This day was originally established to commemorate women’s suffrage, and has historically been used to highlight the ground we still needed to cover to reach equality. Of course there’s still work to do, but the day is now shifting focus at least in part to a celebration of how far we’ve come.
We thought we’d do something to mark the day, so we asked the McLachlan Lister staff to share stories of female mentors as part of that celebration. We got responses about moms, aunts, daughters, wives, teachers, work colleagues and friends, which I guess just goes to show that inspiring women are pretty much everywhere.
So here they are – have yourself a dollop of inspiration on us.
Jo Veitch: My very first manager after graduation was a woman for whom I worked for over two years. She held a very senior position in a very old-school, male dominated London organisation and was a great inspiration to me. She didn’t hand out praise very easily and I had to work hard to earn her respect which I valued greatly. In return she taught me how to be completely professional at all times and to be an equal to my peers – both male and female. She mentored and managed me but never controlled me and gave me room to grow and develop which I believe I did significantly in those two years. She also had children, a little later in life like me and demonstrated that it was possible for a woman to pursue a successful career balanced with a healthy family life – she was, and still is a devoted mother and highly respected and well-liked professional. Twenty years later we are still in touch, we exchange Christmas cards and news. She is always happy to hear how my career has progressed and how my family is growing and I am keen to hear how her business is going – she went on to set up her own business. I should probably tell her one of these days what an inspiration she has been to me.
Leslie Butterfield: One of my biggest mentors was my Mom. No, she was not a professional, but was the one who packed up our family of four kids and repeatedly moved us to the far flung parts of the globe; setting up homes and taking care of all the arrangements (in the days without the internet and very sparse telephone options!). She had no assistance, no friends or family in these locations, and very little help from my Dad who was busy working, frequently remotely. She often didn’t even speak the language. Facing ambiguity? When you don’t know what something is going to be like, and don’t know anyone who can tell you, just be flexible and take it in stride! Fearing change? No problem – change is good. Embracing new places, cultures, challenges? You bet – make the most of it and learn what you can. Needing to be self-sufficient? What choice do you have. Fitting in? Take people for what they are, don’t pre-judge, and know that everyone has something to offer. Facing an inhospitable environment? Look for the good parts and know that others have it way worse off than you. In essence, Mom taught me to (in today’s lingo) ‘suck it up’; to be brave and take on challenges and risks; to not rely on others to make things work; and most of all – to enjoy the journey. Thanks, Mom.
Junitha Giles: In my previous company I worked in a competitive all-male (apart from me) environment. More recently I have been working in teams which include more females and I have to say they have shown me the value of developing solutions in a collaborative manner, both in terms of making it more enjoyable, and also achieving the best outcome.
Alex Birchall: During my time at University, I used to pick my subjects on a whim, sometimes only looking at the course name and not much at the detail. Studying History & Politics, you generally got what you asked for: ‘Australia Politics,’ ‘20th Century Japan’…the list went on. However, one particular subject caught me by surprise. I can’t remember the exact name of the subject, but what I initially thought would be an average history subject turned out to be a study of how and why buildings are heritage listed. After attending my first lecture and tute and finding out the course outline, I was ready to run. I’m glad I didn’t. The two women that ran the course had an infectious enthusiasm for the subject and encouraged me to explore the history that I was interested in. My professor was well read and only used notes so the students could keep up. My tutor was different, she was patient and practical. We went on my first ‘excursion’ since I was 12 and we experienced history as opposed to just reading about it. I learnt a lot of valuable lessons during the course which helped me with the rest of my studies and in my working life. I did quite well in the subject and put together my favourite university assignment - but I don’t think I would have stayed a week if it wasn’t for the two women running the subject.
Kimberley Lamb: Anamaria has been a mother figure to me since I first started back in November, 2011. She is my mentor here in Brisbane and is always encouraging me to improve and step a little outside my comfort zone each and every day. Recently we started working out at the gym together in preparation for my wedding in October. She pushes me to reach beyond my limits and listens to my whinging about how much it hurts! She is an inspiration to me every day. She is such a strong person, yet she’ll openly share her vulnerabilities, a personality trait which only emphasises how caring she can be. She is always there to talk to, and she will always make time to help anyone. She is continually pushing me to grow, and is always looking out for my interests and puts her own second. Her generosity is limitless, in the kindness she shows to others, and her selflessness in all aspects of her life. She will be sorely missed when she goes back to America and I hope that one day I will be half as amazing as she is.
Kate Benchoam: My inspiration is my daughter Emily. It is hard to believe a 12 year old, can teach, counsel and inspire another person who is more than 30 years her senior. Emily was born wise. She already came with knowing eyes that had travelled this world before. Her calm demeanour, resilience, extraordinary enthusiasm for anything that is thrown at her, and mature outlook, never ceases to amaze me. Her ability to bounce back from any situation, whether it is a disappointment, people problem, or health issues is far beyond her years. She will always see the best in others, and has the strength to walk away when she should. She approaches any set- back with great determination and optimism of how she can make things better. I often find myself discussing my problems with her, and she will intently listen, and provide very sound advice. She will always finish off with a special look, and an ‘it’s ok mum, everything will be fine’. Our life is always chaotic, and we are generally over-committed with activities that seemed like a good idea at the time. When I am the one having a tantrum, she is the one calming me down, and making sure that everything will eventually happen, even if not quite as we planned. I draw such inspiration from my daughter; she will become an amazing woman.
Steeve Poligadu: Life is neither a midsummer night’s dream, nor a tempest - but a comedy of errors that we play as we like it! When I met Tasnim 15 years ago, I was having to choose between a career in politics or pursuing my engineering career. Not only was she always huge moral support to complete my undergraduate degree, but she followed me in Australia and put up with me through 10 more years of studying. During this time we lived as poor students in Melbourne and Sydney and she followed me through some of the smallest towns in WA, 2 beautiful children and a lot of debt. Had it not been for my wonderful wife, who knows what might have happened? The thing is that we always have to make choices in life and in business. The decisions we make are inherently dependent on the influences of the people who are closest to us. A mentor is someone who helps us believe in ourselves and become who we are. I am grateful to my wife for being still my most influential mentor whose wisdom helps me make the most positive errors in my life!
Mary Casey: The first female mentor that comes to mind (besides my Mom) was my Aunt Nina. She was an art dealer from New York City – and impossibly windswept and glamorous to me, a little Texas girl of 14. I wanted to be an artist back then, and when my Grandmother took me to NYC to see my Uncle’s studio a couple of years later, Aunt Nina took me under her wing: playing tour guide for whatever museums I wanted to visit; bringing me to gallery openings and shows; and talking me through the processes of the art business. We were pen pals for a couple of years after that. It was an important connection for me – a great example of how you can guide without pushing in any particular direction (especially since I ended up going for architecture); just helping to create the circumstances for self-discovery, and supporting action once the insight had happened. I hope that I can be half as good a guide to my niece, Penny.
Thanks to all the women in our lives; Happy International Women’s Day.