Renata: Before I met Michelle Redfern, I had heard a lot about her from my friend and our colleague Div Pillay. Div and I go way back, we go a very long time and she is now the co-founder of Mind Tribes, a diversity and inclusion consultancy, where I support as a head of the marketing strategy. And Michelle as Div’s partner in Mind Tribes, non-profit arm CDW. CDW stands for Culturally Diverse Women and the workforce. Div always had wonderful things to say about Michelle. And so I always wanted to meet her and know her better. Michelle is an in-demand speaker and a regular contributor to the discussion about equality and inclusion in sports and business. So it was with great pleasure and gratitude that I interviewed her a few weeks ago for this podcast. Michelle is the founder of Advancing Women, an enterprise providing research and advisory services on equality, inclusion, and gender diversity.
Renata: During her 30-year corporate career, she held executive leadership roles, at listed companies like the National Australia Bank or NAB, Australia's telecommunication giant Telstra, and global services provider Serco. Her rich experience together with the completion of an MBA in her forties propelled her to move from having a corporate career to helping corporate Australia do a better job at supporting female professionals in advancing women through their ranks. Today, Michelle works closely with some of the most influential CEOs and leaders in the country, supporting their organizations design and implement diversity and inclusion strategies that work. Michelle is determined to contribute, to achieving global gender equality in her lifetime, especially through her research and advocacy in the sporting industry. And she walks the talk. She is the founder of the professional women's network, Women Who Get It. And cofounder of, like I said, the social enterprise CDW with my friend Div Pillay. Her most recent venture, A Career That Soars, is a private networking platform for corporate women to connect, learn from each other, and invest in their professional development.
Renata: I will add a link below to the Career That Soars platform in this episode show notes so that you can check it out and investigate if you're interested in participating. She's also an experienced then executive director having held board roles in sporting organizations, non-profits, and start-ups. She's an ambassador for several organizations that support women such as the ICC T 20 women's world cup, the biannual international competition for women's 2020 cricket. In 2019, she was named city of Melbourne female entrepreneur of the year, the year before she was recognized as one of the Australian financial reviews, a hundred women of influence. She's a panel judge for the Vic sports awards and has been a long-term Telstra business women's awards judge. For those outside of Australia, know that these are some of the most amazing accolades and awards programmes that one can aspire to receive or be involved in as a judge.
Renata: So what did we talk about? She has a finger in so many pies and I was so curious. We had a very long chat. In this episode, we discussed her diverse career trajectory from leaving school at 15 to having a great career and executive roles and mentors along the way, her aha moment in her forties, when she learned so much about herself and made an important career transition, how she influences corporate Australia to stop the Exodus of professional women from the workforce, her love for sports and aspirational goals for women in the sporting industry. We also discussed career advice for women, the missing 33% of career advice women are not getting to help them advance professionally a topic that is very passionate for both of us and why it is so hard to coach professional women. I feel that Michelle's work and my work are so complementary and intertwined.
Renata: She supports decision-makers who want to make organizations more inclusive and support senior women advance in their careers. I coach and educate professionals on job hunting career literacy from blueprinting, your career plans to the step-by-step transactions that lead to career advancement. We are hoping to collaborate more in the future, and I personally cannot wait for that to happen. And if you receive my newsletter this week, I have sent curated articles, including three of Michelle's best blogs in my view, and they are amazing reads. I also added some great research, additional articles, which are complementary to this week's episodes on diversity and inclusion and female career advancement. So watch out for your inbox and if you're not yet subscribed to my newsletter, please join. And you will also receive those additional resources in your inbox every week. Remember, you can always reach out to me if it's time to start investing in your career progression, check my website. There is a link in the episode show notes, and you'll be able to see all my services as well as the free resources that I have created just for you. But for now, here's my chat with Michelle. I hope you enjoy and check her out on Career That Soars and check out her handles on social media and follow her work. She's an amazing leader and coach and a supporter of women and diversity and inclusion. I hope you enjoy this chat as much as I did. Bye for now.
Renata: So why don't we just start by you telling the listeners Michelle, about your career trajectory, because it's always good for people to know a little bit about you and your journey and how you got to be where you are today.
Renata: Take your time, we have time.
Michelle: Yeah, yeah, no, that's fine. Well, trajectory is a strong word because I always say my very short answer is I've had a nonlinear career and I now have a portfolio of interests, but that doesn't really capture what I've done.
Renata: That's a problem. Many women have, isn't it? Or an advantage?
Michelle: I think it's an advantage because I certainly, it looked back at my career and look at the decisions that I've made for a bunch of different reasons. And in fact, I've just, I've had a call with someone else's this morning. And the way I described my career is that I was, I've always been very driven, very cold to leadership from a very, very young age. Didn't know why, but leadership interested me. So, I'm a generalist, you know, I have a, I don't have a profession. I don't have a qualification or that I'm going to have an MBA, but that's a master's of business administration. I'm a business administrator and I'm a leader. And I've been doing that my entire life in a range of different forms. I started off, I left school, very young started of school when I was 15, because I was very, very determined to earn money and escape from a country town that I was living in.
Michelle: An escapement having enough money to buy a car so that I could move to the big smoke which was Perth. And really from then on, I simply put my hand up and very, very openly desired leadership positions. I spent the first part of my career after I left my country town, my hometown of Geraldton. I spent a couple of years in banking, but then I joined Telstra. It was telecom at the time in 1989 and I spent 15 years there and that's where I grew up. I grew up personally and I grew up professionally at Telstra and it was such a brilliant organization because in 15 years I've probably had 10 or 12 jobs worked for three or four different divisions in two different States in Australia. So Telstra was just, I had so much professional development there and so much opportunity to learn how to be a leader of people and organizations.
