Seven Successful Women Share the Best Advice They Ever Received

A woman at International Women's Day event

Celebrated annually, the first International Women’s Day (IWD) was held in 1911 when over a million men and women took to the streets in Europe to protest for better pay and working conditions for women. It’s a day to recognise how far we’ve come towards gender equality, and also how far we have left to go. Back in 1911, only eight countries allowed women to vote, equal pay for equal work wasn’t a thing (with some women prevented from working at all), and reproductive rights were non-existent.

The theme for IWD 2020 is #EachforEqual. The inspiration was drawn from the notion of ‘collective individualism’. So, what exactly does that mean? Put simply, our individual actions, conversations, behaviours and mindsets have the ability to influence society. Though it’s a collective of individual actions that can really create change and help create a more gender-equal world.

To celebrate IWD 2020, Indeed reached out to seven amazing women to share the best advice they’ve ever received, why IWD is important, and their advice on how we can all promote equality in our daily lives.

Andrea Kirby, Director, The Recruitment Events Co.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

When one door closes, somewhere a window opens. Oh, and to climb every mountain. I am a big fan of The Sound of Music.

That window has always opened for me—whether it was quite what I was expecting or not. It has opened up different career paths. Every job I have had from being a library assistant advising which Mills & Boon books were without the naughty bits, to a shopping tour hostess taking tour groups to Melbourne warehouses, to selling computers in a business where I was the only female sales rep, to heading up a TA recruitment function, has given me the skills and experience for what I do today.

So here is my advice to everyone: Everything you do adds value to you, so do it well and with passion!

Why is it important to celebrate IWD? 

I went to work in the 80s and everything you read about that time or the movies (think Working Girl) were true. It was a tough time to be female, to be taken seriously, and to be left alone. So I celebrate the strides we have made for women in the workforce and life.

I also see that we still have a long way to go. That as a working mother, I still carry the bulk of the mental load in raising our gorgeous son. However, for my nieces just starting out in the workforce, the things I struggled with don’t seem to even be on their radar. They look at me incredulously when I give them my sage auntie advice!

However, until we have proper gender parity, paternity leave for both men and women is equal (and taken seriously), and a woman’s career is not interrupted by raising children, we will be that bit closer to success.

How can we promote gender equality in daily life?

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

At a recent event, I was told of a company that insists that decisions are made only when there is a representation of at least 30% women in the room. It means the decisions and direction of the company has a more complete lens. I like that and it’s not a hard thing to achieve.

In daily life, I actively work to support the women in my network from those just starting out where I can be someone who provides advice, to those who have been around for a while that just want to groan about the patriarchy.

At work, my team (with or without children) work flexibly. At our events, I work hard to get women to speak on the stage—often that is something they don’t readily do, so I work to create a safe place for them.

As the cross stitch in Madeline Albright’s office said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women”.

Emma Jones, Founder, Project F

Emma Jones

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Perhaps it’s become a cliche today, but the best advice I’ve had is to “find your why”. It’s one from the ubiquitous Simon Sinek that may have been rolled out a few too many times, but it’s one that has continued to be a source of truth and a leveller for me over the years.

Understanding my own “why” has been pivotal in leading me to do what I am doing today as I am driven to solve a global problem that demands a great deal of commitment, purpose and intent. I also strive to help clients understand their why before approaching diversity and inclusion. I believe understanding why you’re doing something is critical to being able to achieve success, it helps you form a clear philosophy and connects everyone involved in making something happen.

Why is it important to celebrate IWD? 

Because it makes a difference! Despite the fact that women’s rights and suffrage have been campaigned for over a hundred years, our current trajectory to reach parity is still over 160 years away. IWD highlights that women are still not paid equally to men, women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

IWD is not just a celebration of the achievements of women around the world, celebrating incredible role models past and emerging, but it’s also a call to action for everyone to take personal responsibility for accelerating gender parity, for an equal future for girls.

How can we promote gender equality in daily life?

Recognising the power every person holds for promoting equality is a good start. It’s not a women’s issue, it’s a business, economic, social, cultural and political issue. It’s an everyone issue. Most people will say they care, but caring without action isn’t actually caring and in actual fact hinders progress.

