Ilana Eldridge

Ilana Eldridge (pic from NT News)

Ilana was born in Perth in 1965, and has 2 older brothers and a younger half brother.  Ilana only met her birth father when she was 18, as her parents separated when she was very young, and her mother married her step father when Ilana was 4.

Ilana’s step father had a farm in the wheat/sheep belt of WA and  Ilana caught the school bus to Kalannie (75 miles away) to a school of 60 children.

When Ilana was in grade 6, the farm was sold, and the family moved into the eastern hills district of Perth, an area of small rural holdings.  Ilana went to a public high school, and attended a private boarding school for year 10, which was great for Ilana because she could take her horse.

Ilana’s mother always took a great interest in community affairs, helping at the kindergarten and being a member of the Volunteer Fire Brigade.  She also had a great love of wildlife – Ilana says “she much prefers animals to people” – and even today has a property out of Perth which is gazetted for environmental protection.

Ilana’s grandmother was one of the first women to graduate in fine arts at the University of WA, was an avid reader and prolific artist in most mediums.  Ilana would often spend holidays with her grandmother, who had a big influence on her political views, especially because of her progressive views on the treatment of Aboriginal people and her great interest in WA and federal politics.

Ilana’s mother was Anglican and Ilana was christened in the Anglican church at 9 years of age.   Church provided one of the few social opportunities that Ilana’s mother was able to access, as they lived so remotely.  Ilana said that in fact neither her mother nor her father were really believers.  Today, Ilana has no religion but has  “a personal sense of spirituality around earth and life.”

When Ilana finished school, she moved to Sydney.  Her first real job was with the United Nations Information Centre, helping compile their newsletter.  And then she took a voluntary job with a community radio station on Sydney’s north shore, “learned to be a dj” and helped establish a news program, and run a country music program with Smokey Dawson.

This was the beginning of her career in media, as she went on to apply for a job with the ABC.  When she was 20, she started working at Tamworth ABC, doing the afternoon show, broadcasting to a large catchment area around Tamworth.  In 1986, she was head hunted to the ABC in Darwin.  In the extract below, Ilana describes the learning experiences of those years in Darwin.

Ilana eventually resigned from the ABC. She began to get interested in the environment movement and its campaign at Coronation Hill.  She worked with the Greenpeace representative in Darwin and was as early member of the Anti-Uranium group in Darwin.

I started to look at the whole picture, from a resource extraction proposal, through to whose land it [the Ranger proposal] was on, and what the legislation said, and that led me into politics.

One of the key contributions I reckon I have made was lobbying the environment movement to take on the issue of Aboriginal community development as a key part in their negotiations and considerations.  When I started, there was no consideration given to the role of the Aboriginal people and their country, and how they were backed into a corner to approve an exploration license.

Ilana was working as a volunteer with the Environment Centre of NT and was also working on a book venture about Kakadu.  While living in Kakadu in a tent at Gadjaduba Billabong, she formed a close relationship with Big Bill Neidjie, a senior elder of the Kakadu lands.

She was also part of a collaborative effort between the major environment groups on opposing the uranium mining.

I asked Ilana whether she would have called herself a leader in the environment movement .  She describes the role she played in the environment movement in the extract below:

In 1988- early 90, Ilana contacted Greens political parties in other parts of Australia, with a view to setting up a Greens party in the NT.   She stood for election several times, first as a Green Independent, and was then a founder of the Greens in NT, becoming its Convenor.

In 1988, Ilana decided to act on her long term desire to start a newspaper with some friends in the Trades and Labour Council, was contracted to do a re-enactment of the original Northern Standard paper (pre its purchase by Murdoch) as part of the Bi-centennial.

She then was part of a phone in project – “dobbing in” corruption and cronyism in NT – and wrote up the phone in results in a newspaper called the NT Bluesa caricature of the NT News, which was delivered by Australia Post to every household in the NT. There was lots of controversy as the paper went to production, during which time Ilana worked closely with the unions and even had armed Transport and Workers Union reps guarding the copy before it went to press.

Soon after that, Ilana was offered a position with the ABC doing Territory Extra – a daily news hour.  At this time, Ilana also became involved in the East Timor campaign and was very publicly sacked because of a media stunt at her home, next door to the Indonesian Consulate, which highlighted the genocide in East Timor, the death of five Australian media men at Balibo and the brutality of the Indonesian military.

