Celebrating 3 Inspirational Canberra Women
Tuesday March 8 was International Women’s Day – a wonderful opportunity for us all to stop and celebrate the very special role women play in our lives and at work.
This year’s theme was #Breakthebias with a global goal to call out bias, smash stereotypes, and break inequality. We want to celebrate women who are doing just that, and have become powerful role models for future generations of female leaders.
We sat down with Verity Hawkins (CEO of Cancer Council ACT), Amanda McIntyre (Partner at PwC), and Fiona Grimmer (General Manager of Marketing and Brand Experience at HorizonOne) to hear their amazing stories and what they believe we can all do to break biases.
After completing an Arts Degree in Sydney, Verity’s early jobs included fine arts galleries and fashion PR before joining HSBC bank in a sponsorship and events role where she stayed for 10 years.
Her hard work saw her managing blue-chip commercial sponsorships, forging strong relationships with charities and NFPs, and helping the bank meet its KPIs in corporate responsibility. During this time, Verity also had 3 children and took maternity leave for each one before returning to her role part time.
Following a family decision to move to Canberra, Verity found herself without work or any networks. Eventually she landed a job in a senior role at the YWCA where she gained experience in reporting to the board of directors. Subsequent roles included General Manager at Lifeline Australia, Chief Merger Officer at YWCA, CEO for Life Education Australia, interim CEO for Playgroup Australia, and now CEO for Cancer Council ACT – with each position providing a new depth of experience in strategy, stakeholder engagement, and collaboration with boards.
Verity has also served on the board of UN Women Australia for the maximum term.
“I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school, and I think that’s OK. Staying with one organisation and working hard allowed me to solidify my reputation at HSBC, and being quite advanced in their corporate responsibility and women in leadership programs, I found they were very accommodating when I needed to change the role to suit my family needs.
“In those days I was young and hungry and, as my career progressed, I became very deliberate about applying for roles that would enhance my skills. Later on, having a board role provided very valuable insight and helped me grow in my work.
“I would love to see more women on NFP boards who can bring a different lens and level of understanding. I feel very privileged in lots of ways, and believe we need to be intersectional in feminism and create spaces for voices who are of all abilities, colours and backgrounds.
“For young women, there are lots of great scholarships and opportunities to broaden your experience and skills as a leader, and to grow your network. It’s amazing the possibilities that can arise when you put your hat in the ring. I know it’s not always easy, but the more you participate in events, the more you learn – and you never know where the opportunities will lead you.”
Amanda completed a Bachelor of Commerce/Law and began her career in an accounting firm.
After deciding that the public service offered an opportunity to learn from strong leaders and more closely aligned with her values, she took a role at the (then) Australian Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. This led to more senior opportunities in the Department of Climate Change, and the disaster recovery taskforce for the 2011 floods.
A turning point in her career came when she took maternity leave and her job was abolished. It caused Amanda to reflect on the status of women in the workplace, and that more was needed to help drive equality.
She subsequently went on to land a role as CFO at PM&C, before moving to the Office for Women where she could spearhead programs that would make a difference in women’s lives. When the opportunity came up to join PwC as a partner, Amanda left the public service and has been actively involved in making a difference for women within her workplace.
“For the last 2 years at PwC I have led the Defence account, and initially less than 30% of hours were delivered by women. Now it’s closer to 50/50, and our leadership team on the Defence account is also now 50% women. I think it’s important for women in leadership to use their roles to make a practical difference. If we’re a woman with a seat at the table, we can use it to make sure we break down issues and create pathways for other women.
“Every day we need to be challenging ourselves and testing if the decisions we’re making are being influenced by bias. For example, when we shortlist for a key role we should be asking: did we cast a wide enough net? Did we encourage more women into the talent pool?
“A gender balanced society is better for men and women, and there are 3 simple things we can do to achieve it: encourage equal participation across all sectors, be conscious about women’s progression and equal pay, and work really hard to create gender-balanced leadership teams.
“It’s so important for young women to have role models, particularly in male dominated roles and industries. If they can’t see it, then it’s hard to believe they can be it. I want every woman to believe they are capable of achieving anything they want to.”
Few people know that Fiona was a professional ballet dancer who left school early to join a ballet company in the UK. After deciding to retire she returned to Australia and, unsure what to do next, took up a role in office administration for a local real estate company.
Fiona worked there for a number of years but continued searching for a career that aligned with her values. She applied for numerous jobs, including a brief flirtation with the idea of a role in the public service. After numerous knockbacks, a consultant from HorizonOne called to explain why. Fiona was invited to have a chat at the HorizonOne office, where she learned they had an internal role available. Realising that the company’s values and culture aligned with hers, Fiona applied for and landed the position.
Hard work and wanting to understand how she could help the business grow, Fiona quickly became the resident “go-to” person for anything and everything the business needed. She began attending industry conferences with the HorizonOne Directors and realised the important role that marketing would play in the future of recruitment.
With full support from HorizonOne’s leadership, Fiona invested more time in marketing and employer branding and gained qualifications in digital marketing. She looked for every opportunity to strengthen her skills, and eventually became HorizonOne’s Marketing Manager where she spearheaded several award-winning campaigns.
Fiona has since gone on to take an official seat at the HorizonOne executive table as General Manager of Marketing and Brand Experience. She recently won the Telstra Business Woman of the Year award, which she used as a platform to share her journey with bipolar disorder and encourage women and men with a mental illness to speak up and share their stories.
“You could say I’ve grown up in HorizonOne while the company was also growing up. I’ve always felt that I had a seat at the table regardless of my title, it’s just more official now. Titles can be overrated; I would rather we benchmark ourselves based on how far we’ve come and whether we are having the impact we want to have.
“We have a 50/50 split of men and women in the leadership team, and a lot of that comes down to values. You need to follow your instinct on whether a company aligns with who you are and what you value, and whether they will provide the type of culture where you can grow.
“I think honesty and authenticity with ourselves and in workplaces helps to break biases. It means having real conversations about areas that can be uncomfortable – areas like inequality, diversity and mental illness – so we can challenge our beliefs.
“Women are under so much pressure to get their lives together early on, and there is a real struggle with young women comparing themselves to others. Embracing our own individuality and authenticity can go a long way to helping question the biases we have about ourselves and others. It is so important to surround ourselves with other authentic people who not only support us in achieving our goals but also accept and celebrate our true selves.”