We can all call out bias when we see it and challenge the stereotypes around us. We can all check ourselves for our own biases in the decisions we make and the norms we set our children up with. We can all help women’s voices be heard. And we can call on our places of work to do more, do better and stop paying lip service to diversity and inclusion.

Chelsea Pottenger, CEO & Founder, EQ Consulting, EQ Minds

Chelsea Pottenger

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

When I was recovering from severe postnatal depression, I started, like most mums, to push myself too hard. The old mentality that I need to do everything and be everything to everyone. That is not a sustainable attitude.

Self care is not selfish. If we take care of ourselves, it puts us in a position to give our best to others. It applies to everything. We can turn up to work refreshed and full of vigour. We can be our best version to our families and friends. I can assure you that our partners, friends, work colleagues and especially our children, want and deserve to be around someone that is happy, engaged and ready to take on life. You owe that to yourself, but you also owe it to those around you.

Why is it important to celebrate IWD? 

I find this to be such a great time to actually step back and reflect on the amazing contributions that fellow women have made, in all aspects of life.

But it’s more than just celebrating the work that women have done, it’s also about drawing inspiration, so we can use it in our own lives. To improve ourselves, and strive to help others.

This day also often brings to light women and work that I was not familiar with. It allows me to learn about various initiatives and issues that I previously didn’t even know existed. For that I am very thankful.

How can we promote gender equality in daily life?

When I was in the corporate world a phrase that always rang true to me was “the behaviour we walk past, is the behaviour we accept”. And this rings true not only if you are a leader or a manager. It applies to everyone, no matter where you are from or where you work.

We need and deserve to treat everyone equally. And that involves speaking up about topics and issues that you believe in. Sometimes other people’s values don’t match yours, and that is ok.  But you still have a voice and your opinion matters.

However your actions and behaviours must match your voice.

Fleur Karlson, Group Business Director, Nine Entertainment Co.

Fleur Karlson

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Trust yourself, be brave and be kind to yourself. This advice came (and continues to come) from my current leader. She pushed me to (post children), find the courage again that I had as a young woman. She has made me look to forgive myself for the mistakes I have made (and will make along the way), that can stymie my growth by being the eternal “imperfect perfectionist” — a seemingly female syndrome, I’ve noticed.

I’ve certainly promoted that same story with my female colleagues and my 13-year-old daughter—and she has encouraged me to open my eyes to take my own advice and back myself.

Why is it important to celebrate IWD?

A diverse workplace brings so much greater thinking, not just to the workplace, but to our homes as well. The power of equality provides choice, a greater talent pool and lateral thinking — the balance that results from equality can only be a good thing for our society.

We need to continue to work hard to make genuine equality a reality.

How can we promote gender equality in daily life?

From the ground up and the top echelons down—each and every day we must embrace, promote and practice equality. We must continue to educate our children; and be brave, to fight the fight in our workplace to make genuine flexibility exist; to enable women to successfully work, be recognised for great work and be able to have a family, should she so desire.

Pay people for performance—not for a part time role that’s a full-time role in reality.  We are so connected these days and it is totally reasonable to be flexible with how work is delivered— including when, where and how we do our work.

We need to give men the same flexibility in the workplace, and ownership for domestic duties within the household, to make it fair, equitable and manageable for all. And on a final note to all—a recommended read—Sheryl Sanderberg’s Lean In—geez she gets it right!

Catherine Ngo, Founder, Keynoteworthy 

Catherine Ngo

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I’m a massive fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Laugh and more recently, Big Magic. I love how her insights have challenged my views on life, career and our passions. She says that the ‘jobs’ we have don’t have to be joyful, they just have to pay. She says a ‘career’ is something we don’t have to have, but if, it’s something we are passionate about. And lastly, she says that a ‘vocation’ is the voice of the universe in your ear saying we want you to do this thing, use your talents and gifts and make this thing. I’ve applied these principles in my life and I am so much happier (despite my mum still not knowing what I do!)

Why is it important to celebrate IWD? 

