Each of us has a story. You have a story. The world needs to hear your story and see life from your perspective. Storytelling is an art that everyone can master – even you!

You may not realise that you already have a story. It’s the one you have been telling yourself (and maybe other people) about your life. It’s the story you tell yourself when things go bad, or when things go well. Our stories make up our whole world. Our stories determine our experience of life. It’s by taking control of our stories, and of the stories the world hears about us, that we can change the world.

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Looking back in the early days of my career, I think about the lessons I learned that have helped me throughout my career. Now that I’m the CMO of Leyard’s international business and vice president of marketing and product strategy at Planar, I’m sharing those lessons in the hopes they will help new employees as they enter the professional workforce.

Congratulations—you’ve graduated and landed your first professional job! There are still many lessons to learn, even if you are starting your career in the discipline you studied. While every office environment is different, there are some things that are important no matter where you work. Here are the top four things I wish I would have known on my first day on the job so I could have done my best work every day, from the very first day.

You are there to do a job

Unlike some roles in which you trade your time for a paycheck even when customers aren’t present, an office job is different. Even if you work hourly, you are expected not just to be there, but to accomplish real work every day. If you are unclear about your job responsibilities and what is expected of you, ask your manager. Observe the respected leaders of your company and their approach, and see how you can model your behavior and habits after theirs.

One of my first jobs was in a retail clothing store, and my boss was an exceptional mentor. She taught us the old retail mantra: “If you have time to stand, you have time to sweep.” The same is true in an office environment. Don’t wait to be told. Find out what you are responsible for and keep yourself busy and focused on the goals of the company.

Understand how your work matters

It’s not enough to just keep busy. You must also understand how your work contributes to the business. Learn who benefits directly from the work you do, what internal and external customers need, and how the business makes money. Having this context will motivate you to excel in your responsibilities, make better decisions and make everyone (including yourself) more successful.

A chief financial officer once told me that even if you do not have an interest in finance and accounting, it is important to know how the score is kept in business. Not knowing would be like playing in a soccer or softball game and not being able to read the score board. Learning to read the score board and how your own activities put points on that scoreboard will help you better understand the value of your work to the company.

Work at the office

Even if your employer has a flexible work-from-home policy, I would advise you to show up to the office. While it may be convenient to avoid the commute, it’s important to get to know your co-workers, for them to get to know you, and to learn from your peers. It is too isolating to be at home, even in today’s modern world. Out of sight is out of mind is something you want to avoid while building your career.

The exception to this is if you are in a field that requires working at the clients’ place of business. If being on location is the best way for you to satisfy customers and grow the business, then by all means, do your work there. Just be sure to regularly connect and update your manager and colleagues so you can continue to build those important relationships even when you are out of sight.

Early in my career, I made a point of visiting my boss at the beginning of every day to check in and tell him my plans for the day. This won’t work with every manager, but if you have a relational boss, this kind of face time could have a positive impact on your productivity and the trust you build with the team.

You build relationships in the office

Get to know your co-workers by showing genuine interest in them. Ask questions. How long have they worked here? What are their responsibilities for the company? Do they have advice for you as you start out on the job? If possible, find a mentor who can serve as a resource for understanding the company and its specific job roles. Building your network within the organization will help you to quickly learn and establish yourself as you work toward your first promotion. Just be sure your interactions aren’t distracting—hanging out at the water cooler all day will not help develop your career!

Following this advice will help you to quickly become a valued member of the team. It won’t be long before you are no longer the new person in the office and you will be in a position to show hospitality and help other employees get to know the organization and their colleagues.


Jennifer Davis is a senior executive, industry presenter, business leader, mentor and volunteer. She is the vice president of marketing and product strategy for Planar Systems, a global leader in display and digital signage technology. More information about Jennifer is available at her website: http://atjenniferdavis.com/#homeinfo

Women who work in male-dominated industries often cite gender as a barrier to career progression. Perceptions abound that their success in such industries can be inhibited by selective reasoning, with women at times not considered for roles due to gender or family circumstances. Conversely, they also worry about receiving preferential treatment based on gender rather than merit, such as in circumstances where a company hopes to promote and boost its equality credentials.

Throughout my career in mining, I have seen and directly experienced these situations. I was told they were based on traditional attitudes and were widespread – to be accepted rather than challenged. However, to achieve the success I knew I was capable of, I quickly realised I would need to move beyond such barriers – both those perceived limitations driven by societal expectation and my own psychological & emotional barriers that would hold me back if I gave them credence.

Overcoming the obstacles

It is undeniable that mining is an industry dominated by powerful men. Mining for Talent, a UK study published early in 2013 by Women in Mining and PwC, found that the industry has the lowest number of women on company boards of any industry group worldwide. Statistics like these can be daunting for those looking to enter a sector like mining, and even more so for those already locked into the industry and hoping to progress their careers.

