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Just Promoted? What to Watch for

You've done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities.  Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination

Ralph Marston

I spoke recently at a Women Lawyers Association luncheon on the tips and traps for newly promoted partners.  Being promoted to partnership is  an exciting time —  to get to the place you have worked hard to be, and to be recognised for your skills.   This should be one of the most exciting times of your career but it also comes with some  great challenges for which you might not be prepared.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Here are some of the things you need to be on the look out for once you're promoted:

Sink or swim – Some firms have a mentoring program in place and a new partner induction — and others don't.  Do you have a support network to assist or a mentor in the partnership or outside it?  Sometimes you get promoted and then look around and say ‘now what’?  Who can you go to for help in navigating around all of this new information and new tasks and responsibilities?  Those who have gone before you may have no sympathy because they too had to sink or swim.

No you under you — by this I mean when you were a Senior Associate or Special Counsel and you are promoted, who is going to do the work you did?  The success of your practice and profitability depends on leverage. If you continue to do the same sort of work at partner rates with no one to whom to delegate you will struggle to maintain profitability.  You have additional responsibilities with admin, people and BDM – you need a 'you under you' to delegate work, and free up time to do more high level work, business development and people development.

Have you grown up with the firm? — Some other partners and potentially clients may see you still as the ‘young girl’ who started as a graduate or junior lawyer and in a group setting treat you as such. This is usually not intentional and part of an unconscious bias which will remain unconscious until it is pointed out or there is a crisis and you lose your temper!  It is important to set boundaries early on in  relation to how you are treated. You are a partner, not a junior lawyer.

Are you now supervising friends?

This is one of the hardest things to deal with. There will be some things you can’t talk about with your friend and there will be some things she will not want to share with you.  This is tricky ground but with all things, talking about the issue early and honestly solves most problems.

Some friends may be jealous of your achievement and if you were at the same level, may resent your promotion.  Watch out for this — many a friendship has foundered on someone else’s promotion.  Women's agenda wrote an article about this recently which you can read here.

Multiple responsibilities – You may find the transition to partnership brings with it a whole new set of responsibilities.  Admin, supervision, delegation, Business Development. Most of these things you have probably been dealing with before but it is taken to a whole new level and that brings with it stress. Notice when you have too much on your plate.   And by the way — just because you are a woman doesn't mean you get to be 'the partner in charge of everything from social club to precedents'.  Exercise your 'no' muscle frequently when you are asked to take on more and more administrative duties.

Find a way to practice that suits you.  It is important that you set the pace and set the way you intend to practice.  Start off as you mean to go and develop the culture you want.  







Coaching to achieve your goals - any goals

You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.

Bob Nelson

I acheieved something the other day that I never thought I would ever do.  I started, and finished, a 5km run.  This is probably not very impressive to a lot of people, but the people who know me are mightily impressed, and frankly, a bit surprised.  As am I.  But mostly I am very pleased with myself.

Eight weeks ago, I decided to learn to run.   I had previously attempted this with Apps like 'Couch to 5K', and got a certain way, and then gave up.  This time however I got myself a coach - in fact several coaches.  I have a wonderful PT who loves to run, and encourages me, and I also joined an on line running group - with 'virtual' coaches, run via facebook and email, in small groups, with a week by week program.

As a career coach and mentor, I know the impact a coach can have on a client.  I know this - challenging established thinking, setting goals, celebrating wins, helping people get back on track when they become demotivated.  This is what made me achieve that goal of a 5 km run and I could not have done it without the help of a coach, or in this case, a number of coaches.

I set weekly goals.

It was hard work, but I did it.

When I felt like I was about to fail, my coach was there to lift me up.

When I ran my fastest 1km, I had a cheer squad.

When I didn't do all my runs one week, it was OK, but I committed to getting back on track the folllowing week.

It felt and feels fantastic.

And now I will be setting new goals.

What do you think you could achieve, if you had a career coach?

P.S. If you would like to learn more about about the online running program, have a look at Operation Move





Feminism - are you doing it the 'right' way?

We all fight over what the label 'feminism' means but for me it's about empowerment.  It's not about being more powerful than men — it's about having equal rights with protection, support, justice.  It's about very basic things. It's not a badge like a fashion item.

Annie Lennox

Emma Watson, the 24 year old actress, best known as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movies  was appointed a UN Goodwill Ambassador earlier this year and earlier this month delivered a speech at the UN.   Headquarters in New York, to launch the UN Women campaign HeForShe.  This campaign calls for men to advocate for gender equality. She spoke of her childhood, of being sexualised by the press as a young actress.  The HeForShe campaign is not  new concept. In Australia we have the Male Champions of Change program.  

During the speech Ms Watson said that feminism had to stop being perceived as 'man-hating' to be successful, and that men were also victims of gender stereotyping.  Cue the criticism of the twitterati.  

Ms Watson's speech received a standing ovation at the UN.  But it seems in not conforming to the very stereotype she is trying to battle, by 'inviting' men to be part of the conversation, she is not doing feminism in the right way.  In a piece published in main stream media, and mentioned too many times to count, Clementine Ford wrote that the speech was 'hardly a game changer'.  The title given to the piece on-line referred to her speech as 'rubbish' and Ms Ford belittled Ms Watson's views as rubbish in the article. To be honest, I'm not sure the speech was intended to be a game changer — it was one young feminist giving her views on feminism and the HeForShe campaign.  Here is one quote from Ms Ford:

-I'm sorry to the Grinch who stole Popular Feminism, but this is utter rubbish.  Gender inequality comes as a direct result of the enforcement of patriarchal structures. Although men are impacted negatively by it, they are not impacted in the same ways or to the same drastically violent extent as women.

This is of course all true. However, it does the cause of feminism no good to have writers like Ford demolishing anyone who dares to suggest another, perhaps softer, view, as if there is some special club one has to be in to claim to be a 'proper' feminist.  As I have said before we can all call ourselves feminists if we believe equal work deserves equal pay; that workplaces need to be free from sexual harassment, that promotion should be on merit, that women have the right to choose what happens with and to their bodies.  Everything else is a bonus — and all feminist views should be supported and respected and not disparaged.  






Unlimited leave? -- check the fine print

You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn to walk by doing, and by falling over

Richard Branson

Richard Branson is an entrpreneur, and a very successful one.  So I am not about to make a song and dance about how ridiculous his latest plan is, to do away with annual leave, as such, and allow staff to take leave as and when they see fit.  Except it is ridiculous, as are the headlines.  But the headlines make for excellent PR.

The Virgin Group employs thousands of people and this scheme is going to apply to about 160 people in the UK and the USA.  These people will be a certain group of people with very clear KPIs, budgets and projects to complete, and probably high achieving type A personalities who struggle to take leave at the best of times. Assuming they are not in constant contact with the office while they are on leave anyway.  They are not the client or customer facing, low paid workers who can't possibly just decide not to turn up to work one day because they feel like having a day off.  A baggage handler or cabin steward working for one of the Virgin airlines for instance will not enjoy unlimited and unplanned leave.

But there are innovative ways employers can offer more leave, and not be quite as bold as Richard Branson.

More and more employers are discovering that flexibilty with employees pays off in terms of lower turnover, increased morale and productivity.  Additional, salary sacrificed leave is one of the ways this can be easily done.  Designing jobs so that peak times are acknowledged as requiring long hours, and in down times offering reduced hours or additional days off is also an innovation that works in some industries.  One off, special leave days such as the first day of school for a child, or the day someone becomes a grandparent (or allowing those people to access carer's leave for that purpose) are also innovative and easy to implement.

Think laterally about how you run your business and how you can implement some changes to the way your leave policies work - for both you and your employees.

Networking, by accident

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas, as in escaping old ones

- John Maynard Keynes


I have just returned from a holiday in New Zealand and arranged my return date around a lunch at which Seth Godin was speaking, in Sydney yesterday.  There were what seemed like 1000 people in the room and the speaker was excellent, as you would expect if you have read anything he has written. But it was not what I would call a networking event, as much as I enjoyed the conversation at my table.