To pause and reflect on how far we’ve come, but also to realise how much more work we still need to do. The world, especially our workplaces are still designed by men, for men. Men still need to do more at home and take parental leave. There are still male panels at International Women’s Day events (and no, I am not joking).

How can we promote gender equality in daily life?

Everyone has a responsibility. Here are some small steps to consider (in no particular order).

  1. Together, we need to actively call out any bias in a respectful way. Whether conscious or unconscious, being an upstander for change.
  2. Sponsor or mentor underrepresented women.
  3. If you’ve been asked to speak at an event such as a panel and see there is a lack of balanced representation, nominate a colleague/peer who is from an underrepresented group instead. Use the power of your privilege for good.
  4. Share the housework at home and in the ‘office’. Office housework is unpaid work like organising team events. Women have been traditionally given these roles to organise.
  5. Have an intersectional view — the narrative is not just Anglo-Saxon, straight, able-bodied woman.

Sarah Overmyer, Co-Founder, The Juggle / Content Marketing Manager, Indeed

Sarah Overmyer

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“What if there’s another way?” All of the best advice I’ve ever gotten has been about being open-minded and broadening my options. I tend to feel the worst when I’m focused on what I “should” do and I’m quick to blame myself if I struggle to do things in a certain way. Letting go of the mentality that there’s only one way to do things has relieved me of so much stress.

Questions like “what if you changed careers?” and “what if you accepted and loved yourself as you are instead of being so critical?” have led to significant growth and happiness in recent years.

Why is it important to celebrate IWD? 

I didn’t really know about International Women’s Day until I moved to Argentina about 15 years ago, where it’s a huge deal. People buy gifts, and every restaurant and bar is full of women out with their friends enjoying each other’s company.

Though it’s only one day a year, I’ll take any chance I can to celebrate women, and I tried to bring that exuberance back when I returned to the U.S. The women I’m close to are magnificent — they are constantly validating, supporting and cheering me on. They give me so much confidence and happiness. I see IWD as a day of giving thanks and recognition.

In a society where women feel so much pressure to please others, having a day focused solely on celebrating ourselves and other women is so joyful.

How can we promote gender equality in daily life?

For me, the most important activism I can do is speak up in everyday settings with the people I know and care about. I have a lot of privilege and little to lose by speaking up, but there are women whose lives would be endangered if they did. So it’s really important to me to use my privilege to amplify the voices of ALL women, not just the ones that look like or have similar experiences to me.

This takes a lot of ongoing personal work—I want people to like me, and being the person who says that something made them uncomfortable, or pulling someone aside for a conversation can feel very hard. But in my experience, respectful, vulnerable conversations are where the most growth and learning take place, on both sides of a conversation.

This is how I learn too—by listening to others and letting go of defensiveness when I get called out. People with less institutional power can usually see power structures more clearly, so their observations are a gift.

Jacinta Chapman, Group Account Director, Thrive PR + Communications 

Jacinta Chapman

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“How hard you throw the ball at the wall is how hard it will rebound at you. You’ve either got to have incredible reflexes, or you learn to control the impact.” For me this works on many levels. How you present yourself, how you treat people and how you behave is what you get back. Last year I made a commitment to myself to flip my thinking to see the positive in every challenge. It’s had an incredible effect on my life and I’m seeing great outcomes and opportunities as a result.

Why is it important to celebrate IWD? 

IWD is important to remind us that while we have come such a long way, we have a long way to go. There is still a societal view of what makes a woman versus a man ‘successful’ in their life. We need to continue to challenge societal norms and teach the next generation that whatever path you choose in life, be it career, family, possessions, travel or all of the above, if you are true to yourself, then you are successful.

How can we promote gender equality in daily life?

Everyone has a responsibility to promote equality no matter someone’s gender, cultural background, ability, age or sexual orientation. One of the reasons I chose to work at Thrive PR + Communications was because it was led by genuinely strong women who share my values.

Some of my greatest champions in my career have been men who have encouraged me to be my best self and to have a voice. I’ve had my view of the world shift because someone showed me another way. What is important is that there is diversity of thought and that we take the time to genuinely engage in a conversation.

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