Ilana was involved in campaigning for the liberation of East Timor from 1988-98, as part of an organisation called Australians For a Free East Timor (AFFET).  The extract below explains how the organisation worked.

During this time, Ilana was also doing paid work as the NT project manager with the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

Ilana met and married Sonny Inbaraj, the Editor of The Nation, Thailand’s largest English speaking newspaper and moved to Thailand for a year in 1993-94.  The couple then moved back to Darwin, and started a newspaper called The Australasian, which Ilana describes as breaking a number of big human rights and economics stories over its 16 or so issues.  In 1996-97, Ilana worked for Dawn House, a domestic violence shelter.

After Timor’s liberation, Ilana went immediately to Timor, where she helped start the Asia Pacific Support Collective, which supported the Timorese in establishing grass roots civil society initiatives and new businesses in the post-liberation period.

Sonny and Ilana divorced during this time in Timor, and Ilana met Carey, who is the father of Ilana’s older child.  Carey was working for the US State department, but after a year in Timor together, they moved to Zanzibar in Africa.  Carey spent much of his time in Kenya, however, helping his brother seek election into the Kenyan parliament.

Ilana lived, mostly as a single parent, in Zanzibar for 2 years, helping local women to start a development organisation, the first task of which was to clean up Zanzibar.  Her child support money from Australia allowed her to live comfortably in Zanaibar, but as a first time mother without access to good communications, she really missed child rearing support and advice, and had to deal with big scares like a local cholera outbreak.

Ilana and Carey eventually separated as Carey moved to the US, and Ilana moved back to Australia in 2005.

On her return, Ilana was keen to help reinvigorate the Greens, and she stood in local, state and federal elections as the lead candidate.  She was also involved in training other candidates.

In 2006, Ilana began working at the Larrakia Nation, the peak representative body of the Larrakia peoples in the top end. She had her second child with a new partner in 2007, and after maternity leave, returned to Larrakia and “was landed” into the CEO job.

It’s an enormous challenge .  It’s been very very hard to work at Larrakia Nation.  When I took over there were 25 cdep- subsidised staff ant the Organisation was close to insolvency. Now there’s 90 staff and we hace 3-year renewable funding for more than half of the programs.

I asked Ilana, in looking at all the different initiatives she’s started, what she saw as the characteristics of her leadership style.

I do have an ability to think ahead and conceptualise the essence of a problem, and the practical solutions.  I have a horror of starting things that don’t survive when I leave, which is one of the reasons I was so keen to come back to Darwin to continue work with the Greens.

With the Larrakia Nation, I’ve got a whole lot of pilot projects started which will develop and grow with or without me.

I asked about the biggest challenges of leadership

I think a key thing is alone-ness – not having many people you can discuss, debrief, and problem solve with.  I find I’ve developed great resilience, and this is a critical factor to help work out how to do it.  Developing resilience seems to be accidental – a chance thing. For me, I think it was access to a man called Ron Hartree who I met in Tamworth – an artist, educator, spiritual man – who really listened and understood so much. I know that wherever I am in the world and whatever time it is, I can ring him up.

But also I’m pretty stubborn and determined, and I’ve developed problem solving skills along the way – perhaps beginning with [my childhood] on the farm – an isolated space where you have to make do. …    I don’t come from a structured business or corporate background, and there’s a lot of decisions I’ll make on instinct and political knowledge, and because I’ve been around the NT for more than 20 years.

I’ve also been able to observe and access some great thinkers – including Ron Hartree and Greens like Bob Brown, Christine Milne, and particularly Marg Blakers.

Ilana said in conclusion:

I do think women in leadership positions, particularly those with small children, require more assistance, acknowledgement and mentoring.  We work in very difficult circumstances, and there aren’t many places to go to for support – for back up.

Comments welcome below. 

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Janet Rice

Janet Rice - from her website

Janet was born in 1960 in Altona, Victoria, and has always lived and worked in Victoria.  She is the middle child of 5 – 3 sisters and a brother – and the children were brought up as Anglican, with Janet being a regular churchgoer until her mid-teens.  Janet now describes herself as Gaian – with “a sense of spirituality and the power of the earth – but certainly no belief in a higher being”. Janet’s mother was active in the church and in the social and charity and outreach activities of the church, as well as local music and heritage groups.  Janet’s father was a radio amateur, and involved as a volunteer in the Wireless Institute of Austalia.

