Elizabeth Proust: Myths & Realities in Managing a Woman’s Career #AHRINC

31 of the ASX top 200 boards have no women on the board.

Woah. Australia, what’s happening? Norway mandated (and acheived) 40% board membership by women in 7 years. 7 years!

23 of ASX 500 companies have no women in their executive. In small busineses women do much better (are we getting sick of corporate culture). At the current rate, we’ll get equality in 177 years on boards and in in execs.

This isn’t just an equity issue, it’s a waste of talent.

Over Elizabeth’s career (3 decades across a variety of sectors) she’s learned:

  • The need for lifelong education and training (her mother missed out on her last year of school due to her grandfather’s attitude towards women’s education) so as a child/teen Elizabeth was encouraged not to focus on domestic tasks so she could do homework. Advice to women? Have at least one domestic task you can’t, or won’t do. (Love it!)
  • The need for supportive relationships (whatever that means to you). Choosing partners/relationships wisely is critical. Elizabeth shared details of her supportive, equal partner (she married very young – but her husband supported her in her career seeing it as equally as important as his).
  • Networking is critical – especially when it comes to more senior roles this becomes more and more imporant. Women sometimes (says she is speaking generally) that hard work and long hours = promotions, it doesn’t always
  • Nave a go at a job you think you can do. (Tells the story of a role in the late 80s where of over 100 applicants were all men – the line manager requested that women apply and Elizabeth encouraged someone to who then went on to get the role)
  • Take risks. Her career success has largely been due to moving outside of organisations (rather than being promoted within them). A good network is critical to this.
  • Women tend to question their own competence. It’s hard to put aside those doubts.
  • Mentors are critical. All of Elizabeth’s mentors have been men – goes hand in hand with networking. It’s a myth that women don’t help other women. Elizabeth is a mentor in the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
  • Don’t jump to board roles too soon (Elizabeth took her first position at 55). Having battle scars helps a huge amount (although she’s open to being questioned about this in the Q&A). 
  • Get as much experience as you can in your company, in other roles (just HR isn’t generally enough) – but a variety of experiences is key. Boards are getting smaller (it’s not just a cost issue).

If you have an attitude that you can acheive anything – go for it.

Question Time (With Peter Wilson AM, National President & Chairman AHRI)

  • If you are the only woman on a management/leadership team it can be tough
  • Peter asks Elizabeth about how to engage and communicate effectively as a woman in a leadership position: don’t defer to men, prepare (know what you’re going to make a point on and what you’re not)
  • What about dealing with buillies? Speak up for others – tell the bully what you thought, why the behaviour is offensive and inappropriate (otherwise it becomes “how we do things around here”)
  • Stepping up in your career – what were some of the issues you had to confront to rebalance? For Elizabeth this came earlier (e.g. advisor to Minister, there was only 3 of them and at least one of them had to be at Parliament) so a lot of long work hours = a big dislocation of normal life.
  • What makes you successful in this role doesn’t automatically make you successful in the next (especially when going from managing small teams of people to large teams of people)
  • To get gender equity right at exec ranks: get the board to set targets (include that on the board score card), and hold execs and other HR professionals accountable for striving to do better in this space

Audience Question Time

  • Natural lifespan of a board role? Possibly 9-12 years? There is no magic in it – it’s what is right for that person and that organisation
  • Targets – no targets = it won’t get measured = it won’t happen. Be careful with boards though (don’t want to deplete exec ranks to fill boards as it’s the exec and management that set the culture of the organisation)
  • What does the emphasis on moving organsiations mean for organisations who want to keep their top talent. Some organisations do it well. Elizabeth gives the example of Nestle who are great at developing women’s careers (although they do need to be mobile). Companies’ timescales (for promotion etc.) can be different to what your own timescales are (e.g. them saying you can have a great job in 3 years… when you can’t think of anything worse than staying for another 1).
  • Language (Chair-man) – Elizabeth doesn’t have an issue with it, although notices more people calling it ‘Chair’
  • How do women champion gender equality? Argue it on economic grounds: it’s bad business to not use all your talent.