Michelle: So that was really my foundational years in my career. And what characterize my approach to my time at Telstra and subsequently was that I wanted more, I wanted to lead. I wanted to climb the career ladder. Although my ladder was more like a jungle gym as Sheryl Sandberg's is in leaning than a, than a very straight up and down ladder. Cause I did swing from side to side and backward once. But, I put my hand up for big roles. I put my hand up for doing things that required fixing. So I'm a fixer. So in the, you know, when you look at organizations who want to go remediate, optimize, transform, I always came in at the remediate and the optimize piece. I liked fixing problems. And particularly when those problems involved, getting people to work in alignment, really upping engagement levels of clients and customers and people, and yeah, turning around, turning a business around to become a high-performance organization.
Michelle: So that was number one in terms of it had to be something that I could fix. It had to be advancing my career. I was always very, very clear that I wanted to increase my role, increase my influence, and increase my salary. So unless it did those things, I wasn't going to take the role. And then the third thing it had to be kind of interesting. And that didn't necessarily mean I had to know everything about the role. So I've taken a couple of interesting roles where people have gone. Gee, what do you know about transport and logistics and warehousing? Absolutely nothing, but I'm going to learn, gee, what do you know about ATMs and cash services and digital machines? Absolutely nothing, but I'm going to learn, but I took those roles because they were interesting. They required a fix-up and frankly on the end that they were going to add to my, edge to my CV and make it very, very interesting.
Michelle: But ultimately at the heart of everything, my God, my 40-year career, which is very sobering to think that I can say 40 years in the workforce, my 40-year career has been characterized by people, by leadership, on relationships, but also by getting stuff done. Yeah. I am a fixer, a doer, and getting runs on the board. So that's kind of a very high-level view without going into you know. I don't want to give you a roll by roll or see the rundown on my CV when people can see that on my LinkedIn.
Renata: I was going to use a word that I know you hate. And then I'm trying to find another one. And I can't. So I'm going to say in any way, so you can have a belly laugh.
Michelle: I know which one you're going to use.
Renata: I am going to use the word pivot. Michelle, when did you decide to pivot your career and be your own boss and start helping other women and other professionals? Because I know you don't work only with women do you, you’re coaching and leadership and speaking engagements are with leadership teams in organizations. Can you explain to us how you made that transition?
Michelle: Sure. So the work that I do now is I explain it very simply in that I work with leaders to fix the systems within organizations that prevent women and underrepresented people from advancing. And so I do that by working with the people at the highest level, preferably the board, the CEO, the executive, and particularly a couple of layers below the executive team. So, and I engage male allies. I really, I want to build coalitions of willing male allies to help fix systems that prevent women from advancing to leadership. And then the other side of my work is I help women navigate that system until we fix it. And that takes its form in a whole bunch of different things, which we can kind of talk about later, but why did I make the choice to do that?
Michelle: Because my entire life I've had this nagging feeling that I was meant to do something I hankered to be my own boss because I am, I'm probably one of those employees that go, yeah, we'd love to have her, but we're not truly, really want because she's a bit of an agitator and a bit disruptive and kind of hard, but does a bloody good job, but Oh God, she's hard work. So I'm not the best employee, which is interesting given that I had a 30 odd year employee career, but you know, with age comes wisdom, right? So, but truthfully I was in my forties, I had started my MBA. So, and my MBA was one of the many really terrific experiences I've had in my life that helped me have some significant aha moments. And my MBA did a whole bunch of stuff for me, including convincing me finally that I was smarter than I'd given myself credit for.
Michelle: But it also helped me to unlearn some stuff. I've been telling myself my entire career, which was, I'll probably make a good second in charge. I'm not really CEO material, even though I tell people I am, I'll probably, you know, be a really good COO. I'm not particularly entrepreneurial. I'm not particularly innovative and I'm not particularly creative, which of course is complete and utter rubbish. And I started to look cause I, I took my, my core subjects in the MBA obviously, but then I, my electives were around innovation and entrepreneurial-ism cause I thought, well, I'm going to learn this stuff. And then of course I'm having these aha moments, right? This is what I do. So I'd been in entrepreneur within organizations, but as one of my dear parents said to me, couldn't scratch this.
Michelle: You've been scheming and plotting and creating stuff since you’re a child, you've always been an entrepreneur for a while. It's interesting stuff that you tell yourself. So anyway, long story short, I had a couple of moments, aha moments through my MBA. And I had also got myself involved in diversity and inclusion work as part of employee resource groups at the National Australia Bank. The first was, well, it wasn't an accident. I was asked to chair the disability council and the ability, which was a bit of a surprise for me because I don't identify as being disabled. No, but I wonder why they want me to chair a disability group. That's really interesting. Well, it's because I can get stuff done. We've got a good leadership presence. I've got great networks. I could be a great advocate mouthpiece. And I was, I'm afraid to have difficult conversations about what needed to be done better for employees and customers that were disabled.
Michelle: So that was another life-changing experience at the same time that I thought, gee, I love this work, this advocacy work and really dismantling systems and processes and policies that they're really disadvantaged disabled people. This is really good work. And I was enjoying it. I was getting myself more, I've been a lifelong feminist and I was very, very vocal about women's rights. So I was also getting myself involved in another initiative, led by a wonderful woman, at the back called Cindy Batchelor. And we kind of put our heads together and said, is this proliferation of women's groups within the net? I think we counted 70 at one stage. We said, why are we not getting all of the, all of us to work together in harmony? And you know, because with volume comes voice, with voice comes change. So I was doing this kind of work.