However, there are ways to be successful despite this environment. The first step is confronting these hurdles and internal anxieties. I believe women need to avoid prejudices around whether their chosen sector is female friendly or male dominated, and instead look at the opportunities and jobs presented in the context of their ambitions and skillsets. With a background in geology, I saw mining as a chance to work in incredible locations around the world, from remote South Africa to outback Australia.

Creating a leadership mindset

This approach is even more important for those hoping to vie for senior management positions. Women often hesitate and shy away from putting themselves forward for these roles due to either a lack of confidence in their own ability or intimidation based on societal attitudes around a given industry. The only way they can succeed is to maintain a strong belief in themselves and proactively improve their skillsets as necessary, striving to continue learning both on and off the job.

Once I realised I was in a position to become a leader, I followed this advice. I saw a need to further my managerial skillset and career growth by changing pace. I knew that an executive education course would set me apart from my counterparts, both male and female, and signal to my superiors that I was serious about progressing my career and myself even further.

As such, the Chief Executive Women’s scholarship I won allowed me to complete the Advanced Management Programme (AMP) at INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau, France. Through this, I not only honed my management and leadership skills but was able to reflect on my achievements, better understand how I fit into my company and was exposed to an inspiring group of honest individuals.

The programme equipped me with a number of communication and leadership skills I could infuse into my own style, while providing insight into how I viewed both myself and the world around me. During the course, I met both men and women in similar situations to my own, and hearing how they progressed and overcame issues I face on a daily basis only inspired me further.

My tips for women in male-dominated industries

The key for women in male-dominated industries, then, comes down to both self-belief and approaching work without predisposition toward a common but misinformed viewpoint.

Further to this, you can secure your own immediate and long-term success by:

  • Focusing on the role at hand
  • Never being afraid to put your hand up to try something new
  • Realising that you don’t need to be the expert – just a quick learner
  • Accepting advice and support when offered
  • Being open to enhancing your skills through further education

Sinead Kaufman - Leaders in Heels


Sinead Kaufman is the Programme Lead, Leading for Success for Rio Tinto. She was a winner of the 2014 Chief Executive Women Scholarship, through which she completed the Advanced Management Programme at INSEAD.

Are you a female currently working in a male dominated industry who is looking for ways to get ahead or stand out from the crowd? We know it can be tough and we know our readers are seeking articles on mentoring and advice on how to succeed in the workplace so we thought we’d go straight to the top to get the best advice.

Sharon Warburton has been smashing glass ceilings in the two sectors with the lowest female participation rates (construction & mining) for more than 20 years. She is currently a CFO, a strategist, a Non-Executive Director and a Not ForProfit Director. She contributes her successes to hard work, cross cultural experience, great mentors and a powerful sponsor. She mentors many and is the founder of the online mentoring site www.steelheels.com.au (@Steel__Heels).

Sharon says there are 6 things everyone woman should strive for to become successful in their industry, and she has made them all C words to make them easy to remember. She says:

1. Confidence

Firstly, and in my opinion most importantly, Confidence.

We have to focus on increasing the self-confidence of women in the workplace. The literature says young girls graduate from high school full of confidence. Give them a few years of working in a male dominated environment and my experience is most of that self-confidence has evaporated. I encourage you, regardless of your role, to support the creation of mentors for women from the first day they enter the organisation.

If a mentor does nothing other than halt the evaporation of self-confidence then I believe you will see more women emerge through the ranks. I mentor a number of both men and women. Generally those women have issues with confidence. They are wary of setting goals high and question themselves at every turn. The males on the other hand are brimming confidence and want to formulate strategies to make their big dreams a reality.

Generally those women have issues with confidence. They are wary of setting goals high and question themselves at every turn.

I suspect many of you are familiar with the case studies that suggest that if a male can do 10 % of a job description they’ll apply, whereas if a woman can’t do at least 90 percent they won’t. Imagine if all the women who do this had the support of a mentor to help give them that confidence boost they need to ‘have a go’….

You might be wondering what Steel Heels is all about and why I have created such a a community . This is my personal commitment to increasing the self-confidence of working women. I encourage you to check out www.steelheels.com.au if you have not already done so.

2. Courage

My second tip is be courageous. To quote Sheryl Sandberg:

“Have the courage to lean in and take a seat at the table.”