Today I had lunch with someone I had met through twitter and she invited another friend along, who in turn was having a business meeting with two colleagues at the same restaurant, about the future of her business.

Needless to say, we ended up joining tables and  our friendly lunch and the business meeting turned into an astonishing example of collaboration at its best – the ideas were flowing, the conversation was intelligent and humourous, the ideas were endless, and in the process, I got to connect with some amazing women I would otherwise not have met and also had the opportunity to learn from them and their experiences, and contribute to the conversation.

Networking doesn’t have to be hard work and you find connections in the most interesting of places – every day is an opportunity to meet new people, and more importantly, learn something new, even if it is just a different perspective

Thank you Ash, Kayte, Caro and Michelle


Workplace Conflict Resolution 101

If you want to bring an end to long-standing conflict, you have to be prepared to compromise.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Very few workplaces are conflict free.  Everyone is different in some way — the way we think, act, and react is often different to that of others.  Our perceptions of things that are said can vary from not only what is said but the intention of what is being said.  Communication breakdowns because of this are very common.

I am often asked to assist in mediating between two employees who have been experiencing conflict.  Often, it has been an ongoing problem for a while so that the problem, whatever it was originally, is forgotten and it is just two people who can’t ‘get on’.  The word 'personality clash' is then used to describe what is actually a communication clash.

As an external consultant, the skills I use to assist in resolving this tension and conflict are skills that you can learn.  Here are some quick tips:

Know your role

The role of a mediator is not to solve the problem (tempting as it might be!).  The role of the mediator is to help the people involved resolve the conflict, in a collaborative way, themselves.

Be prepared

Find out as much detail about the issue and the people involved as you can before attempting to mediate.  Talk to both people separately, getting an idea of their major concerns, what they are prepared to compromise on, what, if anything, they can see from the other person’s perspective.  And plan, as far as possible, how the meeting will go.

Be impartial

This is particularly important if you know and work with both parties — you might know one more than the other, work more closely with one than the other. One person may be a senior manager and the other a junior employee so a perceived power imbalance, if you too, are a senior manager, can lead to perceived impartiality.  Perceptions of lack of impartiality will cause a mediation to fail before it even starts.

Agree ground rules, or what I call 'terms of engagement'

When you bring both parties together, set and agree ground rules, including:

  • The role of the mediator is not to dictate solutions, but to encourage the parties to find their own
  • Confidentiality – keep the matters discussed between the parties, subject to the mediator discussing the resolution with HR or management
  • One person to speak at a time — no interruptions
  • Each person is to be truthful about their concerns and willingness to find resolution
  • Active listening — each party is to listen to what the other person is saying
  • Don’t use pronouns ('he', 'she').  Use each other’s names at all times
  • If voices are raised the mediator will ask the person speaking to stop, take a deep breath and speak calmly
  • Avoid blaming language

Finding a solution

Finding a solution can be easy when two people talk calmly together, but is often not. Each party will have their own view of events and the relationship breakdown.  When listening, ask questions to find common ground.  The mediator must give each person the chance to speak openly and honestly, and without judgement, while at the same time ensuring that both parties avoid blame and accusations, and accept responsibility for their part in the problem. Find out if they can see the issue from the other person’s perspective.  After they have both spoken find out what they can agree on.  There might be many things, there may be few.  But if it is looking like few, try and find one.  Even if it is both that they enjoy working for the organisation, that is a good place to start.  You’ll be surprised once one piece of common ground is found how it can lead to others.

Compromise is essential — especially when it seems they are poles apart.  The trick is to bring their perceptions closer together.

Remember people are more likely to stick to a resolution to a problem if they come up with the solution themselves. A mediation conducted well will also rebuild trust between the parties and their trust in the organisation, having been supported in this way.

Follow up

Once agreement on a way forward is reached, it is vital that you check in with both parties to make sure it is working and that both are sticking to their side of the bargain.



Safe Harbour

A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.

William Shedd

We all want, and need, safety. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, safety and security are second only to the physical needs of food and water, and breath.

In our careers, we can often take the 'easy' road.  The path of least resistance   We do things the same way, accept the status quo, work in the same industry. Opportunities present themselves and we either take them, if they feel familiar, and low risk, or refuse them, if our sense of security or safety is challenged.  We imagine all of the things that could go wrong, magnify them, and assume they will ALL happen, instead of focusing on the possibilities, and relishing them.

I worked with a client recently who was contemplating a change in direction.  This idea had been bubbling along for a while, but she kept finding reasons why she couldn't do it. She said that she had never really succeeded because she  told me that everything in her life had been 'presented' to her.  This is called the 'Imposter Syndrome', where we think that any day now the people we work with are going to find out we are not really as good as everyone thinks we are.  Never mind that she worked hard to study her chosen degree after just missing out on getting into that course when she first left school; that she had, with a colleague, started her own firm; that she had had two children and still managed to be a business owner, and employer, and an engaged mother; that she made enormous contributions to her profession.  In her mind, she had never been really challenged  before, so therefore the risk of failing was unlikely.

I recalled an article I read called The Elegant Secret to Self-Discipline by David Cain.  If we are currently experiencing the result of decisions of our past selves; then the decision we make today contribute to our future selves.

Her 'safe harbour' was the familiar path she had trodden for the previous 10 years — and yet she was passionate about the area of practice to which she wanted to move.  The more she spoke of it, the clearer it became. Decisions she made about her career in the past moulded the person she was now, and where she was; so too, would decisions made TODAY, affect her future self.  So we sat down together and worked out what the rough seas were likely to be; what challenges might present themselves and what the response will be.

It was an incredibly exhilerating meeting for both of us.

And she will do it.  I know she will.

Are you forever moored in a safe harbour?  You might need to 'up anchor' and sail away...



10 easy ways to show gratitude

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude.  Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness.  Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.

Henri Frederic Amiel

I have written before on the subject of gratitude and how important it is in the workplace.

Here are 10 simple and easy ways to show the people you work with how much you appreciate them:

  1. Say thank you. Look them in the eye and say thank you.

  2. Leave a surprise post it note on their desk or computer.

  3. For a team thank you, organise a cake for morning tea one day.

  4. Make someone a tea or coffee without asking them.

  5. Tell someone else, in your staff member's hearing, what a great job they did.

  6. Start an ABCD club — awards (monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, whatever works for you) for staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

  7. Start a seasonal tradition and have a small celebration.  Or a big one.

  8. Celebrate big wins or good jobs for clients and customers with the whole team and make a big deal about the fact that it is a thank you to the team effort not celebrating the fee or profit.

  9. If someone has been working longer than normal hours, surprise them with a 'get out of jail free' card to leave early one day.

  10. Start a tradition for those with children starting school for the first time that they can either have the day off or work reduced hours that day.

These are just a few simple ideas to help make your staff feel valued, appreciated, and most importantly, engaged.  But the possibilities are endless!



The Key to Building Confidence

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face...we must do that which we think we cannot.

Eleanor Roosevelt


Confidence. It is a powerful attribute to have in your tool kit.

Not only does it help determine how others view us, but it is also plays a key part in how we view ourselves — in our ability to handle stressful situations, take on difficult tasks,  and to confront our fears in both our professional and personal lives.

Confidence is something most of us wish we had more of. We all understand its power and value, but feel we lack it in our daily lives.  Imagine a world where you are a more confident version of yourself. What does that world look like? How does your life change?

With more confidence would you be brave enough to ask for that promotion you feel is richly deserved but as yet as gone without mention? Would you deliver an important presentation in front of your managers and peers with more poise and control? Would you enjoy the challenges placed before you just that little bit more, knowing you are well positioned to succeed? I am sure the answer in every case is yes.

So, how can you build your confidence? Is there a simple and effective technique? The answer, again, is YES.

The key is to start by adjusting your body language. By simply adopting a series of positive ‘high power poses’ — body postures that convey competence and power — for two minutes each day, you can dramatically improve your confidence and change your life.