Michelle: And then I also stepped onto, I had my last boss up and that was absolutely terrific. And he said to me, I want you to be on the divisional. So we're in the largest division, which is now not as taken off, but I want you to be on the diversity council for the division. I want you to be our representative and I'm in another unbelievably awesome man called Steve Collier, who I consider our dear friend and ally and just a champion of so many people. And I started to go, this is the work. This is the stuff I love to do. I wonder, you know, that Venn diagram and you realize that there's your passion, your purpose, and a need that you can get paid for. I went, I wonder if this is kind of what I could do. And, but the truth was I was having really good days doing that stuff. And I was having not so good days doing my corporate job and I'm going, how can I have more good days like this? I've got this MBA happening. Okay. As I'm an entrepreneur and I'd already started my side hustle, doing coaching and mentoring women, I had started women who get it, my networking group, which you're a part of. And I just meant this. These are all signals it's time. So my beloved wife and I started to plan and said, all right, let's do this.
Renata: Michelle I'm listening to you. And you know, I've always loved you from a distance. We don't know each other that well, we were both in Mind Tribes, but we kind of work with differences in different projects. So it's interesting. And I'll explain that more when I do the introduction, but listening to you, our careers are so similar. Like all the decisions that we've made are so similar, I was always hired for fixing up stuff. You know, when people couldn't find anyone else to do a job, they would scout me, you know, and say, look, she can, I heard she's good at fixing things and remediating and doing that stuff, that transformational stuff, we don't even use that word anymore. Nobody uses the word transformation anymore. But back 10 years ago, when governance structures needed to be redone or you needed to bring something from zero to a hundred, I think the difference might be in the scale of business that I worked, which was smaller than the corporate entities that you've worked at. I was more in the, not for profit and government education sectors and the timing of our decisions in the planning to shift. You know, I think the spouses as well, because I think he tried to bring the spouses along in that journey. Cause it's a, it's a big transition, you know, to make that jump from having a full-time employment to being your own boss. Isn't it?
Michelle: Well, it's, you know, there was the rise of the female entrepreneur and look, there's a whole bunch of stuff. So one of the things that I'd also done during my MBA was you obviously do a lot of research, a lot of reading and just I adored. But I also knew that there was an exodus of women from corporate Australia into female, you know, that were female entrepreneurs are starting their own businesses, basically because they needed to buy themselves a job that could make their life work because corporate Australia wasn't helping them with their life. And, you know, so I said, all of these things were coalescing into this one. I finally had that, Oh my God, this is what I want to be when I grow up. Now this happened when I was 49. So, you know, it's never too late for anyone as I say, but, you know, and I'd also had the experiences of being, there was one particular experience, which, you know, I was working for a global outsourcing organization, it was a terrific job. I had a great boss who I aspire to his role and you know, but he was moved. He moved on to another role and I went, right. So I really want that role, but in came someone else from the outside and I hadn't even been considered. And I was so angry about it at the time. And I thought, I've got all this experience. I've got, I've got the credentials, I've got the clients, I've got the people, you know, I've just, why not me.
Renata: That's why when I read your blogs and everything that you say, I'm like it could have been me writing this. And sometimes you anticipate things that I'm thinking sometimes I've written in the past something, and now you're writing it as well. And it's because both of us have had all of those career changes, job changes we've been hired. We've been, you know, we left organizations we've been overlooked for roles. And that richness gives you so much to work with, with your clients now, doesn't it Michelle?
Michelle: Well, it gives me, it gives me the empathy. And with that experience, I now reflect back and I think, well, I know what I could have done more of and less of, around that and position myself a lot better. But you know, what drives me for, particularly with the work I do with women is that I want them to be able to openly say, this is what I want. This is what I aspire to. Now. I don't mind what anyone aspires to, if you want to be a homemaker and look after your family for the rest of your life, that is cool. And that is your choice. If you want to be the CEO of BHP, that is cool. And that is your choice or anything in between, or a combination of those, whatever you want, but be clear about what you want.
Michelle: Be clear about how to get it and be clear that how to position yourself for that. And what I wanted was what I needed them for someone like me now to talk to and I didn't have that. Now, it was probably there, but I hadn't looked for it because I'm not very good at asking for help. But what I wanted to do was take that feeling that I had of man, I've been overlooked again, and what’s it going to take? Now it took another three or four years, but I wanted to take that feeling and always remember that because that's what fuels me to say, how can I help women not to encounter that or be able to put their best foot forward. But I also wanted to work with men. I want to work with, I want to create male allies. Now let's face it.
Michelle: When the large majority of business in Australia is run by men and predominantly Anglo Celtic men. We know that there is there's inherent bias and there's inherent blindness to the experiences and the lived experiences that women and underrepresented groups have because those men don't have those experiences. So I thought I want to work with those men. I want to help them understand how to make better decisions at the, at the heart of everything. I'm a businesswoman. I like to make money for me. And I liked to make money for other people. And the way they make money is to delight. Your customers have great risk management and have superb people. And you cannot do that if you've got a homogenous group running an organization. So that's what I wanted to do.
