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The women of Watermark share their experiences for International Women's Day

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Published on 8th March 2021

At Watermark Search International we support International Women's Day, not just today, but every day. We pride ourselves on our fair gender representation and work together as a business to continually help to achieve gender equality.

This year, for International Women's Day we sat down with our female Partners and discussed what International Women's Day means to them, the unique challenges they have faced in their careers and what they attribute to their success.

​Q: What does International Women's Day and #choosetochallenge mean to you?

Caroline: To me it means that as women we have a choice to either challenge the status quo or to remain silent and sit on the fence about important issues that women face at work, at home and in our society. IWD provides a platform to showcase these issues in a positive, transparent, and honest way but as women we should also feel safe to voice our opinions openly every day at work, in the home and in society in general. It does give us a voice though and is a beacon of support for women who perhaps feel they do not have such a voice.

Lisa: It's an opportunity to create awareness. Whilst there is a long way to go in terms of achieving gender equality globally, across different communities, industries and job functions it's a good opportunity to stop, celebrate how far we have come and focus on what we need to do to create further change.

Donna:Supporting charities that help empower vulnerable women in our community (through Melbourne Women’s Fund), raise a strong and empowered daughter who contributes to an inclusive community, support the endeavours of the strong women in my life and celebrate our achievements.

Claire: In order to make progress we need to challenge, step outside our comfort zone and actively challenge; assumptions, history, ideals – the status quo and everything.

Jen: It means we all have a responsibility to call out poor behaviours. Sometimes I find it sad that we seem to have gone backwards in some areas in the last 10 years. Coming from New Zealand to Australia 7 years ago was quite mind boggling in terms of seeing the lack of women and cultural diversity at the top and the fact that this was still such a problem topic. I thought it was so last century and for a while resisted having to lean into gender equality conversations. I have since realised that whether I like it or not, I have to front up to ongoing gender/diversity conversations and be a role model for other women and men.

Jacinta: Choose to challenge means we all have a role to play in getting a more equal representation in the workforce and society more broadly. It isn’t someone else’s job to speak up or step up. Even when it doesn’t feel like you are making a difference, you are. Each of us doing the right thing every day builds momentum and the winds of change will eventually blow through.​

Q: Which mentors or role models have positively impacted you in your career, and what’s one lesson that they taught you?

Caroline: I worked with an executive coach and mentor a few years ago who really put me on the spot by asking me to present in the moment without prior knowledge to a room full of her clients. She threw me into the deep end and way out of my comfort zone. Afterwards, when I asked her why she had done that she told me that we all have to do uncomfortable things to be able to grow and develop and to believe in ourselves - she set me on a path of self-belief and courage and I have never looked back and when I feel scared or unsure of myself now - and believe me I still do - I always think about that moment and turn that feeling of fear into a feeling of excitement - because I know I will grow from the experience.

Donna: Linda Perry – stand up for what’s right and call out what’s wrong. Be bold – what you step over, you accept.

Jen: Stand up and be counted. 50% of success in life is about turning up.

Several, but the most significant one was my mother who was a high achieving woman in her own right but about 3 decades ahead of the pack so consequently didn’t get the recognition or remuneration commensurate with the level of the men she was equal or better than. Her advice to her daughters was that all women needed to be able to support themselves because you never know what life might throw up! Also, she taught my brother to respect women personally and professionally and that we were all equally able to get on and do.

My mother exemplified honesty, integrity, hard work and had a great compassion for people of all walks of life and circumstances.

Jacinta: Many women and men have supported and championed my career. They believed in me and rewarded my enthusiasm with opportunities that I grabbed with both hands. The lesson I have learnt is to value champions of your career and reward them through your success.

Q: What unique challenges have you faced in your career as a woman? How did you overcome them?

Caroline: I am a single mother, single income family. I have had to provide for my two children, bring these children up alone without a great deal of support. I have worked a full-time job and built a career without the usual 'cheer squad' cheering for me from the side-lines. I have had to dig deep for resilience, perseverance, and mental toughness in what has been sometimes a "boys club" environment. I have overcome the challenges by remaining authentic, resilient, self-reliant and I do have a strong friend support network to call on.

Donna: Not unique but that challenge of trading your finite asset ‘time’ – spending time working too long, worrying about the small stuff – is taking time away from the important things – health, wellbeing, family & friends, energy replenishing activities. To overcome this – consciously listed out what I was trading off when I spent time working long hours, got the support of my husband to balance the load, chose to make different choices for my health.

Jen: Several. An example of this would be being one of two female executives in a major NZ meat company, a heavily male oriented, traditional industry, and I was an outsider. During this time, whilst dealing with the ongoing challenges of the full-time role and inherent prejudices, with my husband I was also raising 3 children who each had a full suite of extra-curricular activities, did an MBA part time by distance learning and was the primary income earner in my family. There were not the childcare options available to us then that there are now. I was very fortunate to have a supportive partner who enjoyed being a hands-on dad and happily shared the parenting responsibilities. From time to time we hired a uni student to assist as a nanny.

With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn’t change much - there are a few things that I wish we had the knowledge of back then that is way more openly accepted and discussed today e.g. mental health and brain injuries. It would have informed how better to respond to some situations. – I am an extremely proud mother of 3 amazing adults who are truly global citizens embracing diversity and inclusion and are following their own paths no matter how fraught that is at times.

Jacinta: I have been underestimated at times which always gives me such delight. I know what I am capable of and having others think you can’t or wont or shouldn’t just fuels my fire to succeed.