The theory behind high power poses gained momentum when social psychologist Amy Cuddy detailed the benefits in her TedGlobal talk Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.

Cuddy and her research team studied the impact of body language on hormone levels, particularly testosterone and cortisol. The findings were clear. “Your body language shapes who you are,” says Cuddy.

In the study, those displaying negative or passive body language, such as slouching, crossing arms in front of the body, or hunching and rounding shoulders, recorded increased cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone) and decreased levels of testosterone (the body's dominance hormone). Those adopting positive power poses, such as placing hands on hips or throwing arms in the air like a runner crossing the finish line, recorded the exact opposite. Their stress hormone was lower and testosterone increased.

So what does this mean for you and building up your confidence? Do you need to channel Usain Bolt and run arms aloft into your next big meeting? Luckily the answer is no, you just do it in private!

The easiest way to boost your confidence before your next big meeting, presentation or stressful situation is to simply finding a quiet place — try your desk, the bathroom, or the stairwell — and take two minutes to adopt a series of power poses.

Cuddy says the simple process of ‘faking’ these high power poses change testosterone and cortisol levels, which in turn increases our appetite for risk, causes us to perform better and configures our brains to cope well in stressful situations. “Two minutes can significantly change the outcome of your life,” she says.

These poses, when practiced regularly over time, then become internalised. No longer are you ‘faking’ the confidence boost that comes from the poses, but you are now operating with that level of confidence daily. Cuddy says it is simply a matter of “faking it until you become it”.

I have utilised the practice of high power poses with many of my clients, always with remarkable results. It is a simple yet effective practice. One client, with a strong fear of public speaking, used deep breathing exercises and adopting an authoritative hands-on-hips stance in order to calm her nerves and create a positive mind set before presenting to a room full of national partners at a law firm. She nailed the presentation. Another ran up and down the stairs in the fire escape for two minutes to increase his heart rate and feel physically and mentally ready for an aggressive sales meeting, where he needed to ensure his message was heard.  The running increased his heart rate which also matched what was happening with his stress response as well.

The list goes on, but the outcome is always the same. Those practicing positive power poses experience an initial boost in confidence, which helps them to perform in an immediate situation. Over time this confidence boost becomes a permanent state of being.

In the words of Marcus Cicero  

If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.  With confidence, you have won even before you have started'

The more you use positive high power poses the more authentically confident you become.

To watch Amy Cuddy’s TedGlobal talk click here

Leadership and career lessons with Rosemary Vilgan, Telstra Business Woman of the Year 2013

Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine

Lance Secretan


I had the pleasure recently to sit with Rosemary Vilgan, CEO of QSuper and the winner of the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year award for 2013, and talk to her about her career and experience as a leader.  Rosemary won the Queensland award along with the state awards in Government and Innovation before being announced as the national winner in November 2013.

photo courtesy of QSuper website

One of the things that brought Rosemary to the attention of the judges was her drive to introduce a different strategy for superannuation, based not on a comparative rate of return against other funds, but results for individuals, or groups of individuals. From the QSuper website:

Driven by hearing fear in the voices of people whose superannuation savings were slashed by the GFC, Ms Vilgan said the retirement plans of many Australians were left in disarray… With board support, Ms Vilgan and her team introduced QSuper Lifetime, a product that she says is designed to give members “dignity in retirement.” It provides a more tailored investment strategy based on the age and savings of a cohort of individual members and the economic cycle, integrated with financial advice.


You can read more about the award and Rosemary at the Telstra website here .


Q: What went through your mind when you found out someone wanted to nominate you for the Telstra awards?

A: I was first nominated nearly a decade  ago and at the time I was, of course, flattered and I felt a great sense of obligation to the person who thought so much of me to nominate me for this award, rather than impressed with myself!  I did reach the State finals at that time.  Telstra continued to write to me to go into the running, and last year I felt different about it – I had achieved so much more personally and professionally in the Superannuation industry since then that I felt it was worth re-entering.


Q: You won three awards at the state level (government, innovation and the state award) and then the national award. How did that feel?

It was a very different experience winning the state award, and in some ways more thrilling.  We had a number of tables at the first event, and my husband, children, my sisters and their families were all there.  For me, having my family there as supporters , including my own children and nieces and nephews, was wonderful — it wasn’t just about me, but about them seeing such an incredible group of women achieving in all different areas of work and in their communities.  That’s really what the awards are about.  But yes, for me, of course it is an incredible honour, particularly in light of the work I had done in challenging the way the superannuation industry operates.


Q:  Aside from your leadership in terms of the superannuation industry changes was there anything in particular you think helped with the award?

A:  It is quite an intense process in preparing the proposal itself in terms of the details required.  I thought very carefully about selecting the people who would be my referees — along with my own boss (Chairman of QSuper), I asked my head of HR because I thought it was important that anyone who wins an award like this has to be known as someone who treats their staff well, as well as having pure business skills and leadership skills. Because good leadership is all about having and developing good people.


Q:  I remember reading an article that said in a presentation to staff you said something like ‘decisions we make today will affect what people eat in their retirement’.  What did you mean by that?

A: For me, it’s very important for our staff to realise that financial performance IS about the people who have entrusted us to make  decisions about their superannuation fund for when they reach retirement age.   It is about human beings.  It is not just about how we are doing compared to other funds.   When the GFC hit, we had to radically rethink how we made decisions and became market leaders as a result.


Q: Did you have a career plan?

A: Not as such, at first.  After graduating from University with a Bachelor of Business (QUT)  I worked in both the Public Trustee’s office and the  Premier’s Department.  I  moved to the Government  Superannuation Office in Treasury when superannuation became compulsory, as I knew then that there would be great possibilities for career growth.  I decided to undertake a  Diploma in Superannuation Management, of which I was dux.  And that was the start.


Q: Did you have a moment when you realised you were a leader or was it pointed out to you?

The then CEO approached me when I was 29 or so and said he thought I had potential to be CEO.  At the time I was head of Policy, and it had honestly not occurred to me.  But he made sure that I was then exposed to a broad range of skills development  to give me well rounded experience. I knew it was going to be a big step if it was going to happen.

Through my role as head of Policy, I also became involved at a national level through the Association of Superannuation Funds Australia.  When the position of Chair of the Board became available, two colleagues on the Board nominated me for the position and I believed then that I could do it.  I may not have put my hand up myself for the role, so I’m glad they nominated me.


Q:  Was this a point where self belief became more important?

A: Yes – this was recognition from industry peers not just work colleagues, which is not to diminish their importance in my career or development — it was just different having people outside my own organisation believing in me.  It opened up incredible opportunities for me.


Q: Did your organisation have career development programs for women?

A:  Not as such, back in those days.  Once I had a clear vision of where I might go (i.e., to the CEO role), the then CEO made sure I got even more exposure and some Board experience.  I went onto our  audit committee which was fantastic experience and I can highly recommend audit committee work to any woman aspiring to leadership or Board positions because you learn a while new skill set.


Q:  What are the best lessons you have  learned as a leader?  

A:  There are three things:

1.     Deal with the ‘big rocks’ first.  What is the big goal?  If you keep the big goal in mind, all the smaller transitions and actions that are needed fall into place so you remain focused on that big goal.  And that big goal has to be regularly and clearly communicated.

2.     Don’t let fear drive decisions, but love.  If what you are proposing is the right thing to do, go with it. Fear (whether of failure, of what people will think) will limit effective decision making.

3.     I talk to my staff a lot — it is important for me to make sure all our staff understand what we are here for, and I make it very human, using real people as examples of why what we do is important.

I believe these things, and having a good team of people in senior management roles,  are the reason our organisation has exceptionally high levels of engagement on every level.



Thank you Rosemary - a remarkable woman and quiet achiever in very important industry.