Renata: Michelle, sorry I didn't want to interrupt. I'm just thinking how to approach this example, because I really wanted to know how you talk to the leaders in the organization and you approach them. I recently brought to your attention, a piece of writing that made me feel very uncomfortable and I showed it to you and Div, and you took that up to your client. It was written by one of your clients. And I know that you've approached your client about it. How do you do that? How do you then present your case to say, well, this is not really what you should be putting out there to your public and your customers and clients? How did you approach that conversation? Or you can use, use other examples as well, because that's a real example, isn't it? Very tangible
Michelle: Look, at the heart of everything I do is people. People, and feelings, emotions, and relationships. So I have achieved, I put my success, my corporate career, my executive success, my success with clients, with customers, in all of my roles down to the fact that I can build strong trusting relationships quickly. And you don't do that by, well, how do I describe how do I do that? Because it's so inherent to me, I want to create the opportunity in every room that I'm in for every person to feel included and like they got a voice. Now that isn't always easy, particularly in the example that you, that you've given when I'm in a room with a group of people who have had one set of lived experiences and have not had this kind of thing brought to their attention before for, or behavior or whatever, you actually have to manage it really carefully and really diplomatically and say, I wonder how we might have done this better.
Michelle: Ultimately the work that I do for putting a more generic view on, if I, my clients engage me for all sorts of different reasons and I'm, and I'm very pragmatic about that. Some of it's because they've had a client say, wow, you haven't got much diversity and we're not going to buy from you anymore you should get that fixed, it might be the board saying to the CEO and the CEO's team, we're got to do something like getting more women into leadership, because this is not a good look. It might be, it's less around. It's less around the business case. As in shippers, we better make some more money by getting some more women onto the leadership team. It should be that because they've got a responsibility to shareholders, but it's often because they need to fix something. There's something wrong. Something has gone wrong in the organization, or there's a very, very evangelical person, the organization that said, we need to do this right.
Michelle: And so that begins a relationship. And we start off in all sorts of different ways, but the reality is the outward is so important, their relationship, I build a relationship. And when you have to talk about tough things, when you have to talk about concepts that might challenge you because you think gee is, I have never been challenged about the fact that I'm a middle-aged Anglo Celtic affluent woman and my privilege that stings, how do I do that? Really, really appropriately and really diplomatically to get the win, to get the mover of one. So that's a long answer to your question, but the way that I engage is by being truthful, diplomatic, trusting, and trustworthy, and the trustworthy is really just so important to me because my integrity and the way that I work is everything to me. And, you know, my clients trust me with lots of stuff. There's trusting the data. They trust me with their views. They trust me with their strategies. They know I'm in the inner sanctum or some of these clients, most powerful rooms, and they've got to be able to trust me and I can't ever breach that trust, but it means being able to give them messages that, that perhaps that are difficult to hear, but helping them manage, hearing that and doing something about it.
Renata: Thank you for that. That's why I keep purchasing for them from them. I know that you're there the list of your clients, and I'll add that to my shopping list.
Michelle: Well, you know, we know the power of the female consumer and for some of my clients, I am talking to them about, particularly clients in sport, in football with Australian rules football, for example, how engaging is the experience? You know, what experiences have been purposefully designed and delivered to engage your women members and fans and stakeholders? How might you do that better? Because that's the way.
Renata: I'd love to talk a little bit more about sports. So let me tell you my experience with sports. I'm a very tall girl, woman now who all her life, everybody thought she could, you know, play basketball or volleyball or something. I am so uncoordinated. It's ridiculous. You not play to save my life. I, you know, bump into, you know, clear spaces and I will bump into a corner. I'll find a corner and I will bump into that corner. I'm very, I have terrible spatial awareness. That's what it's called, but I love sports. I love watching sports. I grew up watching sports with my dad. It was the bonding between us was watching sports. And it's how I coach, you know, it's how I talk to clients. It's giving them analogies about tennis matches and basketball. And it really upsets me when people tell me they haven't watched the Last Dance yet. You know,
Michelle: I've got my Chicago Bulls. What are you on today?
Renata: And things like that. And I make analogies all the time. So I love the fact that you're so involved with sports and that you have built this bridge between business and sporting organizations and sports clubs as well. I want to know how that happened for you and when, and what, how are women, because I know your purpose there is to progress women's careers in sporting organizations, in industry, and get more involvement for women's sports as well, in general, right? For the public too to watch women in sports, how are we progressing Michelle?
Michelle: Uh, not well enough. There are certainly change happening, but it's not. It's like a lot of other, initiatives when it comes to gender, there are quite simply, the pace is too slow. How do I become a sport for me is like, you it's been part of my life forever, but pardon me? I grew up in a country town in Western Australia. So, you know, you don't play sport or follow sport is kind of a bit weird. It just is just is who you are and what you do. So having always played sport and being involved, my parents were involved.
Renata: You were good at it, weren't you?
Michelle: Oh, no.
Renata: You looked like you were good at it.
Michelle: I was ok, I'm really weak, lucky I'm tall. So I was always in a golf paper and you know what have you. I was a reasonable swimmer. I was a reasonable softballer. I was a reasonable netballer. You know, I just, I played for the joy of playing. I was never, ever going to be even an elite athlete. Because A, I never aspire to never believed I could be, but I just, that wasn't. Sport was fun. When I was older and my kids started to play sport, I naturally became in, Oh, I shouldn't say naturally, I just became involved in their sport. And particularly with my daughter, she was involved in netball. She started playing netball when she was eight or nine. And, I'm the sort of parent that would always kind of turn up. I go, yeah, I'll do the scoring.
