Celebrating International Women's Day with Four amazing Leaders

By Ange

Happy International Women’s Day (IWD)!

IWD is about celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness about discrimination and gender inequality and a chance to take action to drive change. 

At 23W, our community is literally packed with inspirational women and leaders who take action EVERY day to do meaningful work to promote, advocate and create an impact in this space.

This year we interviewed four of our members, who are senior leaders in their respective professions. 

Claire Elkin: Executive General Manager

Gemma Pinnel: Principal, Right Lane Consulting. 

Adele Elasmar: Business Owner of Nuts About Ma’amoul / Senior Executive Assistant / Actor 

Lucy Bell: Emergency Management, State Government of Victoria

What are the origins of IWD?

UN Women officially recognised International Women’s Day in 1977, establishing a set date and turning a collection of grassroots feminist movements into one, global mainstream event. In 2023, the UN Women’s theme for IWD is: DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality. While there are lots of ways to recognise the celebrate this ‘day of action’, we want to recognise our ability to keep conversations such as these going throughout the year. 

As a leader, what has been your proudest accomplishment in helping to address gender equity?

Gemma: Choosing a career working for organisations looking to create change. I’ve worked for advocacy organisations that campaign to end inequality- fighting for better rights for women in the workplace via twenty years in the union movement, and more recently, campaigning to make our superannuation system fairer for women – who consistently retire with much lower balanced due to inequality in wages and ability to participate in the paid workforce whilst balancing caring responsibilities. I now am a leader in a ‘for purpose’ consulting firm, working on affordable housing and superannuation strategy. 

Adele: As a business owner, ensuring staff are treated equally and creating a safe environment they want to be part of is my proudest accomplishment.  Having a team of talented women around you that love working with you is an empowering feeling.  Being inclusive, and diverse, having open conversations and allowing freedom to explore is what it’s all about!  

 Claire: I elevate, coach, sponsor (promote) and mentor women. Inside and outside my companies. I lead D&I programs, company & industry leaders training, and led female-only company & industry events/ networking opportunities.  I also volunteer at Mentor Walks. I use my influence to work on my male peers to change the way they traditionally have approached female participation and inclusion in the workplace. 

I lead by example, and I have achieved 48% gender equity in my teams. (180ppl). In an industry where the ‘norm is 13%.   Successfully placing females in some of the most tightly held (coveted) traditional male roles – technicians (tradies),  engineers of all disciplines, operations, maintenance and commissioning (construction) managers etc. My peers (other execs & GMs) have since taken up the baton – not because they’ve been “told” to, but because they now truly believe in the value of a more diverse workforce. 

Lucy: By calling out inequality when I see it. And being an advocate for others who maybe are not in a position to influence this or see it clearly. I am also always open to learn and look at ways to continue to educate myself in this space. My own personal experience continues to evolve and I am passionate about learning to make sure my decision making and view points are well rounded. Achieving gender equity looks different for every individual. For me, I take a lot from knowing that a workplace considers this and is taking steps to account for it. I always look at ways I can be involved in this work and look at practical application in our day to day work. 

What do you consider to be the most significant barriers facing women in the workplace?

Gemma: Women still carry an unequal share of caring responsibilities for kids and older parents. The costs of childcare as a barrier to women returning to work. Free childcare, more incentives for men to take on more unpaid care work, and flexible workplace arrangements being normalised for senior roles (for men and women)  would assist in addressing this major barrier to progression for many women. 

Claire: Honestly, their husbands/partners. The single biggest impediment to a women’s career is an unequal distribution of domestic (and mental) load. You cannot do it all. No one can.

Adele: Some of the best and most successful leaders I know are women! We need to break the barrier that women can’t do it all and still be successful in the workplace… because we can! Family, kids, travel, relationships, being a boss, being a mum, being single, WE CAN DO IT ALL and more.  Society has changed, and so have we.  Let’s challenge the status quo because we are capable of anything we put our minds to whilst kicking ass in work or running our own businesses! 

Lucy: The cost and availability of childcare is a significant barrier for women to return to work. Along with an unequal share of domestic responsibilities at home.