Wanting equality is not about 'hating' men

All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual

Albert Einstein


Natalie Barr from Channel 7's Sunrise program has caused a stir with an opinion piece describing how she has never experienced discrimination.  The first two paragraphs of her article state:

'Am I the only woman who's not angry at men?  I'm a woman and I have never felt discriminated against.  There.  I've said it.  I'm not angry at men.  I can't remember being passed over for a promotion because of a man and I have never felt undervalued because I'm a woman'

I'm pleased for Natalie Barr.  Seriously pleased she has never experienced discrimination.  That's assuming she knows she actually has not been discriminated against — that decisions about pay and promotion in relation to her career have resulted in equal treatment for her.  And as she works in the media I sincerely hope that as she ages, she is not moved aside for someone younger, or that her salary stagnates to the point that she is earning much less than her male counterparts.  Of which, as she states, she knows nothing.

What troubles me most is her question 'Am I the only woman who's not angry at men?'    Wanting equality in the workplace is not about being angry at men, or hating men. It's not high school.  It is quite possible  however that there are a lot of women out there who ARE angry — not at men, but at a system, unconsciously or otherwise, that holds women back in ways both big and small because of their gender, not their actual abilities.  One need only look at the statistics to see there is something going on other than a 'them vs us' thing — a 17% pay differential, graduate salaries less for women than men, fewer women in leadership, at a time when more and more women are graduating from universities across the nation.

I have worked for many years in a profession that is often in the news, lamented for the lack of women at the top of the career ladder.  It is a source of constant conversationa and tomes have been written - and yet nothing changes.  I continue to work now across a variety of industries and also coach and mentor many women who have or who are currently experiencing discrimination.  And it is not about their abilities.

Here are but a few examples:

When a group of men go to a strip club after a conference dinner and take their male client with them, leaving the only female behind — that's discrimination.

When entertaining a client involves going to a game a rugby and only the male practitioners are invited — that's discrimination.

When a woman is told, to her face, that at 40, she is 'too old' to be considered for promotion to partnership, regardless of her contribution or performance — that's discrimination

When a senior practitioner announces that a particular person would be a good candidate for partnership because at 'her age' she is unlikely to have children — that's discrimination.

When a group of people all at the same level include one woman, who is paid a minimum of  $30K less in salary than the lowest paid of the males in that group — that's discrimination.

When the possibility of a transfer and consequent promotion is discussed with a number of males and not one female — that's discrimination.

When a woman is told at a performance review that there is a perception she is 'not committed' to career advancement because she chooses to go home at 5pm on a Friday (note this is ONE day a week) to be with her family while her male colleagues go out for drinks — that's discrimination.

I could go on.  I could write a book if I had the time as it is a long list. I see it or hear of it every day, and stand up to it, and help women stand up to it as it is not acceptable.

What is missing from your piece, Natalie, is a discussion of opportunity.  Opportunity begets experience which begets more opportunity then promotion and pay rises.  You are fortunate that you had opportunity presented to you, or that you were able to take it. Many women are consciously, but mostly unconsciously, excluded from opportunity because of their gender and because of assumptions made about them  This is a result of years of ingrained thought patterns by decision makers and is not easily challenged because it is often hard to identify.  

It is not about being angry at men, but rather the systems created within organisations by decision makers who are for the most part, male.  So yes, I'm angry.  And I became angrier after reading your opinion piece because frankly, it makes it easy for those who don't believe unconscious bias is an issue to point to this and say 'There.  See.  It IS just about ability'.

No one says it better than Ita Buttrose and Sarah Harris on Studio 10 via the Hoopla website.

I really enjoyed that!




Leaders come in surprise packages

Though she be but little, she is fierce

William Shakespeare

I was saddened today to hear of the death of my first high school principal, Sister Julian, who was headmistress at St Aidan's Anglican Girls' School during all of my high school years.   Sister Julian was my very first experience of witnessing first hand strong leadership, and I consider myself very fortunate that this experience was with a woman and one such as Sister Julian.

Sister Julian was, to be blunt, small in stature.  At 13 she seemed to me to be ancient, but was probably not much older than I am now.  She would have been considered technically blind, and it always seemed a small miracle that she got through school assemblies (where, I might add, you could have heard a pin drop), reading, as she did through thick glasses, with additional help from a magnifying glass.  As someone said to me 'she might have had poor eyesight, but nothing got past her'.

The Shakespeare quote above is not to suggest that Sister Julian was fierce in the strict sense of the word. She was a very gentle person.  She was small, yes, but quietly fierce in the sense that she knew what her values were, the values of the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Advent, what was expected of her, and in turn what she expected of her staff and students.  She was dedicated to her faith, which guided her actions.  Always authentic, and trusted.  When I was a school leader, I, and the other prefects, knew if that we were troubled by what to do in a situation, she could be relied on to give us her opinion, but she always made it clear she was there to guide us, not to dictate to us, trusting that we would make the right decision, and stand by it.  

She spoke very softly and calmly, even when cross.  This alone is a valuable lesson for all leaders, as one had to listen very carefully to make sure you heard what was being said, assuring attention, and retention, of the message.

She did not instil fear; but I remember fearing disappointing her, such was the loyalty and respect she engendered. She took an interest in each student, remembering their names, and personal history.  Parents were always impressed by her ability, even with her limited eyesight, to remember, and engage on a personal level, with everyone with whom she came in contact. She cared deeply about all the students; truly empathetic and compassionate.  Rules were expected to be obeyed, but discipline was administered fairly taking into account severity as well as the personal circumstances of the student involved.  And she also knew when to literally turn a blind eye to minor infractions.

Years after I left school I felt the need to confess to her that I was sometimes taken out of class by a young novice, and fellow cat lover, ostensibly on important business, and we would skive off across and down the road to a lady who not only bred cats, but looked after abandoned kittens to help them be rehomed. Whenever new kittens were there, we would visit.  Sister Julian laughed and said she knew exactly what we were doing as we had to walk past her office to go out the gate, and she would watch us go.  She said that if she had thought it was affecting my school work she would have put a stop to it, but given that I was leaving class to do what she called 'community service' in helping to feed the poor abandoned kittens, and something I loved doing, she thought it was harmless and a secret she could keep.  She made me laugh that day, and I have never forgotten that and other valuable lessons in life and leadership from this extraordinary woman.

She will be remembered with great fondness by many women like me, who grew up at a school, lead by a woman such as this.  How lucky we were, to be able to have our first experience of leadership, and female leadership, with Sister Julian in that role.

Vale Sister Julian.  Rest in Peace.

Per Volar Sunata (born to fly upwards)



Managing your stress response - think like a zebra

The greatest weapon we have against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another

 - William Jones

Human beings have come to accept that stress is a part of everyday life.  Over time prolonged stress can lead to serious health problems.  So if we can't reduce the amount of stress in our lives we had better learn to manage our response to stress.  And this is where thinking like a zebra comes into play.

Zebras spend most of their time wandering around, eating, drinking at waterholes, mating and sleeping. Most of their lives are spent being pretty relaxed.

But every now and then, for about 1-2 minutes they experience sheer terror.  A lion appears and picks out a potential meal from the herd and the chase is on.  The response of the zebras is an automatic one.  Their brains sense danger. They run.  As fast as they can.  Their hearts are racing and limbs pounding –their bodies are automatically responding to the threat.  They are either eaten, or they survive.

But if they survive, they go back to what they were doing before.  The immediate danger is over, and their bodies, and brains return to their normal relaxed state. 

Zebras would be astounded to know that human beings experience the stress response as frequently as we do.

There is an excellent short documentary explaining the stress response by Professor Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University.  He has spent over three decades studying the stress response in humans and animals, and he has also written a book called 'Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers'.  Interestingly baboons have very high levels of stress in the animal kingdom, having nine hours a day to torment each other after eating and sleeping.  The similarities to modern workplaces should not be dismissed.

So what is the stress response?

In humans, our immediate stress response is similar to that of the animal world, and our brains and bodies are hard wired to react to threats and perceived threats. I use the word ‘perceived’ because over time our learned responses to certain stressful situations become embedded in our neural pathways and part and parcel of everyday life.   They are memories that become activated by that particular stressful situation. We have taught our brains to find stress in the unlikeliest of places, and react accordingly. Over and over again.  For some people it is like Groundhog Day.