Michelle: And you know, cut the oranges I'll bring the jelly snakes or, yeah. So I was always there and very enthusiastically barracking for her. And what have you, and this particular club, you know, clubs, sporting clubs are very clever. They know a potential target. So they quickly, the people there quickly saw another parent who wanted to be involved, which was me. And I said, would you like to come on the committee? Would you like to learn to umpire? Would you like to coach? So all of a sudden I'm coaching during my umpiring course and sitting on the committee and it was, so this is in the early two-thousands. And I worked out, Oh, this is the way I can stay involved in sport. Cause I wasn't playing anymore. This is the way I can stay involved and contribute. And just as a bit of a backstory, my parents were very, very community orientated.
Michelle: So we were always, my dad was always in Lyons. My mum was involved in volunteering and community service. So that was very much part of what we did as humans. So being, you know, volunteering for a committee, which was just, that was just what you did. So I did it, but I worked out once I started to, I took on the secretary of this, of our club's role, but I did that for about seven or eight years. And I worked out that I was good at it. I worked out that my business administration skills could really help know I was actually, I was good at administration. So I could do that stuff in sport. Then I started to look a little more broadly and I, my, whilst my, my flying
Renata: Michelle, I can't hear you anymore. I'm assuming you're out of the room, shutting a door or something. Yes, it is.
Michelle: Sorry about that. Um,
Renata: There was a beeping sound. That's okay.
Michelle: Yeah. My cats are, they're disgusted. I've locked them out of the room. So my first I kind of looked around the Fort, right. So if I'm good at this netball committee, business administration, malarkey, I want to get involved in football. And I want to be a football director and I thought, Hmm. Okay. So I kind of set myself on a pathway and thought, I want to be a sports director. I want to get involved in Australian rules football. So I did, I took my first board director role, at the AFL and get slammed. I get slammed AFL netball league. And then after that I joined the board at Williamstown football club. And throughout that I went, and this is also around the rise of women's football. So women's football is really starting to come into everyone's consciousness and it's always been there, but it was very conscious.
Michelle: I was involved in establishing the first representative female side out of gifts, Lansing aside, which was extraordinarily rewarding experience. It was also an educational experience. Cause I realized just how underserved under-resourced and undervalued women were in sport, particularly football on and off the field. And I thought, Hmm, do something about this one day and my one day and doing something about it was well, I'm going to get onto the AFL commission. Now I'm going to be the NFL commission. I'll fix this. So fixing it is, has been, it's still a long and winding path. So I've had my two football directorships. I've set up two or been a part of setting up two women's squads and teams one at BFL w level. I'm a very strong advocate and voice for women in sport, but I wanted to do more. And again, I go back to the, my fix the system or fix the women.
Michelle: I don’t need to fix the women. I need to fix the system here. So within my business, I created a new centre of excellence. I hate that expression. I can't think of another one at the moment, around research, cause I thought my lived experiences as sample size and one is insufficient. I need to really understand what is going on for women, particularly off the field in, you know, in the offices and the, around the power breaking tables of sports. So I started off commissioned research and I'm still doing that research. So it's still going on. We're in the middle of the third paper at the moment as I've done two papers already. And so the first two papers are published and there's links to those. And they were essentially is pointing out. The first one was here, is the state of the nation. And a lot of people including myself, very early on, the very, very surprised at the glaring inequity in terms of the representation of women in sport.
Michelle: But the numbers are dire 90% of CEOs in sport are men. And that alone should make people going really. So sport is being run by men, which means there are and a homogenous group, largely homogenous group of men. And which means that there is a relatively homogenous set of lived experiences when making decisions. My second report was really delving into, we had about nearly a thousand participants in research. So men and women working in the sporting sector, who told us about their sentiments and attitudes towards women and leadership and equality, and then, the results and the insights are confounding. It demonstrated the very complex and contradictory nature of gender equality in Australia. Yes. I want to be part of a gender equality movement, but I don't believe women have it. You know, the art was off anyway. So there's some really interesting insights there, but are these complex and contradictory that's, that's kind of the two words that, that emerged from that. And then our third paper, which is under construction at the moment is, is chronicling the stories of women in sport from career start to the boardroom. So we've got a whole bunch of women who are telling us about their stories and we're getting insights from that.
Renata: Michelle, for people who are in the job market now, because those are the listeners of this podcast are people that have lost their jobs or people who are considering career change, career transition advancement, and they love sports like you. And I, you know, do you think it's a good choice for them to consider a career in the sector or, or is now not the time?
Michelle: Just so hard if it's a really difficult question because there's a couple of things going on. Number one is the very present, very real and present situation where sport has been frankly decimated by COVID-19. And we've seen some, some very, very deep cuts into those employees working in the sporting sector. So, you know, that is not terrific. So, you know, from, from that perspective alone, you'd be going, I don't know if that's really the end career advice I give to any person. However, putting that to one side
Renata: Because the podcast lives on forever. You know, people could be listening three years from now.
Michelle: For sure. Well, I think it absolutely depends. There's a couple of things. So, let me be idealistic first and then I'll be pragmatic and realistic. Idealistically I want to see more women and certainly more women of colour or women of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds come into sport, but then sporting administration, we must have them come in. We must have them ascend into more powerful decision-making influencing and leadership roles because sport will die, and not evolve unless we start getting that diversity in there. Now we have to do, we have to get attract more of those women into the sporting sector, by changing the culture, changing the environments and removing the barriers, but currently for women are in the sporting sector. So, and that is, that is the pure definition about our problem. Because it starts from everything from university course.