What an inspiring (and practical) session.


This is awesome #AHRINC 2015

What a great start to the day!

Epic first key note from Ram Charan (#gotmybooksigned) and now am sitting in waiting for Gary Pert (CEO Collingwood Football Club) to speak about creating a high performance culture (something I blogged about recently on the AHRI National Convention Blog).

I’m very excited to hear what Gary has to say about the lessons he’s learned on the sportsfield and how they’ve been applied to a successful organisation.


From Gary Pert’s intro I’ve learned he has done a lot of very impressive stuff… a lot. He isn’t here to convince us to be Collingwood supporters (“good” says a lot of the crowd).

In Gary’s initial takeover of the CEO at Collingwood FC role he realised that self belief was great… but they hadn’t won a permiership in 20 years, membership hadn’t changed from 40,000 in years, in recent times they’d also not been making huge financial gains either.

In assessing the figures he realised that they just didn’t make sense. They owned the Beach Hotel and the Diamond Creek… income against rent just didn’t play out to their advantage.

First meeting with Westpac – Gary was told (at the start of the GFC) that if they were a normal organisation Westpac would have taken the keys… so things were grim!

But crisis is a great reason for change – and the fundamentals for creating high performance teams in those environments are the same.

These fundamentals are:

– establish and create a vision for the club/organisation: “To be the biggest and best sporting club in Australia” (BRW named them the biggest sporting franchise for the last 5 years)

This then drove everything the CEO and the exec has done in the last 8 years

– create our purpose: “To win AFL Premierships”

Gary asks us all to make sure we can write down the purpose of our organisations (I’m happy to say I can do this in working at YMCA Victoria 🙂 )

– our mission & clarity within the organisation (to give a counterbalance to that drive for performance) – this is what sets us apart. “To create a club where players, staff and supporters can live their dreams and ambitions”. Asking staff “are you living your dreams and ambitions working us here at the Collingwood FC”

Best memory was when Gary took the cup to a retirement village and they had their kids and grandkids there. Gary had a long drive back to Melbourne – a son and daughter asked Gary to take the cup to their mother in high care (the son and daughter we in their early 70s). The whole family was in the room, they asked for a photo with the cup – the family had been told that Mum was going to pass away and they believed she stayed for this event because she was such a big Collingwood supporter. Gary had a call on the Monday saying that the Mum had passed away that night.


– who are our key stakeholders? 

1. Supporters

2. Players

Could your exec articulate who their key stakeholders are? Gary thinks that’s because poor decisions are due to the key people not knowing the difference between parterns and stakeholders. Partners = AFL, media. Stakeholders = the people that you build your strategy around.

“Our people are our most important thing” In a high performance environment you can’t build your strategy around your current people (because if you do you will never do better than those people can do). You need to set goals that are in excess of what your people can do. That will create change. In footy you often understand how/why people need to be ‘superceeded’ 

– create your leadership proposition

Collingwood FC’s values: side by side, excellence, discipline, relentless, community.

Big organisations often say… I’m big on values, but our people won’t embrace the values. But when the exec/board were asked to write down their values – none of them could. Out of the 7 values, the average they got right were 2.5. 

99/1 rule – as a leader you get judged on the one.

Gary asked the Captain to set the values with the team. Critical that the players (or team) are on board with what the values are and why they’re recognised as being important.

“Those five words aren’t where the power sits” – it’s in everyone living the values through real accountability. If you can’t or won’t live the behaviours then you’re not welcome in the team.

The first part of the induction for new staff members is with Gary, the CEO, saying how critical the values are at Collingwood. They promote those who live the values, reward them with bonuses etc. 

Once the leadership proposition was set then they set their goals. (Which were all unrealistic and unacheivable)