When we are facing stress, our bodies respond automatically by activating the nervous system and releasing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.  These hormones cause physical changes which help us react quickly -  the ‘flight or fight’ (and sometimes 'freeze' response. 

Our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, metabolic rate and muscle tension all increase.  Glucose that has been stored in the liver is released, and the immune system is suppressed.   This is the body’s way of protecting us, by stopping things it doesn’t need to do right in that moment, and increasing activity that will help - help us deal with something that could kill us, not a performance review for example.

For example if a car cuts in front of us in the traffic, we put the foot on the brake without even consciously thinking about it.  We should  then resume normal transmission and go back to our relaxed state

But then sometimes we yell and scream and shake our fists and flip the bird when there is no need to… 


There are some simple tricks to use to manage your own stress response.

Recognise the triggers

First of all, recognise what the triggers are for you – is it public speaking, multiple deadlines, over commitment, negative responses, negative feedback, traffic, public transport, fear of failure?  Imagine if it is all of these things and they happen on the same day?  Find out what you respond to and and decide to teach your brain to respond differently. 

Try and identify THREE things that cause you to become stressed and respond inappropriately.

Mary, for example, felt her stress response activated when her supervisor Martin became inappropriately angry when something at work went wrong.  She would immediately become angry herself, assuming he was finding fault with her.  Her heart rate would go up, she would feel a bit light headed.  The two of them would argue, he would talk over the top of her, she became defensive and more angry until they were shouting.  Mary had to learn to completely change the way she thought  about and responded to this situation,  take a deep breath when blamed, and respond calmly, and quietly.  In doing so, she not only managed her stress response, she helped Martin manage his as well.

Practice acceptance for things you can’t control

When we are stressed, little things often set us off because we already have cortisol and adrenaline coursing through our systems.  There are many stressful things that happen in the day over which  we have no control – for example,  planes being late, traffic hold ups, milk being spilled (literally).  There is no point reacting to those things we can’t change.  We need to practice saying ‘it is what it is’, deal with it and move on.   So for example you are on your way to an important meeting and there is a traffic accident and you are being held up.  can you change the fact that the lanes are blocked ahead?  No.  Is having a racing heart and sweaty palms an appropriate response?  No.  Call ahead, explain the situation, and sit back and breathe deeply.  It may be the best way to utilise that 10 minutes rather than shouting and banging your fists on the dashboard.

One important thing about things you can't control -  you can’t control other people’s reactions but you can control your own.


I am not talking about  cardio exercise here.  If your heart rate is up just move to  match what is happening in your body.  Remember that adrenaline is running through your body – so for example  just before a presentation, an exam or any event you know is causing you stress and your heart rate to increase  – move around, walk up the stairs.   This will send the message to your brain that you are heeding its warning, and in turn your brain will stop or at least reduce the stress response.

Self talk

Listen to how you talk to yourself.  Are you telling yourself you’re a failure, this always happens, anticipating the worst  etc?

Ask  yourself what is the worst that can happen?   If you can handle that unlikely event then anything less than that is manageable.  Once you've asked yourself about the worst, ask the question you really need to ask yourself - what is the BEST thing that could happen?  I

f you are telling yourself ‘I am such a failure',  reframe your thoughts.  Turn the negative thoughts around into something less negative even if it can’t be positive.

For example, ‘this is going to be terrible’ becomes not ‘this is going to be great’ but ‘this is going to be tough, but I know I can get through it’.

Remember the quote above - the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.


Next time you are feeling stressed and anxious try smiling.  Take a deep breath and smile.  Just smiling again sends a message to your brain that you are not freaking out, and the brain will respond accordingly.

Recognise fear of failure - and get over it

For our ancestors,  failure could mean the difference between life and death, so failure was a threat. Our brains function the same way today.  Failure and success are drummed into us from the time we start school, sometimes earlier.  We go from a fairly carefree life of writing and drawing how we want and meandering around to having to draw between the lines and walk in lines.  We grow up looking first for stamps and stickers, then for other signs of our success, and anyone else's success diminishes our own.

I recently read  'Wired for Life' by Martina Sheehan and Susan Pearse and it is an eye opening book.  In it the authors look at many different fears we have and have this to say about fear of failure:

The shape of the threats that face you in the modern world are very different. Failing at a job can be processed as a threat to status. ..and the threat response does not wait to see if this materialises, the threat response is activated as soon as your mind starts visualising them

If you live with fear of failure, your brain is constantly on the lookout for ways in which that might happen and responds accordingly.  So fear of failure, in whatever form, activates the stress response.  Remind yourself of your many successes, take the risk you need to take, and celebrate a job well done when it is over - even if it is just facing something you were afraid of.

A wise person once told me that ‘failure is an event not a person’


There are whole books written on mindfulness so I won’t go into it in any detail  here but it works.  Really. It works. It is about teaching our brains to focus on the here and now, to be in the present.   It allows us to focus on what our senses are telling us, and to calm our minds.


Pausing is, for me, mini mindfulness. and is  very effective for dealing with day to day stress.  I first learned about the concept of 'The Pause' at a seminar run by The Mind Gardeners and if you ever get a chance to go to one of their workshops I can highly recommend it.  The Pause involves pausing, taking a breath before moving from one task to another.  It allows you to bring your attention to the next task and to leave any stress from your previous task behind.

So for example moving from studying one task  to another, moving from one client to another, hang up the phone or put down your pen, pause, take a deep breath and then move on to the next thing.

If you do this 10 times during the course of the day it will take approximately 1 minute, which is a worthwhile investment in order to manage your stress response.


You may have noticed a common theme in all of these tips - and that is breathing.

Of all the things that occur automatically when the stress response is activated( increased heart beat, blood flow, blood pressure, breathing) there is only one that we can control -  our breathing

By slowing down our breathing, we can change the messages the body is sending to the brain and thereby change the way we respond.

So if you slow your breathing down, by deliberately taking long slow deep (i.e. through the diaphragm) breaths, your heart rate will slow down and your brain gets the message that the threat is decreasing.

Inhale.  Exhale. Repeat.

The most important aspect of managing our stress response is that in teaching yourselves a new way to respond you will be teaching others, unconsciously, by modelling, to manage their stress response as well.


Flexibility in the news

Real fatherhood means love and commitment and sacrifice and a willingness to share responsibility and not walking away from one's children

William Bennett

The last week has seen quite a bit of news about flexibility.

First of all, in world news, we found out that German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel is adopting a flexible work arrangement taking a half day every Wednesday afternoon to collect his two year old daughter from school.  Astonishing.   Don’t get me wrong I am all for male champions of change and Herr Sigmar is setting a wunderbar example of how men can be real role models and mentors .  And I note that he is taking no prisoners in his response to not being 100% committed to his VIJ (very important job).  Something every woman with a VIJ and children has to put up with at some time or another.

When I first read this I was disappointed and more than a little bit cynical –   disappointed that in 2014, a man in Germany makes the world news for taking time off to care for a child. Imagine the newsprint that would be used up every time a woman with a VIJ gave up time at work to pick up a child from day care.  On the other hand, I think it is wonderful that such a man is taking fatherhood (or should I say parenthood) seriously (at least the second time around) and not sacrificing himself completely to his work with such a young child. He admits it is his 'turn' to collect their child from nursery school, and would be working from home, managing his time to be able to do so.

Herr Gabriel also tweeted a photo of himself, in front of his computer at home checking his emails, having picked up his daughter, and made a coffee.  Something a small army of women do every day.

On balance, of course it is a great thing and we need more of it, if not for women to be able to participate in their careers more fully with a partner who is a true partner, but because it is better for children and families, to have both parents, of whatever gender,  involved in the care of children.  Historically, in families with both parents involved in parenting, it is the mother who is more likely to work part time, and more likely to be the primary care-giver. For women with children to be able to participate more fully in their careers, they need a partner who will do more of the 'heavy lifting' that goes with parenthood.  And housework.