Michelle: So sports business management courses at most of the universities have an extraordinary gender imbalance. And at sometimes 10%, 90%, 10% women, 90% men in those courses. So right from the outset, the pipeline is not being topped up with, with female talent. Once women are in the sporting sector, which is broad, we then have to look at what are the conditions and how do we, how do we get women into those roles, which are customer-facing member, facing revenue, generating, you know, where the action is rather than saying, well, if I'm a woman in sport I'm automatically going to be, and I say this for the greatest escape, I'm automatically going to be consigned to HR marketing and communications or member services. You know, we have to shift the mindsets and the attitudes around those that are making decisions about talent and the, and the organizational design of sporting organization.
Michelle: So that's the context. If someone said to me right now, if a woman said to me right now, I really love sport and I want to go and work in it. I'd say, go for it, but surround yourself with great mentors, get the training and start advocating for yourself hard from the outset you've got. In fact, don't get a mentor, get a sponsor. And those sponsors preferably are going to be advocating for you at every turn to get you to advance into, to those, those leadership roles. So I don't have a black and white answer for you Renata, it's complicated, but yes, I want to encourage more women from all walks of life in sport. We must have them there.
Renata: I think part of your answer is a good lead way to what I'd like to discuss next, because you mentioned the importance of having women involved, but also women involved in positions that matter. And, you know, in positions where there's P and L involved and customer-facing, as you said, and, and strategic roles. And that has to do with my absolute love for Susan Colantuono’s Ted talk, which I've been watching forever. And I had no idea of the connection between you and Susan's work. No idea until we booked this interview and I started doing the digging and I saw that you two work together and you have a, an interesting project together that I want you to talk about the Ted talk that I talk about that I've just spoken about. I add that link to most of my clients induction pack. Yes. And I'd like you to explain what the 33% is that she talks about on that talk and how it has influenced the work that you do in the, Careers That Soars project that you have going on?
Michelle: Sure. So the back story is that Susan and I met four or five years ago when she was, so she's the founder of leanin women and I'm a senior consultant with leanin women. We have an Alliance. So leanin women and advancing women work together to close the leadership, gender gap across the globe. And Susan did her Ted talk - the career advice you've probably never received.
Renata: I'm going to put the link in the show notes for everybody.
Michelle: And essentially, so we talk about leadership having it's a three-part definition. So leadership is using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others. Now, what women typically get the conventional advice, coaching, mentoring, and training that women get for a whole range of reasons over the courses, or the course of their careers focuses on personal greatness and engaging the greatness in others. I work on your confidence and your assertiveness and your leadership presence, and you'll gravatars and blah, blah, blah, that kind of stuff, and be good with people, build strong trusting relationships, yada yada, yada, what they don't typically get is the middle part of the definition, which is achieving and sustaining extraordinary outcomes and outcomes are what keeps someone like me awake at night, a CEO of a business awake at night, profit growth, customer, that stuff.
Michelle: So those business outcomes, the stuff that makes a business grow and women more often than not, not all women do not receive anything but conventional advice throughout the careers, which is why we, so we see so many women stuck in the middle of organizations and not ascending to the top. And that is to your point, that is how do you run a P and L business? So how do you create a business that grows profitably, delights your customers? How do you create greater shareholder return? What are, what are the, the fund? What story does the financial pages in the newspaper or your financial reports in your organization tell, and how do you make really great decisions based on those financial reports, what's your strategy? How do you not just follow strategy, but you set it and you execute on that strategy. And that's the missing 33% and conventional wisdom to women does not, it is not wrong, but it will not take you to the top because it is incomplete. It misses that, that 33% of business strategic and financial acumen, which is critical for anyone to run any business, large or small. And that's what it's about.
Renata: I love that. So this is really interesting, what I have found. And I don't know if you've had that experience as well. Just recently, I've had to discuss this with two different clients. Sometimes they have that financial knowles that comes from being even a chartered accountant or a CPA, but it's buried there. You know, from 15 years ago, they feel like they haven't really kept up with that. They still pay the membership and they're still CPAs, but they're not, you know, working in that field anymore. And they stopped talking about it. They stopped remembering that that financial now is, is part of their portfolio and their skillset. And I think it's so embedded in what you said before, the coaching and the mentoring and the confidence, and the fact that they are not really interested in becoming CFOs, they have moved on from, from those roles that they even don't mention anymore. You know, the fact that they have that 33% and they stopped talking about it, isn't it incredible? Have you experienced that as well?
Michelle: Yeah. Absolutely. And you know, the financial acumen is just one part of it. And certainly I've worked with, with many women who are, you know, financially or, you know, numerous harm. So they're, they're extraordinary that you know, that you're at their CPAs, they might be direct report to the CFO or whatever it may be, but it's actually about the, it's the story that the numbers tell it's the strategy that you set and then execute on from there. It's that you're how do I make really good decisions that are, that are for this organization, and that will help it grow sustainably and profitably. And, but it's our language. And as, and I'm very careful to say, not all men, not all women, so many women are they won't, they have not been coached and mentored and trained to talk the language of power and that, which is the language of business outcomes.
Michelle: And when we've got, you know, so let me give you an example. When men mentor men, they mentor them about the business of the business. So, you know, this is the business. When men mentor women, they give them confidence, assurance, encouragement, and, you know, it's quite paternalistic. It can be quite paternalistic. They are research tells us they really mentor them on the business of the business, unless there's an overt ask. And as a woman working through my own career after Susan and I spent our first week together, I said, where were you? 25 years ago? Because remember that job I told you that I didn't get, because I was overlooked for it. Guess what if I, if I'd lead with some different language, if I've led in a, in a way that the people above me could see that I, I had business strategic and financial acumen, I had no shortage of it, but I wasn't demonstrating it sufficiently to those that were going to make decisions about pay and promotions. So, and I felt for many women, they've got it. This is not about fixing them. This is not about, you know, training them in something else, but this is about helping them demonstrate their business, strategic and financial acumen in a strategic way to, to the people that matter most in their organization.