All very well, but what does this really mean? Well it means you need to have the courage to take risks and have a go. And the courage to speak up and be heard. My view is that when it comes to their careers, women are risk averse and in male dominated industries where it’s likely there are no female role models, this issue is magnified. Take it from a Chartered Accountant turned Strategist… take on a role outside of your area of technical expertise or comfort zone and if you need to, be the ground breaker. So what if you think you can’t do 90% – back yourself to learn the rest on the job. I had the courage to take risks, and I encourage you to do the same, particularly early on in your

Courage is most important when something is not right. If you’re stuck in a toxic or negative work environment it takes courage to get out. But the sooner you find this courage, the sooner you’ll find a place in a more positive, engaging environment. That is where I was when I was in the UAE. I made the move to make change and haven’t looked back since.

A mentor recently rang me in an anxious state because she was being asked to falsify an environmental report. I didn’t tell her what to do, she knew what she had to do about it but she needed support to find the courage to do so. Mentoring is invaluable in helping women dig deep to find the courage needed in tough situations.

3. Commitment

Like buying a puppy you are either in or out. There is no such thing as in between. If I gave up the first time a male colleague berated me or made me feel unwelcome, I would not be speaking to you today. On the face of it, I have shown I was thick skinned when often I have felt totally vulnerable. I’ve had to remind myself not to sweat the small stuff and to remained focus on the broader goal.

But commitment is not just about being resilient and giving it a go. It’s also about committing to making our industries and workplaces better. About chipping away at the behaviours and practices, which are less than ideal. Rome was not built in a day and the crusty old builders and miners aren’t going to change their entrenched behaviours or workplace cultures overnight, but we have come a long way and can continue to celebrate further improvements.

But commitment is not just about being resilient and giving it a go. It’s also about committing to making our industries and workplaces better. About chipping away at the behaviours and practices, which are less than ideal.

Having a mentor when you are in this environment is invaluable. They can encourage you to take the time to adjust, not to lose sight of your long term plan and goals and not to throw in the towel when change in not happening at the pace you perhaps first think it should.

I am watching (and supporting where I can) an amazing example of this at the moment. I met a lady who did it tough in her community for many years. She then decided to join up to a VTEC program with an aim to getting a job on the mines. And she succeeded. Now she is trying to make the transition from operator to supervisor and finding it hard. But she is not giving up. She is showing great commitment by reaching out for support and having another crack at moving to the next level. And she is grateful for people who are taking time out of busy schedules to offer support and encouragement. Imagine if all the women in our workplace felt they had this level of support to continue to commit when their short term outlook is hard.

4. ‘Can do’ attitude

When you focus on the positive, opportunities will reveal themselves. As I said before women question themselves at every turn. Their first response is often “I can’t” “I don’t” . We need to adjust this negative mindset and our vocabulary. To view new challenges, roles or volunteering as an opportunities to expand our experiences.

Mentors influence positive mindsets. They can encourage their mentees to give themselves licence to try new things. And to be the person who volunteers to give something new a go. It would have been so easy for me to say no when I was contacted about the FMG Non Executive Director role some 2 years ago now. It was not great timing – my daughter was only 3. My plan had been to wait until she was well settled in junior school before I began my transition to board roles.

My experience is that opportunities rarely, if ever, arise when you want them too. My attitude is to believe you ‘can do’ them then focus on working out the how. I accepted the FMG role in addition to my Exec role at BM and I have continued to maintain a very healthy ‘work / life balance’. Because I believed I could.

Shifting mindset and encouraging positivity are areas I often hear myself talking to mentees about. And it is amazing to share in their energy when they get into top gear. The positivity is infectious and for this reason alone I encourage all the leaders in this room today to do some mentoring.

5. Communication

A problem shared is a problem solved…..

Far too often I hear young women have resigned from the business. In addition to HR undertaking exit interviews I attempt to seek out these ladies and have a chat. More often than not they have been bottling up a raft of issues….. keeping them all to themselves. Then one day they wake up and determine it is just all too hard. So they go and find another job (usually in some project management firm in a desk based role) and resign.

Upon resigning they open up and tell me what has been bothering them. It’s rare that any of the concerns they raise couldn’t have been fixed earlier but often it’s a case of too little too late. I find it frustrating that still we find a culture in today’s male dominated industries where young women feel they have no-one to talk to.

I mentioned earlier than I support the identification of a mentor for women from day one of their careers. This would help encourage more open communication and enable us as leaders to address the concerns of today. To the women here today I encourage you to find someone in your organisation you can talk to about your concerns, fears and frustrations. If you can’t identify someone within your organisation then find someone externally.

To leaders focus on creating an environment where any member of your team, regardless of seniority, feel they can approach you. We hear about ‘open door policies’ all the time but do we actually do it or just talk about it?

