Sydney women lead the way

28 February 2019
What makes a good leader? Six of the University's leaders, who also happen to be women, share the view from the top - and the advice they'd offer aspiring female leaders.

Professor Annamarie Jagose, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Headshot of Professor Annamarie Jagose

Contradictory things combine to make a good leader: vision coupled with an eye for detail; confidence tempered with humility; empathy paired with resolve; clarity and consistency combined with imagination; action and change plus self-reflection.

Slightly to my surprise, I find I don’t need to be liked; I need to measure up to myself at the end of every day. I also like to work in a team, enabling others and learning from them.

I get up an hour earlier than I used to so I can fit everything in, and I have a good off switch. I try to make good calls on where to expend my time and energy. I also have fun in my role – I’m endlessly interested in people and what makes them go. 

If you aspire to be a leader, don’t overthink it. Leadership can be exercised from anywhere in the room and people will already be noticing your capacities for collaboration, teamwork, problem-solving and influence. Who knows? You might already be a leader.

Professor Robyn Dowling, Dean, Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning

Headshot of Professor Robyn Dowling

My style is distinctive because of who I am rather than because I’m a woman. I’m collaborative and people-centred. I seek the opinion of others and welcome discussion. However, my experiences as a woman who has worked across various university segments do help me attune to diverse perspectives.

Change is challenging in any environment, especially in an institution with a 100-year history. Good communication is crucial, and in particular ensuring everyone understands the reasons for change, its benefits and costs.

I see my appointment as the culmination of 100 years of female leadership in the school: the four women among our original graduating cohort of eight, the talented female architects from our school found throughout the profession; the fantastic women within the school over that 100 years, and our diverse students. 

If you aspire to be a leader, acknowledge that achieving career aspirations takes time and may be more haphazard than you prefer.

Professor Rita Shackel, Associate Dean, Education, Sydney Law School

Headshot of Professor Rita Shackel

Leadership is about respect, mentoring and nurturing others. The essence is creating opportunities for others to shine. As women, our approach to leadership is infinitely varied. I reflect on how I lead as a woman and how I can build positive relationships with other women and promote gender equity across all spheres of women’s lives.

Change often comes through careful preparation and working with others. It demands hard work, patience, courage and passion. 

Ethics are vital in the 21st century workplace, along with independent, critical thinking, agility and cultural awareness. It’s important to widely harness interdisciplinary knowledge, practice and skills.

If you aspire to be a leader, believe in who you are and what you can give. Know your values and understand your boundaries and those of others. Pause and think but don’t be afraid to feel – both intellect and intuition are essential.

Professor Dianne Wiley, Head of School, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Headshot Professor Dianne Wiley

I’m always thinking of ways to direct, support and encourage staff and students to achieve the best and most important things for our world, our University and themselves. In my experience, women often take a more holistic approach to leadership that includes thinking about the whole person and work-life balance.

I am a passionate believer in strategic planning, in attaining a shared understanding right from the start about the necessary outcomes and the likely roadblocks. It’s about designing a simple process, thoughtfully and regularly monitoring progress, and making sensible and simple adjustments along the way.

I’m looking to build networks with the best industry, research and education partners around new, sustainable, energy-efficient and ecologically friendly ideas, technologies and processes.

If you aspire to be a leader, follow your passions and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone to do interesting things that have the potential to make a real difference.

Professor Kathryn Refshauge, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences

Headshot of Professor Kathryn Refshauge

My approach is collaborative. I make sure the vision and strategy are clear so everyone knows what we’re aiming for. I really love inspiring people. But I don’t have a single approach; occasionally, I will need to be more directive.

I like to make sure people are clear about reasons for change. I like to bring people along and ensure they feel heard. I find a way for them to have input, to express concerns or fears, and I then show how their feedback has been used. I make sure there are “champions” on the ground to help create the desired culture. It’s critical to build trust with all staff.

If you aspire to be a leader, embrace every opportunity. Take your seat at any decision-making table and have a voice. Don’t imagine everyone else at the table is a Nobel laureate – they simply have opinions. Reframe administration and committee work as a leadership opportunity. Make sure you have support.

Professor Robyn Ward, Executive Dean, Faculty of Medicine and Health

Headshot of Professor Robyn Ward

Be energetic, focused and consistent. Lead like it matters – leaders need to be bold and clear. Achieving a balance of stability and drive can be difficult, but my energy and mindset combined with discipline and consistency ensure we are closely aligned.

Leadership style doesn’t necessarily follow gender lines, but I’ve seen traditionally masculine traits such as steely resolve praised in male leaders but judged in women. I’ve also seen compassionate male leaders regarded as well-rounded, and empathic female leaders perceived as weak.

Change is not a spectator sport, it requires psychological and personal commitment and needs to be implemented with a realistic, attentive, courageous, long view. It’s important to be adaptable and aware of how cultural norms and personal biases can influence decision making

If you aspire to be a leader, it’s quite simple: don’t ask other people to do what you wouldn’t do yourself. You must walk the walk to lead and influence.

Professor Jacqui Ramagge, Head of School, of Mathematics and Statistics

Headshot of Professor Jacqui Rammage

I think of myself as serving rather than leading. My aim is to make as big a difference as possible. It’s hard to say if women bring a distinctive approach: there have never been more than two female Heads of School of Maths and Stats in Australia at any given time. 

Society perpetuates a myth that talent is superior to practice in mathematics. But often what people identify as talent is being well-prepared.

We give young women the impression that they cannot or should not do mathematics and they internalise this. Role models help but society undermines women’s confidence and we cannot fix that in an instant. We need long-term strategies to improve matters.

If you aspire to be a leader, seek opportunities that will advance your career even if you think you’re not quite ready for them. Don’t wait to be invited to apply for jobs or nominated for a prize. Many people will want you to do many things, and none of them will know what else you are doing, so you must learn to manage your own workload.


Top image: Mikala Dwyer, The garden of half-life (wall painting) 2014 (detail)

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