Renata: And the three blogs you sent me to have a read were excellent. And one of them was really about what you've just said about the 33% and embracing that identity as a leader and, identifying your ability to create opportunities for your employers. The other one that really stuck with me was the career crossroads and how women get stuck on those. And they don't invest in their careers as much. When I started my consulting business, one of the first clients that I had was a business school and they needed me to support them in sales and business development of their executive training programmes. And I just kind of, you know, got my hands dirty and started calling their former students that had done executive training before and asking if they were interested, I just wanted to get, well, it needed to be done the work, but I wanted to also understand who these people were.
Renata: And most of them were women. And funny enough, when I called men and I said, we have these three opportunities coming up, are you interested? They would sign up on the spot. The men would just say, how much is it? Oh, yeah, I'll do it. Whereas the women would never sign up. You know, they were very interested. They would ask lots of questions and then they wouldn't call you back. And then you would call again and they would again say they were super interested, but they just couldn't make up their minds. And isn't it interesting that you and I, as business owners and CEOs of our own organizations are focusing on clients that find it really hard to get unstuck.
Michelle: Yeah. And when I started my business, I wanted to work with women and help women navigate the yada yada yada. What I quickly learned was that coaching and mentoring women, as much as it brought me, lots of joy and meaning from a business perspective, a perspective was not scalable. And it was hard.
Renata: Super hard. I found it the same. Yeah.
Michelle: And those barriers. And I'd say, but you want this, you came to me. And I quickly realized just the same as a couple of other circumstances. I thought these women are like fourth or fifth or sixth on their priority list. In fact, some of the money putting themselves on their own priority list. And I thought, what is, what is this? And so there's a whole bunch of stuff around that. Social conditioning, you know, career stage, you know, financial mobility, relationships at home. You know, there's all of, these forces at play that stop women from potentially investing in themselves. But also that they, I always say there's three, three kind of avatars of women that typically want to work with me. The first one is, so I've been out of university and I've been in the workforce for two or three years.
Michelle: I want leadership. Show me how to be a leader. Teach me, teach me, teach me, teach me awesome. The second woman is, I've been in the workforce for 10, maybe 15 years. I've just, I wanted it. I've wanted this big role. I've got it. I've got my first big leadership, you know, probably leader of leaders role or my God, Holy shit. What do I do now, someone they're going to figure out I can't really do this. And then they had this crisis of confidence. And then there's this third woman and this, this third avatar. Now there's a little bit of me in this woman. I've got to tell you, she's about 40, maybe a little bit older, but she's reached a certain point in her life and she's woken up one day and gone. Alrighty. So I've been looking after other people, whether it be at home or at work for my entire career, my entire adult life, I don't really know who I am anymore.
Michelle: I'm looking at the corner office or the CEO's office going. I don't want that either. I don't do, I, I don't want to start my own bit. Oh my God. Who am I? What are my values? What's my purpose? What is the next 20 years of my career? Look like I have no idea who I am anymore and what I really want. And I'm stuck and I don't want to do what I'm doing. I want more, but I don't know what it is. And she's the most fascinating woman. And look, you know, I use the age of 40 because that was kind of a bit of a, it was a year for me.
Renata: We need to start working together. We need to start working together because our ICAs are the same. My ICAs are looking for work and they meet. They just don't know how to navigate the recruitment and selection process. They don't know how to liaise with head-hunters and sell themselves and talk about themselves in a way that's, um, attracting opportunities. And it's really about this, this, this,
Michelle: And that’s the whole thing. This ability to authentically and gracefully, self-promote which Susan and I talk a lot to women about. When you can talk about what your impact is for your organization and for society and what have you. That is not, that is a really good thing to talk about. So yeah, I wanted to help all of those types of women and many others, but it was the system that was stacked against them. And the fact is that when you've reached that point in, in your career where you've reached those crossroads, number one, you've forgotten how to prioritize yourself. So women don't want to invest the time, the money or the effort because they feel guilty about doing that because it's probably going to be at the expense of something else they can see. But number two, they had, they are completely unaware because they've only ever been given conventional advice or what they really need to do to take them to the next level and the next level. And when I say the next level, whatever she decides, the next level is, you know, for some, not everyone wants to be the CEO of an ASX 100 organization. And that is okay. But when she works at what she wants, I want to help her get there. And there is no job in the world. There is no company in the world where you cannot not have business strategic and financial acumen, and we must help those women. And that's the missing 33%. That's what women, I want every woman in the world to know that.
Renata: Yeah, that's fantastic. I really liked the way you put it. And just one, one note that I wanted to add as well because I do have male clients and they are fantastic. And what I have found is that it gives me great joy working with them because they are very coachable. And one of them went to see Julia Gillet speak and he came back and paraphrase. Her speech sent me a link, which I will add to the show notes about her struggles with her leadership as a prime minister of Australia. So for those who are not are listening from overseas, she was a prime minister who dealt with a lot of chauvinistic behaviour, was bullied and trolled. And, and he wrote to me and said, as a quiet man in a leadership position, I could relate to that so much. And you know, it's a very interesting connection there. And I, I understood that very early on many years ago, I have a book it's bright pink, and I'm trying to find here looking at my bookshelf. I don’t know the exact name. I will add it to the episode, show notes. Cause I really love it. And it's called why women don't get the corner office. Do you know which one?
