Overcoming Challenges as Female HR Leaders

Monday February 8th is International Women’s Day. The theme for 2021 is “Choose to Challenge”. To celebrate the day and the achievements of women in the workplace, LHH has spoken to three inspiring women to ask them about the challenges they have faced in their careers and what advice they have on this day for women.

Interviews with Amanda Kirkby (Talent & Organisational Development Manager ANZ, Kimberly-Clark), Kathryn Farnell (Director – People, KONE ANZ) and Jennifer Tiffin (Human Resources Director APAC, Bunzl Australasia)
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AK 

Amanda Kirkby
Talent & Organisational Development Manager ANZ
Kimberly-Clark


Amanda has been at Kimberly-Clark since August 2019 and in the HR industry since 2007. Her working career began as a high school teacher, moved into business service and operational leadership and she has even run her own interior design consultancy. But HR has been her passion through stints at Coca-Cola, Unilever, Ray White and the Commonwealth Bank.

  1. The theme for international women’s day this year is ‘choose to challenge’.  What were some of the biggest challenges you overcame on your path to becoming the leader you are today?

    One of the biggest challenges for me was when I moved out of a big corporation into a family organisation. The challenge was moving into a new company and industry culture and having to own and shape the agenda for HR without the resources and people around me like I had in the corporate world.  And while it was a challenge, it was the biggest growth of my whole career. 

  2. Can you think of a specific woman who has inspired you the most? 

    When I thought about this I thought about my mother. She was not a career woman – it was a different generation back then. But she really helped shape me in terms of inspiring me to take risks and explore. I also think having an attitude of if you make a decision and it is not working, make a change. Knowing I could always make a change is the approach I have always taken.  The business world and careers can feel serious, and she reminded me to have fun along the way.

  3. Research shows that progress is being made, albeit slowly. What should organisations be doing to continue to close the divide of gender inequality at a leadership level?

    Having targets helps you focus and helps change that focus. I also think as an organisation we need to have leaders who are driving change and not HR owning the agenda. We still have some way to go for this to be a reality.  The role women play and how they are perceived in our society I believe needs to shift more and organisations can play a large part in helping support that change.

  4. What do you think are the biggest challenges ahead for the next generation of female leaders?

    We are still working on breaking down stereotypes. The thing that worries me the most is AI and limiting the gender bias as it evolves. 

  5. As a female leader and an inspiration for many, what career advice would you give to younger women in the workplace?
     
    One thing I learnt early on was to seek a mentor – someone you have a strong affiliation with. You can ask and people can say no, but I’ve usually found them more than accommodating. The other big one for me is to be authentic and bring yourself to work, which includes your feminine energy.

 

KF

Kathryn Farnell
Director – People
KONE Australia / New Zealand

Kathryn works with KONE, a global engineering and service company employing more than 60,000 people in 60 countries. She has previously had lead HR roles at Caltex, Woolworths, John Holland and McDonald’s. She describes herself as a pragmatic leader with a reputation for building and strengthening teams in commercial settings where cultural transformation, customer-focus and safety are paramount.

  1. The theme for international women’s day this year is ‘choose to challenge’. What were some of the biggest challenges you overcame on your path to becoming the leader you are today?

    I commenced leading large, geographically dispersed teams fairly early in my career, including within male-dominated industries. I always felt like I wanted to look older than I was! I was very concerned about showing that I had the smarts to have earned my success on their merits. I didn’t want to stand out as being different to other leaders around the table.

    On the one hand, it had the positive impact of making me humbly aware of the significant experience of each person in my team, and my role in creating the environment to leverage their strengths.

    However, as I continued my leadership journey, I realised that having the spotlight on your unique point of difference to other leaders can be a great opportunity to be seen and heard. I could use my fresh outlook in a leadership role to respectfully challenge the status quo and introduce more contemporary and flexible work practices that empower others.

  2. Can you think of a specific woman who has inspired you the most?

    NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is an inspiration to me, but at the top of my list is my Nan! She is 103 years young; fighting-fit and living independently since her husband passed away nearly 20 years ago. I am inspired by the way that she is always learning something new (like going digital to stay in touch with family through the pandemic) and stays connected with her community (using her craft to knit toys for hospitals). She’s a legend!