Janet went to the local primary school and won a scholarship to a private Anglican high school, which her sisters all attended.  Janet described her school leadership roles as prefect, house captain, sports captain “and involved in every extra-curricula activity that you could be”.

This was the role I played in the family – I was the “good girl” – and I think I benefited from being the third child, with my parents being more relaxed with me.  I made a choice to be a non-conformist teenager and not wanting to do the things – staying out late, drinking etc, listening to pop music – that my peers wanted to do.

Janet has a BSc Hons in meteorology, but did not return to meteorology, although she is grateful for her scientific background.  I asked Janet where she thought she’d be if she stayed with a science or other more traditional career.

If I’d gone off and had a traditional career, I sometimes wonder where I’d have been.  If I’d gone into Local Government, I would probably be looking at a senior management or CEO role somewhere by now.  I think I could have been happy in Local Government if I’d found the right niche.  I would have of course been hugely better off financially.

I asked Janet whether she feels regretful about this.  “At the moment I feel hopeful that I will get an elected position for The Greens, and with that I’d feel in a position of influence and an appropriate level of recompense.  But if financial issues had been that important to me, I wouldn’t have done what I have.”

Janet was involved in the Franklin campaign during University, going to the Tasmanian blockade, and protesting in Victoria. Janet describes her first experiences of consensus making at the blockade in the extract below – something which was the beginning of a life-long commitment to collaborative leadership. (apologies for the background noise)

Janet also met long term partner Penny at University and their relationship since has stood up to a range of challenges, including media attention when Janet was involved in local politics.

After finishing Uni, Janet landed a job in 1983 as Nature Conservation Project Officer with the Conservation Council (now Environment Victoria).  She was involved in policy and advocacy work in nature conservation issues there for 2 years.  She worked on the Victorian Timber Industry Inquiry, where she met Margaret Blakers.

From 1985 til 1990, she was forest campaigner and campaign coordinator for the East Gippsland Coalition, doing campaigning, coordinating and fund raising, during which time several national parks were reserved as a result of EGC action, and the group continued working to get protection for areas outside the parks.

In 1991, Janet worked for 6 months as a consultant for Context consulting until the birth of her first child in August of that year.  While on maternity leave, Janet was a key driver in establishing The Greens in Victoria –  organising preliminary meetings, and forming and working with the green politics network (analysing the policy positions of parties and candidates standing for election) – in the lead up to the October 1992 Victorian state election.  The Victorian Greens was then launched on 7 November 1992.

In doing this work, Janet collaborated with a number of other activists,   including Margaret Blakers and Peter Christoff.  I asked Janet about the different roles they undertook.

Margaret had a range of different contacts with people in leadership and academic positions, and superb skills at just getting things done.  I focused on bringing in local activists and groups, and I was paid for a day a week as Office Coordinator.  Peter drafted the constitution for both The Greens Victoria and nationally, and had a major involvement in policy development for the party.

During this time, her baby John was in occasional child care.  Penny was working full time and provided help with their son on weekends and in evenings.

I really enjoyed the time being with the baby – nurturing – and this was also a time for me to think.  But I fairly quickly became involved in green politics work.  I wasn’t being financially rewarded, but I had something important I was working on – which was a good mix with motherhood.

In 1992, Janet started working with Bicycle Victoria where she stayed for 4 years with time out for  the birth of her second son.  She was the founder and instigator of the Ride to Work Program.  In the extract below Janet describes how she moved from her maternity leave involvement in green politics, into the job at Bicycle Victoria.

In 1997, Janet returned to work for Context doing environment and strategic planning work, but increasingly running community engagement processes for local government – “working with people rather than policy or strategy”.

However, during this time Janet also took time off to be part of various Greens election campaigns, making sure that her political work didn’t interfere with her paid work.

You couldn’t hide that I was very involved with The Greens while being a senior consultant at Context.  It wasn’t a problem, because the campaigns I generally ran in were local, and didn’t intrude on my work.  I didn’t have a prominent media role for the Greens at that time.

