By Anthony O’Brien
Founding president of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand (IML ANZ) Sir John Storey was a mighty Australian industrialist who was a director at General Motors, helped launch the Automotive Manufacturers’ Association, was the chief of the Beaufort Division of the Department of Aircraft Production and a chairman and joint managing director of Repco Limited.
It’s fitting then that IML’s inaugural Sir John Storey Leadership Awards recognise those who exemplify leadership values of excellence and integrity and encourages the highest ethical standards. This recognition includes 2018 Sir John Storey Award for Lifetime Leadership Achievement recipients: noted humanitarian Professor Shirley Randell AO FIML and Dr Donna Odegaard AM, CEO, Aboriginal Broadcasting Australia.
A long-time public servant including stints in the Department of the Prime Minister and the Public Service Commission, Randell was one of Australia’s 100 Inaugural Women of Influence in 2012 and she is a big supporter of International Women’s Day, which is fast approaching on 8 March. Prior to her public service, Randell taught Aboriginal children in remote schools in Western Australia before moving to Papua New Guinea to lecture at teachers’ colleges operated by the Uniting Church.
After her first retirement, Randell owned and operated consultancy businesses in Sydney, Rwanda, and Vanuatu. She also worked in a consulting role in Bangladesh in 2004–5 and 2014–15.
Darwin-based Odegaard is the founder and CEO of Darwin-based Aboriginal Broadcasting Australia, which is seeking to establish free-to-air television operations in every capital city. Currently, her unique television licences are regulated to broadcast nationally. As a result, the busy Odegaard is collecting frequent flyer miles taking her vision for her businesses to boardrooms across Australia.
It’s an impressive result for Odegaard who started her business career selling handmade clothes to support her family. She is recognised as one of Darwin’s most respected businesswomen and has strong views on what it takes to be a leader and manager today. Odegaard also has robust opinions about how business leadership has changed for women since the 1970s. She explains, “I’ve seen some massive changes in the past 30 years for women leaders, especially Indigenous women. We were breaking some ground in the 1970s but mostly in the areas of activism, politics, education and the arts.
“Today, young women are trailblazing in areas such as business, economics or they are entrepreneurial and are looking at global markets.”
WOMEN HAVE COME A LONG WAY
There were very few women in leadership roles when Randell joined the Commonwealth workforce in the mid-1960s. “I’m pleased to see that we now have many more women leaders,” says Randell who cites former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner and philosopher Jean Blackburn as inspirational female leaders.
“There’s more individual support for women in 2018 from other women, and we have more men who are fighting for women’s rights. In regard to whether we are better off, of course we are.”
However, there is no reason for complacency, counselled Randell, “because, in reality, for example, we’re still a tiny percentage of engineers, surgeons, and parliamentarians in the Liberal/National party coalition.”
Odegaard, who earned her PhD from NSW’s University of Newcastle, agrees and even as recently as the early 2000s discovered there were still gender roadblocks for female entrepreneurs. “I very carefully ventured into the media and had a lot of pushback from males in the industry. But I just kept quietly chipping away to try and get more of a voice not just for women but for Indigenous people.”
Randell warns that when female leaders earn some successes, there can be a backlash. “When countries, for example, are taken over by fundamentalism, which we are now seeing, women’s rights are one of the first things to go.”
MEN’S VIEWS CHANGING TOO
With a working résumé stretching over 60 years, Randell says she took her first significant leadership role in 1984 when she was appointed Director of Programs ACT Schools Authority in Canberra. She then honed her management skills when she was named CEO of the Council of Adult Education, in Melbourne from 1991–94. In this challenging role, Randell was responsible for 1,000 teachers and 50,000 students. When she first retired in 1996, she was CEO of the City of Whitehorse, the second largest city in Victoria.
Men’s view of leadership had to change too over the past 30–40 years to help open doors for female leaders, opines Randell. “Quotas for women in leadership roles are important. Men had to change as well, and we’ve had these champions for change in Australia who are doing tremendous work in supporting women such as Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. Things are changing to help us achieve gender parity.”
Having more women on public and private sector boards is a must to promote gender diversity, argues Randell. “On those boards and in those executive suites where men are welcoming women, the fact that women are there is a considerable incentive to other people. However, in my opinion, quotas need to be there to achieve balanced leadership across the boards.
“We haven’t yet done this with business, but Elizabeth Proust who has just retired as Chair of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, has been talking publicly about the importance of targets if we want to change the position of women on business boards.”
Randell recognises the success of diversity targets in the European Union and the United Kingdom to illustrate the effectiveness of getting more women and minorities onto boards. “We need to do the same in Australia. However, for this to be effectual, you need men welcoming women.”
ADVICE FOR YOUNG LEADERS
Randell advises young leaders to pursue the routine actions involved in climbing the leadership ladder such as “working hard, completing academic qualifications, getting published, attending conferences, and being visible”. She adds, “When you make mistakes you don’t stop.
“I’m a great believer that in every setback there’s an opportunity. That’s happened to me. I’ve had disappointments in my career, but there’s always a silver lining. In every loss, there’s always an opportunity.”
Odegaard advises aspiring women leaders to harness the power of social media. “Through social media women can connect to other support groups, and to networks such as IML ANZ.
“Those of us who were doing business in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were doing it basically on the smell of an oily rag. We were doing it out of our homes, we were poor, but we had a lot of creativity, but back then we didn’t connect as a community of women because we just didn’t do that. You couldn’t even think about doing things like that.”
The roles of women in business are changing, continues Odegaard, who is confident the younger brigade “are strong, confident and are sort of quietly changing things”. The television executive is fond of asking young aspiring female leaders, “What do you want to do?”
“If they have dreams and aspirations, I advise young leaders to stick close to good people and networks such as IML.
“IML ANZ can also provide valuable mentoring services, and certainly good advice and experience. Get as much out of IML as you possibly can.”
Donna Odegaard was overcome with emotion when IML ANZ chief executive David Pich CMgr FIML called to inform her of her award. “I was in shock, quite frankly. These things mean a lot to me because it’s not about me. It’s about who you bring along, which is why you do it.
“Hence, I was very emotional, and I burst into tears because I had this time-travel moment where I could see flashes of faces of all the people who’d passed such as my mother Edith Le Francois, who have been there every step of the way.
“To receive the Sir John Storey Leadership Award, is one of those milestone events that really represents more than just me. Moreover, the award commemorates such a great man. So, I feel really humble.”
Receiving a Sir John Storey Award for Lifetime Leadership Achievement was a pleasant surprise for Randell, who has been living and working away from Australia for the best part of 20 years. “It’s always very heart-warming to be acknowledged for the mission and vocation that I’ve had. I know I’m only one of many women who deserve this acknowledgement. I felt the same way when they awarded me the Officer of the Order of Australia for my work on human rights in the Pacific, Asia and Africa.
“Many women are working in development overseas, and it’s great to recognise this service. I hope that it will inspire other, younger managers to follow their dreams, and develop their leadership skills.”
Randell sums up, “Sir John was an amazing leader. A great benefactor and huge contributor to the public service, so it is an honour to receive this award in his name.”