poor and static. Some companies such as Aurecon and Telstra are making strong assertions, but there is still a long way to go.

How can companies improve diversity in their workplaces?

The first thing companies have to do is ask ‘What are our numbers? What is our gender and cultural diversity at every layer?’ and then work out what problem they need to solve. Quoting the male champions of change, it should be 50/50 women to men. If it is not - then someone has to ask ‘Why not?’

I am now an advocate for quotas. I wasn't until I realised that I had the talent, ability and competency and I was still overlooked for roles. Since then, I have got a role because of a quota, but then made sure that once I was in I got things done. And quotas are not just about including people but empowering them too.

What are the hurdles companies face in increasing diversity?

Motherhood statements are not enough. Forcing managers to go through unconscious bias training just makes them cranky. I believe it is about changing the company culture. Top down is better; start at the leadership level, the CEO and a couple of layers below need to openly advocate for diversity, lead by example and be held accountable, so that every level of the business understands what is happening from the entry level and the young graduates upwards.

Organisations need to ask ‘Who is our customer?’ and then their staff should reflect that diversity; by ethnicity, age, disability and gender.

What will participants take away from your workshop?

The first thing is that these are not ‘fix women’ workshops. They are designed to give women the information to increase their professional presence and impact. Most women are naturally good at EQ. Of course I am generalising, but the best piece of career advice that many women receive is ‘understand how the business works’.

We are going to talk about the missing 33 per cent. It is assumed men have the competency to enter the C-Suite, whereas women have to prove it; prove they have the IQ, that they know the finance, the language and the numbers. I will guide them how to break down the barriers and accelerate their leadership journey.  

[Michelle Redfern is co-hosting the Masterclass with Susan Colantuono at Engineers Australia’s International Women’s Day events in Melbourne on 8 March and Sydney 9 March. Find out more.]