The article about Herr Gabriel, became even more important in light of what came out later in the week.   A study covering 35000 Australian families, conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, has found what they called the 'tipping point' of work/life balance  - that for women (my emphasis) with careers they should work 2-3 days a week. You can read the news report on the research here.

The senior researcher said that in doing so women (my emphasis) were more able to fit their work around their caring responsibilities and that if they worked longer than that women (my emphasis) risked creating an unhappy home, as they rushed family time and missed key family events.

First, how awful for those who have no choice financially but to work full time to have more guilt heaped on them by this research.

Secondly, this is once again about women being solely responsible for working and creating a happy home.  Enough of these stereotypes.  Herr Gabriel, I take my hat off to you.  Hut ab vor ihm!



Tears and Tantrums

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now

Julius Caesar

I have previously given some tips on how to give effective feedback .  In giving constructive feedback and in a formal performance appraisal there are some situations that need special attention and require special skills.  Leaders and managers know that the ability to have a difficult discussion is crucial to not only their success but also the success of the business.  In this post and the next I will deal with some of those difficult emotional responses.

No one likes receiving what he or she perceives to be negative feedback, regardless of how well it is planned and presented.  So you need to anticipate an emotional response if negative feedback is to be given.  And that emotional response can come in a variety of ways.

Whatever the reaction, it is vital to the successful conclusion of the conversation to:

  • keep your own emotions in check;
  • not take the reaction or any comments personally and try and remember they are a result of built up tension or anxiety;
  • listen – mindful listening  assists with positive expressions. Let the person express the emotion first by showing you are willing to listen without interrupting
  • validate people’s feelings if you can, by showing empathy.  For example, ‘I understand this is difficult for you – let’s work on a way to get back on track’, or ‘ I understand you’re upset – I’m going to give you a moment to calm down so we can continue’

Here are some specific situations and how best to deal with them



There are two types of people who cry when given negative feedback.  There is the person who, for what may be any number of reasons, is genuinely upset, and then there is the person who is able to turn on the tears for effect and sympathy.  In my years of working with people I have become very aware of peoples’ various idiosyncrasies (good and bad), and believe me when I say that there are those who will cry to avoid or derail a performance discussion.

Regardless of the situation,  pause, and find tissues! A clever person who thinks someone might cry will have tissues at the ready. It is also useful to offer to get a glass of water as this can allow time for the person to regain their composure..

If someone is genuinely distressed, for reasons outside the appraisal or work, then I do suggest rescheduling for another time.  This is one of the few times I suggest this.  For example, if the person is upset because a relative has died, or has been diagnosed with a serious illness (or they themselves are not well), then they are not going to be in a position to discuss things in a rational way.  They may have been keeping their emotions in check at work, and this has allowed them to to let the tears flow.  It is one of the few times I would recommend allowing the discussion to be rescheduled.  In doing so, you are allowing them to recover from their embarrassment, and take some of the emotion out of the discussion.  You are also showing that you care.

If however someone becomes upset either as a means to derail the discussion, or to try and attract sympathy, it is important to continue the discussion.  As before, pause, offer a tissue and a glass of water, express empathy and suggest that when they are ready you can continue.  And sit patiently waiting for that moment to come.  I have been in a room with one such person who looked up at me through her tears and said ‘aren’t you going to say something?’ to which I responded ‘I’m just waiting for you to stop crying’.  Some might call that harsh, but it had the desired effect – she realised I knew she was putting it on, knew she couldn’t get out of the discussion, and so we carried on.


If the person you are talking to reacts angrily -  stay calm yourself.  There is a little part of the brain called the amygdala  which causes very emotional responses to perceived threats.  It hijacks the rational thinking part of the brain.  This is useful when there is actually a physical threat; not so much in a performance appraisal.  So the person you are talking to is having that happen to them.  Don’t mirror them and respond angrily by allowing your amygdala to hijack your own brain.  This will escalate the problem into an unresolvable argument and most likely an argument that bears no relation to the discussion at hand.

So if your employee becomes angry, stay calm.  Allow the anger to be expressed,  even – and this is important – if it involves a personal, verbal,  attack on you.  If you do respond, keep your voice low, slow , and controlled.  Oftentimes a calm response will calm the angry person.

Acknowledge the emotion they are experiencing (empathy again)  eg ‘I understand why this might make you angry’ , wait for person to finish, and restart the conversation.

In both examples, it is important to ensure the conversation comes back to the performance issue and a solutions focussed resolution.

And remember – it is a tough job sometimes being a manager of people.  Give yourself a pat on the back when you have successfully  concluded a difficult performance appraisal.



Top tips on giving constructive feedback at performance appraisals

It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality

Harold S Geneen


For some organisations it is coming up to end of year performance appraisals. Both sides of the desk tend to dread performance appraisals with good reason if there is a history of poor execution of the discussion.  Here are some tips for managers for a successful performance appraisal discussion.

Before completing the appraisal document keep these common problems in mind for the ratings scale:


  • Halo Effect: This is the tendency (or bias) to rate a person who is exceptionally strong in one area, high in all other areas. Particularly when the area in which they are strong is important to you personally
  • Horns Effect: This is of course the opposite of the Halo Effect – a tendency to rate a person who is especially weak in one factor, low on all other factors.
  • Middle of the Road:  This is where a manager avoids both high and low extremes, rating someone  in the middle category, for example a ‘3’ on a 1-5 scale.
  • Mini Me: Some managers have a tendency to give higher ratings to employees who are similar to them.
  • Easy road: This is where managers are aware that the employee has rated themselves highly, the manager disagrees but moves their own rating up higher to avoid a difficult discussion.

In conducting the appraisal, keep these things in mind:

  • Venue – make it private, and allow sufficient time to cover off all the issues.
  • Make sure you have read the appraisal document first!  Preparation is very important particularly where constructive feedback is required.
  • Review any previous appraisals prior to the meeting.
  • Obtain feedback from others if relevant, for example if your employee has worked in another division, ask for feedback from their previous supervisors
  • Prepare your discussion – make sure you have a list of specific things you want covered off, and examples,  to give your employee.
  • Allow your employee to speak about their views
  • Talk through the appraisal document from start to finish and openly discuss any differences in perception

If it is largely a ‘good news’ appraisal:

  • Congratulate your employee on their achievements to date and talk through some agreed goals for the next 6-12 months
  • Allow them to talk about their personal goals
  • Make sure any goals set are both specific and achievable
  • For top performers, suggest stretch goals, particularly if they are keen to be promoted or moved into a different area
  • Ensure that behavioural issues, if any, are covered off regardless of financial or other achievements - be careful about the message you are sending if financial and other targets are met but behavioural issues affecting others are an issue and not dealt with


For appraisals that require giving constructive feedback, frame the conversation carefully:

  • You want the employee to become Aware of the performance issue, Accept the issue and agree to Action to remedy the situation - the Triple A of performance management.
  • Staff will accept feedback if the person offering it is reliable and has good intentions and the process is fair (eg make sure you have concrete examples, and give them the opportunity to express their views).
  • Start with positive feedback – what they do well, and often, and that they should keep doing it.
  • Move to constructive feedback – but frame it as what they could do better if possible.
  • Ensure the clarity of your message – plan what the message will be.
  • Use examples from your own experience or feedback from others.  Make sure you do have examples – they are critical to the success of the discussion.
  • Explain the impact of the behaviour or skill level on colleagues or the business.
  • Echo back their concerns about the feedback, show empathy then…
  • Ask for acknowledgement.
  • Check their understanding and willingness to accept the feedback – give the employee time to think and respond, & provide action strategies if they don't come up with any.  People are more willing to accept and commit to a solution if they suggest it themselves
  • Set goals for improvement, or agree a solution to the problem
  • Agree on a time frame, and regular check ins on progress
  • Don’t ‘sandwich’ feedback with more good news as this is confusing and may give mixed messages, particularly if all they remember is the last thing you said.  But do end on a positive note eg, certainty the employee can improve, offer of support to achieve goals. 