In 2003 Janet was elected as Greens Councillor on the City of Maribyrnong and held this position until 2008. This was a very large and mostly unpaid commitment, which included being Chair of the Metropolitan Transport forum, (a forum of 17 Councils advocating on transport issues) and  being on the board and Vice President of the Victorian Local Governance Association.  Janet was also Mayor of Maribyrnong in 2005-2006.

The Town Hall was right next to the primary school.  The kids could come from after school care to have dinner with me at Council , and the Council staff were very supportive.  Our life was one juggling act, and calling upon other family and friends, including my Mum , and sharing child care with friends.

It was busy, and I never had time for myself  – every minute of the day was scheduled – you had to have your wits about you the whole time, but Penny’s support was pivotal, and the kids were supportive.

I asked Janet how her children responded to her having a media profile. Her response is in the extract below.

In recent years, Janet has continued her work for The Greens in Victoria, standing at state and federal elections in 2010, campaign managing election campaigns, and working for Greens MLC Colleen Hartland.  She is currently doing a short term appointment with Hume City Council as their Senior Strategic Transport Planner.

I had a conversation with someone in The Greens some time before this interview, and she had suggested that, now that The Greens across Australia are becoming electable, there will be more men standing, and that the current high representation of women among elected parliamentarians may not persist.   Janet agreed that this might be the case – that there is more interest in pre-selection in Victoria – “a Melbourne Cup field” in fact she says about the preselection for lead Senate candidate for the Victorian Greens for the next Federal election for which she is currently standing.  I asked about The Greens Victoria’s policy on affirmative action, and Janet said that The Greens Victoria has a commitment to affirmative action, but nothing more rigorous.  However, Janet said there are likely to be a range of strong women candidates aiming for Senate preselection.

Bob Brown, Margaret Blakers, Linda Parlane are all role models for Janet, “in showing me that working with the community could be done, and different ways of working with people”.

Janet describes herself as a “facilitatory leader”.   She has been a formal and informal mentor to a number of young women, but is currently finding it hard to recruit young women to become involved in The Greens as candidates.  Frequently she is told that they just don’t have the time to devote, and are reluctant to make themselves a target for criticism.

I asked Janet about differences between women and men leaders in The Greens:

There’s an ongoing tension in The Greens Victoria between people who are committed to working collaboratively and making decisions by consensus (which I think is a critical part of Greens’ practice), and others who would like to modify this approach – more things going to vote when consensus goes on too long – and most of the latter group are men. …  I think that’s because they place more emphasis on the task, and not enough on ensuring that everyone is coming along with them.  It’s not a complete male/female divide, but men are more likely to be pushing these sorts of changes.

When I was first elected to Council, I had my first experience of making decision by voting, and I was shocked by the bad decisions that were made, and how, if you didn’t have the numbers, you weren’t listened to – which is a waste of expertise and knowledge.

The community hated the infighting and back stabbing, but for most, Councillors found adversarial processes were more attractive to them.

When I interviewed Janet she was juggling her short term local government contract, voluntary work in the climate change area and campaigning for Senate pre-selection.   For Janet, managing the time involved in leadership activities is one of the greatest challenges.

The collaborative leadership model takes time – and you haven’t always got that.  

And there’s always the tension of , where you draw the line between trying to change the world, and looking after yourself.  So I’m aware of that, and try to schedule time in for other things – I practice yoga and learn the violin, although they’ve largely gone by the wayside at the moment.

I also feel that I don’t spend enough time with my friends, and nurturing my friendships.

But there are things that need doing… I’ve always had a sense that there are things happening in the world that don’t make sense, that aren’t rational, and I’ve got an ability and the skills and resources that I can bring to help change the way things are.  I’m motivated by big ideals – you’ve just got to do what you can to, say, turn around climate change.  If I wasn’t involved, I’d feel like I was abdicating a responsibility.

Comments welcome below.

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Teresa Corbin

Teresa was born in California in 1966 to an Australian family.   Her father was completing a PhD at the University of California – going on to become an academic plant pathologist.  Teresa’s mother was a nurse, eventually becoming a nurse educator – she worked part time when her five children were growing up.

The family moved from the US to New Zealand, and then when her parents separated, Teresa moved with her mother back to Melbourne.  This was a difficult time for Teresa (who was 14) and her siblings – they had been top of the class in their New Zealand school, but due to the different curricula, they struggled in some subjects back in Australian schools.  Also, the move away from their friends was distressing, particularly for Teresa and her older brother.