Having kids can also slow down your career progression. The amazing book “the wife drought” by Annabel Crabb is a must read to understand the impact – from both a progression point of view and in a financial sense for things like superannuation. The book is so well researched and the stats are truly alarming! There is also a lack of senior roles available in a part-time capacity or as a job share arrangement.

For me personally, I want to remain at a senior level but I don’t want to work 5 days right now. As a parent of two young kids (Percy 4 and Molly just 1). I want to be real about what this looks like in a practical sense. My priorities have changed and I cannot and do not want to work around the clock and be on my emails every second of the day. That is just not the season of life I am in.

I want to do great things at work but more importantly, I want to be a great Mum, partner, friend and family member. I am very lucky to have had wonderful  experiences in job shares and highly encourage others to explore this as an option.

What does equity in the workplace mean to you? What are some practical ways it can be achieved?

Lucy: To me it means that everyone is on a level playing field. It is enabling an individual to bring their whole self to work and be free of barriers to achieve great things. My own personal experience recently has been becoming a working parent going from full time to part time – which has been a huge learning curve! I have thought deeply about how my own work experience has changed since having kids. 

I often have told my team I feel I have lived a full day before 9am! This could be dealing with a sleepless night, hustling two kids out the door, tears at drop off and so much more. Before I had kids, I had no idea about any of this stuff! Some practical things I have learnt is around scheduling meeting times to consider those dropping and picking kids up and allowing for commute time either side. Anything before 9:30am and after 4pm can be nightmare for many! 

I have also learnt a lot about the need to respect boundaries on the non-work days of part timers – no calls, texts, teams messages or emails. 

Claire: Equal percentage of females to males at all levels, currently, in my industry females are ~15-20%. This is achieved through internal and public (AGM) metrics. What is measured, gets done. That is D and I stats, specialised recruitment and all-in-manager performance criteria at all levels.  Mostly, ensure the board and executives are gender equal. 

Who are your role models, and why?

Gemma: A incredible leader in meaningful facilitation and bringing people together is a women called Priya Parker. She writes and teaches about bringing people together- she’s run major meetings at the UN between counties in conflict, but also writes beautifully about organising an amazing dinner parties with meaning and love – her work is about connecting. I highly recommend her book “The art of gathering” for anyone interested. 

Lucy: My role models are my family. My Mum for being so kind and caring and the most incredible mother, my Dad for being such a great leader and a real connector of people and my siblings for all being so amazing in their own ways. 

In a work sense, I have had many amazing leaders and mentors that continue to inspire me. I think one of my biggest learnings has been about staying true to yourself and your values and morals. One mentor and former boss used to talk about always following your moral compass. I think about that often. Another mentor taught me a lot about kindness and trust which are so important. 

Claire: Haha. How much space do I have? I know some serious kick-arse trail blazers. 

To be honest, I am most inspired by the honesty, strength and wisdom of women. At any age or life phase.  Everyone has a story. Each should be heard. 

Adele: My parents are my biggest role models.  My mother embodies what it takes to be able to do it all, in the workplace and in life!  She worked in the public service for over 40 years, recently retiring.  She has witnessed all the inequalities and has fought for gender equity throughout her working career.  She leads by example and is well known for her work ethic, drive and resilience, making her well-respected to all her former colleagues and family and friends.  
My father also recently retired, ended his working career as the President of the Legislative Council of Victoria.  Migrating to Australia from Lebanon, English as a second language, he was able to embody the Australian way of life and was successful in his career due to his hard work, commitments, and loyalty.  Both my parents have worked different jobs, different industries, with different people and always say the way you want to be treated is how you treat others, be stern, be honest and commit to what you say you are going to do!  

What is your IWD message?

Claire: Never underestimate your personal power to influence positive change. 

Be authentic and intentional in your advocacy of other women. 

Lucy: We need to continue to stay committed to advocate for equality. And we must remain open minded about what this looks like! 

I love the saying that we cannot be what we cannot see. 

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Our founder

Ange Drake is an personal trainer, women’s empowerment coach and fitness blogger in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. She is the director of one of the few womens’ only strength training gyms in Melbourne, 23W. Ange helps women to learn how to use strength based training, nutritional strategies and a positive mindset to transform their bodies, relationship with food and mind.

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