Attending commercial or financing negotiations for international infrastructure projects, Jen Radford is often one of the only few women in a room of more than 30 men. Yet, throughout her career, Jen has used her leadership and influence to increase participation of women in the projects she leads, even when she had become a mother just three weeks prior.
Jen is the newest recipient of the UN Women Australia MBA Scholarship, valued at over $60,000, to study the part-time MBA at the University of Sydney Business School.
She hopes to utilise her MBA to empower women in the Pacific Islands and other disadvantaged areas to start impactful and thriving businesses.
"Across the projects I have worked on it has been clear that business skills are the key driver of social change and I am passionate about supporting and facilitating these skills, particularly for women," she said.
"I have witnessed the same challenges and barriers to empowering women to leverage the economic opportunities of infrastructure projects, time and time again. An MBA will complement my commercial law background and practical experience at the community level to develop improved programs to support women to build and maintain sustainable businesses."
I will use the personal and professional skills and networks afforded by the UN Women Australia MBA Scholarship to become a leader capable of championing a greater role for Pacific women in international infrastructure projects.
I believe that creating leadership opportunities for women is foundational to positive social change.
After finishing her law degree and starting her career with Maddocks, Jen worked for a year as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development at the Landowners Advocacy and Legal Support Unit (LALSU) in the Solomon Islands.
Jen went on to co-found the Solomon Islands Environmental Law Association, an independent land and environmental conservation legal service, before consulting on a range of environmental projects across the Pacific Islands and Papau New Guinea, and then spending 7 years as a Project Advisor for the Tina River Hydropower Development Project (Tina Hydro).
"At LALSU, I witnessed the absence of women from discussions about the use of their land and the benefits flowing from it," she said. "To improve women’s leadership opportunities at Tina Hydro, I introduced the inclusion of women representatives as signatories of land agreements for the first time in the country’s colonial history. I also reserved equal ownership shares, voting rights, and dividend payments for women, and preserved places for women in executive leadership committees."
"After initial push back, the inclusion of women in meetings, negotiations, and signing ceremonies gradually normalised and women increasingly spoke up in meetings, articulated independent positions, and formed an all women’s matrilineal committee."
Upon finding out that she had been awarded the scholarship, Jen was surprised and humbled. "Going through the application process gave me a chance to meet so many talented, passionate and qualified women. I was honestly grateful just to have had the experience of being shortlisted. I got the news while I was down the road with my parents and I think I cried a little on the street."
On a personal level, I hope to use an MBA to develop the skills and confidence to become an effective leader in what is often a heavily male dominated industry.
Jen believes there is an opportunity to link donor-funded economic development projects with women-focused business establishment and support services through a hub that can replicate these services across multiple projects. With the skills and knowledge gained through an MBA, she has the confidence that she will be able to implement this opportunity in the Pacific.
"Becoming a mother for the first time 3 weeks before a key series of negotiations for Tina Hydro’s Power Purchase Agreement, and bringing my daughter to numerous meetings over the following 12 months, I also believe that women in leadership positions can model breastfeeding at work and normalise the need to accommodate parenting obligations for a more inclusive industry," she said
The COVID-19 pandemic also provided an opportunity to understand more on what work can be done to provide equality to women, especially mothers.
"Taking maternity leave at the same time as the world journeyed through COVID has given me more space to reflect on the type of projects I'd like to work on in the future and the skills these would need," she said. "It's also given me a chance to spend time with other supportive women at a similar life stage and cross-roads whose advice has been invaluable."
The MBA will be crucial to Jen's aspirations in this pursuit. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go through the course with a tight cohort of passionate people and the chance to gain the confidence to take an idea and make it happen."
Jen is the 20th recipient of the UN Women Australia MBA Scholarships. Applications for the Semester 1 2022 UN Women Australia Scholarship close at 10am on Tuesday 5 October 2021.