Michelle: Yeah. It's all. Why nice girls, why nice girls don't get the corner office.
Renata: That one, it’s an oldie but goodie. I really liked that one and it's a very easy read. I had it on my bedside table for a few months. One day, I'm walking by my husband's office and he's on the phone with his employee saying in a male employee saying, I've been reading this book, I'm going to buy it and send it to you. It's bright pink and you're going to read it.
Michelle: I love it. I love it. Well, do you know the other, the other book that, that your listeners should read if they're really interested in the missing 33% is No Ceilings, No Walls by Susan. And it's a sort of book that you don't miss. You can scan to read it all in one hit, but you can go back to it over and over and over again. It has everything and more that Susan and I talk and teach women about are doing all of my leadership causes, but it is the best business book for women that they can have. Now, if it's I, and I'm a great, I'm a bookworm and I, and I'm a great subscriber to lifelong learning and continuing professional development. But this will be, it's such a great reference point for women at any point, whether they're job seeking, whether they're going in for a performance appraisal and internal promotion where it's a salary negotiation, it is a critical, critical tool for them to have in their toolkit.
Renata: I'm definitely going to buy it. I buy my books every June as an end of financial year, present to my business and I have a pile sitting here and that gives me a whole year to actually make sure that I really want the book before I actually buy them.
Michelle: That's a good idea. Yeah, I've got so many books, I'm in the middle of reading while I'm just about finishing and some book, alive and unfettered. And I have two, my two next ones. I'm kind of, Oh, definitely trying to read first, which means I'll probably read both at once. One's about Jacinta Arden and it's her biography and the other one is about Mary Barra. So the first CEO, female CEO of Ford in America, and she's fascinating. So again, leadership lessons from women who are running seriously, big, big organizations or just in this case, a country. Yeah.
Renata: Yes. And, and let's finish off by talking about Careers That Soar. Yeah. Tell us.
Michelle: A Career That Soars is Susan's brainchild. And she came to me just around this time last year and said, because she's retired from leanin women. And she said to me, what are we going to do? I really want to keep serving women across the globe and particularly women. So, the work that I do in advancing women and with leading women, we work with corporates or organizations to help them close their agenda leadership gap. But there's a lot of women in the world who don't have access to leadership development, our leadership development, the missing 33% and so on because they are either in smaller organizations they’re, or they just in organizations that don't get this yet. And we wanted to be in service of those women. And we figured a digital platform is the way to reach those individual women.
Michelle: So Susan started A Career That Soars, invited me in to be co-founder, around this time last year. And it's a digital platform and it's not social media. We're really, really clear about this is not a LinkedIn group or a Facebook group. This is, a leadership and career development platform for women at all career stages. So from emerging leaders right through to those who are already in the C suite and serving on boards or reporting to boards and everything in between, and we provide obviously our wisdom and a whole lot of content masterclasses, I'll go to master class this week, actually. So master classes on leadership, we provide connection opportunities. Cause what we want to do is this is me going back to my, I love connecting great women with other great women. We want to connect to and create and connect, create a global community of women leaders and have them connect to be, to make strategic connections. And you know, this is around women coming together with volume comes voice with voice comes change. And so, so that's us. So it's a, it's a membership platform. So you can join up for free as an Explorer member. And then we have premium circles based on your career stage, where you have access to what frankly, to me, and to premium content, including, you know, webinars, master, masterclasses, podcasts, et cetera.
Renata: It sounds amazing Michelle, I'll have the link in the episode show notes for people who want to join and find out more and have more of you.
Michelle: And it's a great, it's just a great spot. You know, that the women who are in the group now we have all sorts of, you know, that will come in with a dilemma. Here's my courageous ask. I have just started, I'm pitching one just this week. I've just become a leader for the first time. I have six direct reports. What's the best way to engage those people? And my boss, what's the first set of priorities and the advice from all of us to that woman. Yeah, it is priceless. So she's now got, she's got her blueprint or her game plan for her first 90 days in her first big leadership role just from being a part of that community. So, that is just terrific and it's awfully meaningful to me and to Susan, of course.
Renata: It's so lonely at the top, isn't it? I remember when I was a CEO and I have a friend who is now a CEO and he's been a CEO before, he's now back managing a large Australian organization. And he wrote an open letter on LinkedIn about how lonely it feels, especially during covid, making so many tough decisions. And you will only know in hindsight, if you're doing the right thing or not because if you do the right thing, yeah, it is.
Michelle: You're right Renata. It's really lonely at the top. And you know, and particularly, certainly my work with male CEOs as well in my gender equity work often, I'm a sounding board for them, a trustworthy, no Chatham house rules, the vault as a sounding board for them to help them think more deeply, but also to voice their concerns. You know, that the, it is you don't have a peer when you're a CEO, you report to a board and you probably have a great relationship with your chair. I hope, but you don't have a peer. So we need to give those women, those very few women who are CEOs and executives, a peer group to bounce ideas off and learn with and grow with, as well as women from all other career stages.
Renata: Well, Michelle, they are very, very lucky to have you. Thank you so much for your time. We've gone over an hour. Can you believe, thank you.
Michelle: I can't believe it with you and I, yes.
Renata: Oh, it’s been fantastic. I really, really enjoyed this. I really wanted to catch up with you and I'm glad that I have done this. So in this podcast so that other people can, can learn from, from you, not just me.
Michelle: That's my pleasure. And thanks for your patience with my diary earlier in the month.
Renata: No, I completely understand.
Michelle: Cool, cool.