Ending the appraisal

  • Be brave enough to ask for feedback on your own performance as a manager generally or on the conduct of the appraisal



Who's your daddy? Or babysitter?

As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home.

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In


A little while ago I wrote on the subject of 'Where are the real role models and mentors'. In it I spoke about advice I give to young women about to become mothers and wanting to continue their careers-that if they are in a relationship they don't have to be the only one responsible for all of the parenting duties.  Fathers are parents too, and are capable of taking on more of the doing and thinking that goes with parenting.

I wanted to tell a story in that piece but didn't. But I will now because I think it highlights a societal problem about the expectations on mothers and the different expectations on fathers-when it comes to duties relating to the children.

When my first born was very young we were at a family gathering and she was a bit unsettled. My husband took her off for a walk, for as all parents of young babies know, a stroll in the pram over a few bumps puts a baby to sleep faster than you can say 'phenergan' . An older relative of his told me that I was so 'lucky' that my husband was such a great babysitter. I instantly bristled and pointed out that he wasn't babysitting his own child; he was being a father. And in fact enjoying it. As opposed to babysitting,  which is a job.  And not a very well paid one. What was I doing, I asked, when I was caring for my daughter? It was a short conversation because the subject was changed quickly so as not to offend any people in the older generation.

That was 20 years ago.

I was reminded of that this morning when I was reading the paper and saw this:




I am quite sure Prince William doesn't regard himself as a babysitter of his own child.  Nor does the Duchess of Cambridge.

Yet why is it that in 2013, fathering is still being reduced to 'babysitting' in the press? And what are the wider ramifications if this subtle,  unconscious bias is prevalent in our workplaces?  That those in senior roles believe that looking after children (and everything that goes along with that)  is still fundamentally womens' work?  That a father who leaves work to collect a child from care is 'helping out' his partner?  I do believe that men do not generally seek to display a willingness to take on parenting duties because  it might be perceived as a weakness, and hazardous to their careers  — that it is their partners, the mothers of their children who should be doing these jobs. That they don't need to 'help' in any way — especially not with the 'babysitting'.

Sheryl Sandberg, in her book 'Lean In - Women , Work and the Will to Lead' devotes a whole chapter (chapter 8 if anyone wants to read ahead) to the topic - Make Your Partner a Real Partner.  She describes an occasion where a group was asked to write down their hobbies and half of the men in the group listed their children as one of their hobbies.  'For most mothers, kids are not a hobby.  Showering is a hobby'.  She also cites Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who, when asked what men could do to help advance women's leadership, replied 'the laundry'.

It's all well and good for us to make sure our relationships are equal — we also have to make sure the organisations we and our partners work for recognise that as well.  

Looking after one's children is part and parcel of being a parent regardless of gender.  So is doing their laundry.    

Roses in the Ocean - suicide prevention

"There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be"

John Lennon

I went to a dinner on Tuesday night with the Little Black Dress Group (for information see LBDG).   I almost cancelled during the day as I had had a dull headache most of the day and had an early start the next morning. But I reminded myself how much I enjoyed these dinners, and the wonderful women I meet, put on a black dress and heels and off I went.

And I am so glad I did.  Fate has a way of working in your favour.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: 'Once you've made a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen".  I met the most extraordinary and inspirational woman, who reminded me of one of the things I am passionate about - mental health and resilience, particlarly in the legal profession, where the incidence of mental health issues is almost double that of the general population.

Bronwen Edwards has founded Roses in the Ocean, a non profit organisation whose vision is, quite simpy, to prevent suicide.  You can read more about Bronwen's story and the work of this foundation on their website.  To do this they want to raise awareness, to have conversations , to utilise the wisdom of those affected by suicide, encourage real prevention behaviours, and to raise funds for suicide prevention initiatives.

These dinners have a written agenda - we went off agenda that night as we all listened to Bronwen, and her passion for raising awareness of and preventing suicide.  And the universe will work in Bronwen's favour with so many people now willing to help and put her in touch with others who can help as well.

In 2011 (the latest published statistics I could find)  there were 2273 suicides in Australia, 76% of whom were male.  That was almost 7 EVERY day of that year.  Bronwen tells me that the number is now 7 or more a day.  I think you'll agree that is far too many people taking their own lives. 

I teach resilience and mental health awareness to law students about to embark on their legal careers, through the College of Law.  When I talk about suicide (too briefly I now think), I tell them that one of  the best ways to prevent suicide is to open up a conversation with the person you think might be struggling, and just simply ask 'have you thought about taking your own life?'.  In every class most students looks horrified and I ask 'are you worried about being wrong?'.  The answer is always yes.

To this I respond 'I would rather be wrong, and risk embarrassment, than not ask the question at all'.  I have asked that question four times in my career - so far two people have responded that yes they have thought about it.  They did not take their own lives - I don't know if they had the resources or an actual plan to do it, but having someone to open up to about it helped.  They got help and we started a conversation about what led them to that point. I am not a professional counsellor, nor is it my job to be a de facto psychiatrist or psychologist - but I know where to go to get information to help people, and we can all take responsibility for that.  The first step is to listen, non judgementally, and give them the information they need on where to go to get help. 

A lot of people will pronounce that suicide is a selfish act - far from it.  Those who take their own lives have usually got to a point where they think their families, friends and the world in general, would be better off without them, and that  they're doing everyone a favour.  We can all take a chance for turning that perception around.

Every person you meet might be struggling and fighting an internal battle.

Here are some resources that might help someone close to you, as well as Roses in the Ocean:

Lifeline - 13 11 14 - crisis support
Black Dog Institute - for information, and for organisations, assistance with material for training
Beyond Blue - for information, and for organisations, assistance with material for training
Centre for Clinical Intervention - for information, and free downloadable fact sheets, and self directed work
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467 - crisis support
Reachout - online support and education

CYA - Manage performance, but don't leave yourself open to a bullying claim

'There's a fine line between character building and soul destroying'

Colin Hay

In my line of work I have seen and investigated far too many genuine cases of bullying, and have witnessed the effects this has on the victims of it.  I have also seen far too many disingenuous claims, used as a tactic against a manager for various reasons, but usually when a manager has been addressing performance issues.   Regardless of the outcome, an investigation into bullying or workplace harassment is very stressful for all involved.  So of course the easy solution is — don't be a bully, and even if you're not, don't set yourself up for a bullying claim.

So if you are a manager of people, experienced or not, and you need to address some performance issues with one of your staff, how do you avoid a bullying claim when you genuinely want only the best for your employee and the business?  I have previously give some 'how to' tips in relation to giving effective feedback here .  Given that the definition of bullying is that it is repeated unreasonable behaviour etc, there should be no confusion between  the process of managers or supervisors giving feedback on performance, and bullying. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Unfortunately, bullying is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, and there is nothing to STOP a claim being made regardless of the merits.  So how best to protect yourself?

First of all there is a difference between giving general performance feedback and formal performance management.  Giving feedback on an employee's performance should be regular.  And it should be often, especially if it is positive feedback. Positive feedback builds confidence and engagement. Oftentimes people tell me they only get feedback when they've done something wrong or at their annual performance review.  Annual reviews should be seen as an opportunity to record a formal discussion and set goals, and there should be no surprises for the employee if regular feedback has been given. Performance management is of course more serious — where you need a fundamental change in order for someone's employment to continue. 

There are a number of ways to reduce the risk of a bullying claim following or during the process of performance feedback or management in any form.  Essentially, put yourself in the shoes of the employee and see things from their perspective. Little things can add up to big trouble for you, especially where nuances of behaviour or perceptions come into play.

Regardless of whether it is general performance feedback or performance management, document all discussions, whatever the behaviour that needs improving; big issue or relatively minor.  I call this 'CYA' or 'Cover your Arse'.  You never know when a conversation, combined with other events, can come back to bite you!

