CSIA shines a light on the next generation of women in leadership in the Community Services Industry and asks; what more can Industry do to pave the way for women on boards?

Here at CSIA we know that diversity on boards makes good business sense. The Toward Gender Parity: Women on Boards Initiative reveals that boards perform better when they include the best people with a diverse range of perspectives and approaches within an inclusive culture. We see this reflected in the bottom line of companies with women in roles at the top.

Across Industry there are women in leadership roles and moving towards these roles. As CSIA heads into the next series of Ignite and Unite: Women in Leadership events, we took the time to talk to the next generation of women in leadership about the opportunities and challenges they face.

Caitlin Roberts is the first female owner of law firm Macrossan & Amiet. She is a powerhouse that has taken her skills from this role into leadership roles in the Community Services Industry. Caitlin has experience as Chairperson of Community Accommodation and Support Agency (CASA), a Director of the Zonta Club of Mackay and a Trustee of Macrossan and Amiet Charitable Foundation.

No stranger to the challenges faced by women across the community services and business Caitlin can see opportunities for creating the next generation of board and management committee members. She suggests providing easy access to training and skills development because having an understanding of governance gives confidence to take on leadership roles.

“You don’t need to necessarily be a lawyer or an accountant to take on a governance role. What a board often needs is a diverse range of life experience, work experience and views. If you can review a contract or a set of financial statements then that is an added bonus” Caitlin tells us.

Caitlin’s top tip for women wanting to move into leadership roles is to make their intentions known. But it’s not just the next generation that needs to be vocal. Events like Ignite and Unite that highlight women in leadership roles create a great place to network with like-minded women and meet those who have already made the journey.

“When you see other women taking on leadership roles it does give you the confidence to say ‘I can do that too’. If women are not seeing females in leadership roles, then our confidence level isn’t as high and we don’t have that role model to look up to,” Caitlin reflects.

Frances Easton also points to the benefits of being surrounded by a positive network of women and the value of forging connections between community and business.

Frances is a Senior Financial Adviser and Partner at Alman Partners and provides pro bono advice on investing to the Community Services Industry, can be heard on local radio and sits on the board of the Mackay Community Foundation.

“From my experience the business world certainly interconnects with the community services industry regularly,” Frances shares with us. “Community is really what dictates how business survives and we need to give back to the community as well.”

Like many women, finding the time to take on a governance role is a challenge when balancing full-time work and family commitments, but Frances offers some sage advice for women wanting to move into leadership roles.

“I think you’ve got to find a way you can help and whether that’s monetary, whether it’s a phone call a week to an organisation, there’s all different avenues. Create the time by outsourcing or finding other ways to contribute to organisations,” advises Frances.

Equally Frances’s advice to solve the challenge of work-life balance extends to Industry.

“Board membership needs to be more flexible. A lot of board meetings are at certain times when women can’t attend. Finding ways to be more flexible in regard to remote access with technology is essential not just in governance roles but in the workplace.”

Jessica Bugeja echoes Frances’s advice around flexible working arrangements for women particularly post child birth.

“Returning to work on a part-time basis shouldn’t impact your ability to take on a leadership role. Encouraging that from inside the organisation and putting clear pathways in place in terms of return to work opportunities is essential,” Jessica said.

Jessica was once Isaac Regional Council’s youngest manager at 25 years of age and has moved through the ranks to the position of Manager Strategic & Business Development, Planning Environment & Community Services. With more than a decade’s experience in strategic local government roles, Jessica has seen first-hand the challenges and opportunities facing women.

“Being heard and being valued for our contribution to the industry is a big challenge. While there is a high representation of women in the community services sector, society still largely values the opinion of men over women, which is a problem when the majority of leadership and decision making roles are filled by men,” reflects Jessica.

“Valuing female contribution in the workplace and having your voice heard is one thing, but it’s difficult to create cultural change when the issue isn’t a standing agenda item with other big issues facing the Industry.”

Having achieved extensive leadership experience at a young age Jessica’s top tip for the next generation is to find a mentor.

“As women we all suffer a little bit from imposter syndrome. We don’t realise how capable we are and sometimes it really does take a third person to validate and acknowledge what we’re capable of and be willing to contribute to that person professionally to achieve their career goals.”

As the Ignite & Unite Women’s Breakfast series continues, be part of the conversation online at CSIA’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

Do you have some advice or a story to share about women in leadership across the Community Services Industry? Email us today!