  3. Research shows that progress is being made, albeit slowly. What should organisations be doing to continue to close the divide of gender inequality at a leadership level?

    I see a change towards more female leaders becoming the primary income-earners in their households. The old assumption that fathers are bread winners and mothers are primary carers is antiquated.

    Our organisations should strive for more equal parental leave policies to support families to ‘share the care’ of children and aging parents. If we improve the division of care, we increase the chances for both women and men to realise their career and personal ambitions.

  4. What do you think are the biggest challenges ahead for the next generation of female leaders?

    All leaders have learned during this pandemic that we must be more agile in our working styles.

    When work can be done from anywhere, at any time, it can be difficult to know when to switch off. A challenge for leaders will be to identify and support the wellbeing needs of remote workers, but this is one that female leaders may rise to meet with empathetic and inclusive leadership styles.

  5. As a female leader and an inspiration for many, what career advice would you give to younger women in the workplace?

    Pay attention to the key strength that sets you apart and don’t undersell the value of your unique point or points of difference.

    I have been in many job interviews where wonderfully talented women bargain against themselves, perhaps due to humility. Confidence will shine through if you are clear on your purpose and what you want to achieve.

    Finally, remember to support and cheer for the other women in your tribe as you rise.

 

JT

Jennifer Tiffin

Human Resources Director – APAC
Bunzl Australasia


Jennifer is the HR Director at Bunzl Australasia, a global company that provides efficiencies and innovations in the supply of essential products and services. Her career started in country Victoria at Leongatha with Murray Goulburn and has worked for a variety of food-related companies such as Harvest Freshcuts, Food Spectrum, Swickers Kingaroy Bacon Factory, Lite N Easy and five years at Kraft Heinz. 

  1. The theme for international women’s day this year is ‘choose to challenge’.  What were some of the biggest challenges you overcame on your path to becoming the leader you are today?

    I took on a leadership position working in an abattoir. I turned up, put my whites and gumboots on and went and worked in the factory. I got accepted quickly. We turned the business safety performance and general culture around.

    I think with these challenging situations it is not so much about women being treated differently but sometimes women need to adjust to fit the environment. It was a key learning early in my career. 

  2. Can you think of a specific woman who has inspired you the most?  

    I have two. Firstly, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I learnt a lot about her growing up and loved that she was driven by her values. She believed in what she wanted to do and fought for it. She didn’t listen to those who wanted to distract her. She also came from a working-class family and represented the average worker. I grew up in country Victoria and nothing was handed to us. We couldn’t afford for me to go to university, but I knew I could still achieve even without it.

    The second woman that has inspired me is a woman from PNG who I worked with at Kraft Heinz. She had left a remote island and was fortunate enough to move to Brisbane and was able to create a wonderful life for herself. She worked in a pineapple factory and virtually every cent she made she sent back to her village. She would send shipping containers full of food, clothing, footwear and also sponsored children in the village to go to school. The locals saw her as an angel, but she was so humble thinking she wasn’t doing anything unusual.

    It made me stop and think about what I was doing, and I left where I was working soon afterwards as I realised I needed to work in an environment where I could be my best.

  3. Research shows that progress is being made, albeit slowly. What should organisations be doing to continue to close the divide of gender inequality at a leadership level?

    I think it is more about inclusion rather than diversity. I also think that we should be focussing on removing the barriers. I think women need to have the confidence to put their hand up for the opportunities in front of them. A lot happens after hours, at weekends. It is about ensuring that those with family caring responsibilities can participate as much as everyone else. 

  4. What do you think are the biggest challenges ahead for the next generation of female leaders?

    I have two daughters – a 20-year-old who has just had a daughter herself, and a 23-year-old. Both will go down different paths, one following, for now, a more traditional stay at home mum path, the other as a professional in the healthcare industry. Both are great and should be supported equally.

    One of the biggest challenges is the push for quotas. In my opinion this fights against women gaining credibility when they move into leadership roles. In quota-driven teams, there is often the impression that the woman only got the job because of the quotas and not on her merit, she is fighting from day one to prove herself.

  5. As a female leader and an inspiration for many, what career advice would you give to younger women in the workplace?

    Expect to be treated equally.  Find an organsiation that is aligned with your personal values and ensure that you find yourself a great mentor –someone that will help create opportunities for you in the organisation. Be driven by your morals – do what is right.
 
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