It’s not news that across the board, women have a substantially smaller presence in senior leadership roles than men.

It’s not even news in the female dominated workforce of the Community Services Industry; we still experience male dominated leadership.

We recently spoke to Cheryl Vardon, Principal Commissioner and CEO of the Queensland Family and Child Commission. She is an experienced CEO across both the private and public sectors, a passionate advocate for mentoring, and is indeed a mentor herself.

Here’s what she had to say:

“There is evidence now, through research, that people who have been mentored are getting better outcomes in their careers. They’re getting better financial outcomes and promotional outcomes, together with outcomes around their own personal well-being.

“When mentoring, I often talk about the things that people moving into new leadership positions could actually do in terms of strategies first up, to demonstrate successful leadership.

“Once you’ve got those early runs on the board, you build on that.

“It’s about being very aware. That’s what mentoring is for, to help you be very aware of the early challenges in the new leadership role you’re taking up.

“When people talk about leadership, they talk about the kind of leader they’re actually looking for. They’re not so much thinking about ‘you’ as the leader.

“You have to be careful about how you put yourself forward in terms of your leadership capabilities, because the successful leader for the group choosing you, might be a little different from the qualities you actually have yourself.

“A successful leader will be very sure of his or her capabilities, what needs developing, and what contributions they can make.

“Leaders are called on to be the face of the organisation, they’re called on to problem-solve within the organisation.

“They have to deal with the complexities of Boards, Councils, government Ministers and various oversight agencies. Some of these relationships can be difficult and entail managing ambiguity and juggling many demands.

“Leaders have got to be acutely tuned into where the organisation needs to move, and what kind of direction it needs to pursue.

“Mentors are people with a lot of work experience behind them. And mentoring is about being a wise elder and transferring knowledge and experience, guiding people, and helping people to work through strategies."

“A good mentor also decodes what the person who wants to be mentored says first.

“Often, the person seeking mentoring will speak in very broad terms.

“You just talk and talk for a while and then the mentoring peg will come out. It’ll be things like they’ve been told to build the team and grow the business. That’s what you use to move forward.

“My own journey to leadership was non-linear and eclectic. My kids would say: you mean it was confused.

“In my early 30’s I was chosen for a year-long mentoring program.

“That’s a critical time for a lot of women.

“You’re either going to have kids or you’re not going to have kids. It’s a bit of a turning point.

“If you have kids, then how are you going to maintain your career momentum?

“If you don’t have children and you want to pursue your career, you’re going to come up against huge competition. It’s a real bottle neck at that point, especially when you start to be pigeonholed.

“My journey to leadership would really be talking about mentoring at a relatively early age, the opportunities I had then, and the expectations that were given to me around what I could achieve.

“I’ll talk about that year at the women’s breakfast coming up, and about what happened, because it’s quite a funny story about the roles I was put in.

“Mentoring is an investment. If you haven’t got the money, work out a program with people that will do it on a pro-bono basis.

“That could be a big organisation mentoring a little organisation.

“Pursue it with whatever means you’ve got."  

Here’s some examples of why mentoring is important

“One woman rang me recently. She has a particularly horrid Board, and she told me that before she goes into her Board meetings, she reads through her notes from our mentoring sessions. It settles her down and gives her a bit of a sense of direction. So that’s been really good feedback for me as a mentor.

“The fact is, that women are not going to get picked for senior roles that pay good money unless they understand the hard stuff like risk management, facility management, the bottomline, how you look after shareholders and so forth."

“I worked for major corporations for a while and I used to ask the leaders how come they didn’t have any women running their key business units?

“They’d say: have a look around. We’d love to, but where are the women who’ve done heavy duty financial and investment work, where are the women who’ve done complex facilities management, and where are the women who can maintain your social licence when you’re not popular?

“And it’s true. All the women in those big finance organisations get turned away from those areas which gets back to girls in school doing STEM subjects.”

STEM is the acronym used to describe science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.



How do people find a mentor?

“Word-of-mouth is generally how people get mentors.

“There are also big and small mentoring companies you can work with.

“Look around for people who can be your mentor. There are lots of people who don’t charge you, they just do it casually and informally.

“But when you want a properly structured mentoring program to help you achieve certain goals, well then that’s entirely different.

“Mentoring is a business cost. We have to be quite clear about that. It’s part of your business planning.”

Cheryl is the guest speaker at the inaugural Ignite and Unite CSIA’s Women’s Business Breakfast.

Join her on 2 June 2017 for more depth on using mentoring to unlock your career potential. 


Click link for more details and to register


Key takeaways

  • Mentoring is very worth pursuing, both on economic and service grounds for individuals and organisations. Take yourself seriously, in other words. If you don’t, no-one else will.
  • Having a mentor means someone’s got your back.
  • Pursue mentoring with every means possible.

About Cheryl Vardon

Cheryl Vardon was appointed Chief Executive and Principal Commissioner of the Queensland Family and Child Commission in September 2015. She has a distinguished career as a Director-General, Chief Executive and leader in education, community, children’s services and the private sector.

She has held many board and university council positions and statutory roles on tribunals and commissions including the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Commonwealth Safety and Rehabilitation Compensation Commission.

Cheryl is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and a Fellow of the Australian College of Education.

Her significant appointments include roles as Director General of Education for Western Australia, Chief Executive of the Australian Capital Territory Department of Education and Community Services and  a Vice Principal of the University of Melbourne.

In 2004 while Commissioner for Public Administration in the ACT, Cheryl led a review “the Territory as Parent” and “The Territories’ Children” (the ‘Vardon Report’) of child protection services which established an ACT Children’s Commissioner and a child death review process

Cheryl has also been recognised for her work in the education of indigenous children.

Link to Cheryl’s Financial Review article on a related topic:



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