Keep it confidential.  Other than having a confidential discussion with your own supervisor, if you have one, never discuss it with another employee.  Small things and changes in behaviour can lead to unwarranted perceptions on the part of the employee.

Don't try to soften the blow, by, for example suggesting you go for a coffee, or have a chat.  Be clear about what the conversation is going to be about, to avoid allegations that the employee was unable to prepare or was 'ambushed'.  If it is the first time you have had to speak to them, make sure they understand they have the opportunity to come back to you at a later stage if they want to address any issues.  This is particularly important if you are dealing with an introvert. Introverts need time to process their thoughts and may wish to have the opportunity to address your concerns after they have had a chance to think about the feedback they have been given.  So be alert to an employee who sits there in silence.  You may well go back to your office, breathing a sigh of relief,  thinking 'so that went well' while your employee is seething with resentment.

Give the employee an opportunity to come up with solutions to the problem themselves, rather than necessarily dictating them.  They are far more likely to be engaged in the process of improvement if they themselves have thought of ways to improve.

Beware of  your body language after the discussion - I know it can be uncomfortable having had a difficult discussion, but if your employee perceives you to be behaving differently afterwards, this can add to any negative feelings they may have towards you.  Related to this — keep an eye on other team members' behaviour as well.  If they know or suspect a colleague has been having performance discussions, they may change their behaviour, and avoid eye contact or any contact at all, just due to discomfort with the situation.  

Don't try to make it easy for them, even if you feel some sympathy for them, by taking work away from them without discussing it first.  If they suddenly feel like they are being excluded from certain work, or opportunities, not included in emails and so on,  a small resentment can easily develop into a view that 'they're trying to get rid of me'.

Don't suddenly start micro managing the employee — again this will lead to a perception that they are being watched, picked on, etc.

And whatever you do, do not, ever, lose your temper with that person.  While being angry once in a blue moon is certainly not bullying in any definition, and perfectly understandable from time to time, combined with all of the above, it will form of a bullying claim.

Many different behaviours, taken together, rather than in isolation, are likely to form the basis of a bullying claim given that there has to be a 'repeated behaviour' to establish a claim — make sure your intentions are genuine, and your own behaviour is beyond reproach.  If a bullying claim is made, regardless of merit, you will need to be able to answer all allegations.

Most good workplace behaviour policies and the new legislation have a definition of what bullying is NOT - reasonable management action conducted in a reasonable way.  So while discussing performance issues is of course reasonable management action, it must also be conducted in a reasonable way.  Shouting, banging the desk, swearing, telling someone they're useless, excluding them from work opportunities, ignoring them, is NOT reasonable and a bullying claim is likely to be proven.

There is no definition of what is reasonable in these circumstances and there will be cases no doubt that will define it or give examples of it.  The easiest test is: Ask yourself — how would I like to be treated in this situation?  That's usually the best test of reasonableness.  



Where are the real male role models and sponsors?

There are relatively few role models for young people.  We are in a society that is ruled by men

-Catherine Deneuve

I have a morning ritual. This involves getting up before everyone else in the house, putting the kettle on, getting the newspaper from the footpath (yes I still read printed newspapers) and settling in to read the paper with a hot cup of tea, made the old fashioned way with tea leaves.

On Saturday mornings, this is even more special, as the Saturday paper brings me two writers whose work I read before anyone else - Kathleen Noonan and Madonna King.  They write in very different ways on usually very different topics - speaking to my heart, soul and brain.  Madonna King often writes as I think - only she expresses it much better than I ever could and today was one of those days.

Today, Madonna King wrote on a topic that I talk to people about a lot.  Some might say too much at much at times given the rolled eyes I am met.  And it is this, in short - in order for women to be equal in leadership, on boards, and in politics, and they have children, they have to have partners, in the truest sense of the word. This is the link to Madonna King's  article Abbott numbers not that much different to the rest of business.

The thing is, I am as disappointed as any feminist about the lack of women on the front bench in the Coalition's new government.  I understand however that the Coalition has had a steady team for many years and the front bench reflects that.  I am more disappointed that there appears to have been a lack of mentoring or sponsorship of women to get them into those leadership roles. And going forward it is NOT the responsibility of the sole female front bencher to be the mentor or sponsor - male front benchers including our Prime Minister have to be that as well. 

Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister, said on a national news channel on election night, that Tanya Plibersek would otherwise be a good candidate for Leader of the Opposition but for the fact that she had a three year old.  This is an example of the unconscious (or not so unconscious bias),  that exists - I tweeted immediately pointing out that the other contender had a child of a similar age, so why was this relevant?  And why was the person interviewing him not onto this immediately?  It seemed to take a couple of days for this comment to be mentioned in news.

But enough of politics.  One of the real issues as Ms King rightly points out, is that women of talent, who happen to have children as well, often 'opt out' rather than as Sheryl Sandberg would have us do, 'lean in' to their careers.

And I agree with Ms King that there is a very good reason for that and it is something I counsel professional and executive women about as they are about to embark on parental leave (and let's be honest, it is not really parental leave if only the female gender takes it). 

No matter how equal the relationship before embarking on the joy of parenthood, something happens.  Whether it is from guilt, because their partner is still 'working' and they are 'just at home looking after the baby', women tend to take on the bulk of domestic tasks and organisation. Which is fine, and probably nice for a change.  But when their leave finishes and they go back to work - guess what?  They generally don't lose all of those jobs.  Their partners have developed the art of what I call 'learned helplessness', with the female of the species complicit in this arrangement.  Don't misunderstand me, we often create the very situation we then complain about for years.  And they often return to work part-time or flexibly.  So they get to leave the office by 5pm to collect little Jimmy from day care.  Because apparently having ovaries means we're the only ones who can do that.

And then - guess what?  Another pregnancy, another baby, another length of leave, another return to work, and the workload has suddenly, if not doubled, is at least one and a half times what it was before.  No wonder womens' careers stall.  They think they can't possibly work full time with all of the caring responsibilities and organising and thinking they have to do.

And then, they find themselves saying things like 'I'm so lucky with Frank - he is such a good help'.  HELP!  Life partners, parents of their children, are now assistants in the domestic duties, rather than an integral part of them. I even heard a young woman speak of her husband 'babysitting' his own children.  What the hell happened?

So here is my message. Societal change is needed.  Men are parents too, and are just as capable of taking a risk with their careers as women, and perhaps leave the office early to pick up a child from day care or after school care, or earlier if their child is ill.  A good example from my own life was coming out of a long meeting to find five missed calls and messages from school advising me that my son was sick.  (As an aside, why is that the few times you don't take your mobile phone into a meeting, is the time something happens on the home front, but I digress).  The messages became more and more shrill.  By the time I got them it was almost school pick up time anyway, and my nanny/carer was on her way.  I asked what I thought was an obvious question, which was 'do you have my husband, his father's, phone number?'  Of course they did, so I pointed out, through gritted teeth, that my husband had a car, keys and a drivers' licence, so perhaps the next time I was unavailable they might try ringing him. It happened again recently when I was waiting in reception to see the headmaster when a drama unfolded - a child had broken his arm, and his mother wasn't answering her phone.  I knew the family and wearily pointed out that his father worked from home and was about three minutes away - so how about calling him.  

Ladies, you need a real partnership if you want your career to progress.  Let's see more men taking flexible work arrangements to care for children (I'll even organise a parade), more fathers on tuckshop duty, more men managing the soccer team, more men carrying around the following in their heads:

  • birthday party RSVPs
  • gifts for members of their own family
  • what school forms need completing
  • things to go in the diary
  • how many ink cartridges are needed at home
  • the various shoe sizes of their children
  • what time is the electrician coming
  • is the mastercard bill due today
  • what day is the swimming carnival again
  • does everyone have clean and dry clothes

BEFORE they leave for work in the mornings.

Only then, I believe, will women with children achieve true equality of numbers in executive positions.

(With apologies for the sweeping generalisations contained in the above, and to the army of single parents, both male and female who do it all on their own every day of the week - you have my utmost admiration and respect)

No spouse was injured in the writing of this article