Q: Describe the 3 characteristics about yourself that you believe led to your success in business.

Caroline: Authenticity, honesty, and a sense of humour!

Lisa: Tenacity, positivity, empathy.

Donna: Calm, great problem solver, I get stuff done!

Jen: Determination, tenacity, and a willingness to do the ‘and then some’.

Jacinta: The three traits that have served me well are that I am hardworking, I deliver what I say I will deliver and I am confident in my ability to succeed.

Q: How have you managed to balance your career and personal life?

Caroline: You have to turn off work at the given hour and be fully present in your family and personal life. You have to book in personal "me " time and make sure you give yourself that time. Put yourself first sometimes.

Donna: Supportive partner, planning – weekly, monthly, annually on the important personal (health, travel, wellbeing, creative, new experiences, family) and work commitments. Fronting into the hard conversations to find the right trade-offs at the right time. Wanting to create the right patterns of behaviour and be a role model for my daughter.

Jen: With a great deal of difficulty at times depending on varying personal circumstances over the years and some major life curve balls that have been encountered along the way. There have been many times I haven’t got it right but that was the choice I made at the time.

Jacinta: Several ways I have balanced my career including stints where I went back to 3 days when my children where little. The best thing I ever did for my career was marry a good man who is happy for my career to shine. Being equal contributors at home and with our children has allowed me to progress my career.

Q: What advice would you give to your 18-year old self?

Caroline: Don't beat yourself up so much about making mistakes - we all make mistakes. As you get older and wiser you realise that making mistakes is essential in order to grow and develop - but always learn from them.

Lisa: Fortune favours the brave! Think big, work hard, listen but be heard and don't be afraid to ask.

Donna: Take more risks, don’t sweat the small stuff (it rarely happens), make more mistakes and learn, care less about what others think, travel, end the relationships that don’t serve you.

Claire: Don’t hold yourself back.

Jen: Go and live your life fully. Have fun, be a good human and don’t compromise your values – integrity is hard earned and easily lost. Your life is more than your career. Find something that interests you and follow your nose/heart. Be opportunistic, be willing to change tack (dramatically if you want to) even if that means retraining and/or starting again. You get one chance at life – make the most of every day.

Jacinta: It’s a long game, don’t be in such a rush to get it all done. A career is not linear and sometimes the roles you take don’t always seem to have a theme and then you reach a point where every disparate part of your career comes together and makes sense. Enjoy the journey and always balance personal development with career development. It is your relationships and health that are the most important components of your life.

Q: What can men do to help to achieve equality?

Caroline: Be role models for younger people including their children on how to behave and the language that is used every day.

Donna: Be a great mentor to great women, back and empower those in your circle of influence, ask them how you get support, listen.

Claire: The same as women – actively challenge and step outside their comfort zone, ask questions: How can I support flexible working? Why aren’t there men and women on this shortlist?

Jen: Treat women equally and with respect. Be willing to call out poor behaviour. Be fierce champions of their partners, daughters, and workplace colleagues. Men and women need to teach their sons how to be good men.

Jacinta: I love seeing the dial shift on men taking a more equal share on the home duties. I think this is the most fundamental way men can support women & equality.

Q: What do you currently do in your day-to-day life that supports women?

Caroline: I support my daughter and her friends in their basketball teams and I am very supportive of the hundreds of women I have worked with throughout my career in helping them develop an interim career. I am supportive of my colleagues too who have also faced challenges.

Lisa: We support equal parity on a daily basis at Watermark in our Interim Practice. Our 2020 tenth annual Interim Executive Survey results showed us that the 2019/2020 industry mix of Interim Executives was 74% male/ 26% female. The Watermark split is more balanced at 49% male /51% female currently on assignments.

Donna: Financially support charities empowering vulnerable women in our Melbourne community (Melbourne Women’s Fund), ensure gender diverse candidate profiles to the clients we partner with, partner with those organisations in business that support our values of diversity and inclusiveness.

Jen: Try to role model good behaviour – treat others as I like to be treated myself. Support and encourage women to ‘dare to dream’ – that they are more capable than they think they are.
I am a fortnightly volunteer at Fareshare Gardens. Homelessness really bothers me, and it often affects women over 50. It is really important to me that people have access to wholesome food, and this is a small way for me to contribute.

Jacinta: We at Watermark pride ourselves on our track record of fair gender representation on shortlists and our statistics about number of executive women placed.

I speak at school career days, volunteer time to share my knowledge with those going through transition and strongly advocate for women to ‘keep their hand in with work’ during the childbearing years, even when it feels hard and a zero sum game, to ensure their personal and financial independence.

Q: What’s something interesting you’re currently working on? Personal or professional.

Caroline: Jacinta and I have co-authored and are publishing a book on The Rise of the Interim Executive - it's our life's work articulated and has been a labour of love and an all-consuming project in the last couple of years.

Donna: New challenge to myself in 2021 – trail running!

Jen: Reno and gardening project - learning some new tradie skills – working out what’s worth investing my time and effort in and when to outsource to professionals.

Living in the moment – according to my kids I should let loose more.

Jacinta: Caroline McAuliffe and I have written a book called - The Rise of the Interim Executive. It was a great process to take our combined 50 years of experience & expertise on our craft and produce a book which aims to help those thinking if this way of working is for them. We are looking forward to the release in March 2021.​

If you would like to speak to any of the Partners at Watermark Search International, please get in touch today.

by Watermark