You don’t want me to start on the gender pay gap, but I will say this. There are so many things that employers, especially in WA, should be doing to eliminate this gap. However females need to take the lead too by finding their voice (and again some courage) to say what you are worth and asking for that pay rise. Negotiate hard and if you are feeling nervous, get support from your mentor.

There are so many things that employers, especially in WA, should be doing to eliminate this [gender pay] gap. However females need to take the lead too by finding their voice (and again some courage) to say what you are worth and asking for that pay rise.

I appreciate that speaking up is not always easy in a room full of male builders or miners. But mentors can provide tips on how to speak up, how to not be afraid to ask questions and to share what has worked best for them. I often take internal mentees with me to some meetings so they can see how I lean in. For one of my more introverted female mentees support in this area has been invaluable and she has found her voice and is kicking goals as a result.

6. Creativity

My final tip is be creative. Invest in yourself and make your own luck. As I have already said it is very likely in today’s male dominated industries that you won’t have female role models in the jobs you aspire to do in the short to medium term. But I always viewed this as an opportunity. And there remains lots of great opportunities for talented driven women.

I encourage my mentees to identify roles that interest them within their organisations and to pursue them. And if nothing appeals, to create a role. Many years ago I was offered a role in another company not long after joining Multiplex. I joined Multiplex in an accounting role and I was bored with accounting. So I met with my boss and said I wanted to move out of accounting, saw an area of opportunity and put a role description on the table for what I wanted to do.

Essentially I created a new role supporting the Deputy CEO. I called it General Manager – Operations Support, Mergers & Acquisitions. Notwithstanding that I had a fallback position of an interesting role with another company I was committed to the business so I took the risk, adopted some creative thinking and put forward what I really wanted. The rest is history – that was the start of a successful career in strategy.

So there are my six tips – confidence, courage, commitment, ‘can do’, communication and creativity.

What are your best tips for working in a male dominated workplace? Tell us in the comments below!

Sharon Warburton by Shaun PattersonSharon Warburton is the founder of Steel Heels, the 2015 NAB Women’s Agenda Mentor of the Year and 2014 WA Telstra Business Woman of the Year. And most importantly, she is Mum to 5-year-old Chloe.



Photo credit: Telstra

Former front-line social worker and champion of the not-for-profit sector, Anne Cross has reshaped the way healthcare, community and aged-care services are delivered to hundreds of communities and the thousands of people UnitingCare helps every day.

On Wednesday night, Anne, the CEO of UnitingCare Queensland was named the 20th Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, joining an illustrious list of Australia’s leading business women.

Not one to dwell on her achievements, Anne used her victory speech to advocate for women’s rights, pay equity, childcare and to stand up against women experiencing violence.

“I care about the wellbeing of people and communities and am driven by the contribution not-for-profit organisations make to the social and economic life of Australia.”

Prior to the awards ceremony, we sat down with Anne who shared with Leaders in Heels her four tips for career success:

  1. Find people you admire and develop relationships with them. Anne recommends creating and nurturing these relationships to get the support that you will inevitably need throughout your career. This support was particularly important for Anne in 2003 when she was appointed CEO of UnitingCare and managed the merger of more than 100 separate aged care, community services and hospitals scattered across Queensland into one organisation.
  1. Have people who believe in you. If you don’t have these people around you, foster these relationships through mentoring: people always see things in you that you don’t see yourself. Prior to Anne’s appointment as CEO the merger process lacked clarity and capital investment had stalled. A strong support network is critical to overcome challenging times in all of our careers. Anne’s hard work and willingness to look to professional mentors assisted her to lead the consolidation of four separate organisations within UnitingCare Queensland, and she now oversees 16,000 employees and 9,000 volunteers across 400 locations.
  1. Overcome the fear of failure. Watch for and identify this behavior. After changing from a science degree to study social sciences and “change the world”, Anne has had a diverse career that spans government, executive roles and even a start up! But she admits that although she thought that she could do everything when she was young, along the way she has become more risk averse. Anne suggests identifying this behaviour and moving right on!
  1. Know what you have to do now and be very grounded in this, but always look over the horizon. Anne takes time to listen to the stories of the organisation, understanding the issues and worries for people coming into aged care. Anne’s commitment to connecting to the on-the-ground work with the overall strategy of the organisation is a key to her success, and a must-have tool for all leaders.

Thanks Anne, and congratulations on being the 2014 Telstra Business Woman of the Year.

Other winners on the night include Kate Weiss, the owner of Victorian food company Table of Plenty; Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, the CEO and Managing Director of ASX50 property company Mirvac; Assistant Commissioner Donna Adams, Tasmania’s highest ranked female police officer; Andrea Galloway, CEO of the NSW not-for- profit organisation Evolve Housing; and Tina Tower, the young owner of franchise tutoring business Begin Bright.