Teresa was raised as a Catholic, and her parents are both still practising.  Growing, up, Teresa attended mass every week, and the family carried out all the annual religious ceremonies.  Teresa also attended Catholic schools throughout her primary and secondary education.  Teresa now describes herself as agnostic.

In the year before finishing school, Teresa had saved enough money through her part time work to pay for her own exchange program in Switzerland.  She lived with a German speaking family, and learned to speak German. Being away from her family was a positive move for her at the time – Teresa says “it was nice to be able to focus on something intellectual – learning another language and culture – and I felt a certain level of freedom”.

Teresa went to La Trobe University thinking that she would get a linguistic qualification, but the Government introduction of tertiary fees in 1987 (her second year of Uni), politicised her, and she became involved in the anti-fees campaigns.  Teresa’s activity led to her becoming the President of the SRC at La Trobe Uni, when she was 21.

Teresa was also involved in the first year of the establishment of the National Union of Students, which she says, gave her a good insight into “sandpit politics” which she found quite “ugly” and disillusioning.  However, Teresa’s involvement in student politics and student governance also meant that she quickly gained a range of business and management skills.

Around the same time Teresa also became involved in Community Aid Abroad, and was Chair of the Asia Pacific Student Association meeting in Bangkok in 1989.  She was appointed after working with students from across the region especially in the Phillipines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor and Burma.  Teresa says “I was very affected by visits to the jungle university set up in refugee camps by the Burmese students who had fled the brutal crack down in 1988”.   She was also part of a human rights study tour in the Philippines in 1988 and was involved in the peace movement.

I’d started to see that there was a lot more to the world, and change that needed to happen than the sort of issues that students get caught up into.  But I could see that it wasn’t going to be an easy job.

I also had made a decision at that time that my career would be in the community sector.  I didn’t want to go into politics, though even now I find the whole political thing attractive and interesting.

After 1.5 years, Teresa stepped down from the SRC President position.  She  wanted to get back to study, and then decided that she wanted tomade a conscious decision to settle down and have children because she saw it as a small way towards making a positive contribution towards building a better world

Teresa’s marriage to her first husband was, she says,  “quite controversial among her peers”- she was seen to be in some way supporting and endorsing “the patriarchal system”.

Teresa had two children close together, the first child being born when she was just 24.   But she persisted with her studies as well as working part time at the food co-op at La Trobe University.

Teresa eventually got a scholarship to do an honours year, but as her husband wasn’t able to find work, and the family needed an income, she ended up not finishing the honours year, and taking on a job managing the northern campuses for the RMIT Union.

During the time that Teresa was doing this job, her marriage broke down.  In 1995 Teresa and her ex-husband decided together that they wanted to move north.  Teresa got a position at the Consumer Telecommunications Network (CTN) as the part time Communications Liaison Officer, and they both moved to Sydney  at the same time to provide continuity and easy access for the children.

Teresa enjoyed the CTN job because it seemed to be a move away from management and a lot of responsibility, and it allowed her to spend more time with her children.  She was in charge of resourcing regional consumer councils, compiling the newsletter, and other communications activities.

However, right from the beginning, she also took on some management responsibilities, and began to take up opportunities to become involved in some policy work.

By 1998, Teresa was living with her new partner Julian, and he provided good support for Teresa in her work arrangements.   The children continued to have access to their dad which gave additional respite.

I asked Teresa how she’d managed to combine her parenting with a successful and demanding job, including some time as a single mum,

I think a lot of it relates to the fact that I stayed in the community sector because I made a conscious decision to do that, and that’s unusual.  Most people use the community sector as a way to leap off into a government job, or something else because they get sick of it, or burnt out, and also the pay’s really poor.  But for me, staying in the community sector meant that I had flexibility, and family friendly environments – so if I needed to bring my kids to work I could, for example.

And we continue that now [at ACCAN].   From my perspective, we can’t offer a high salary, we can’t be competitive on that level, but we can compete on leave arrangements, time in lieu arrangements for school holidays – you couldn’t do that in the corporate world.

In 2003, Teresa became CEO of CTN.   Julian and Teresa made a joint decision that he would take a less high powered job, and he worked from home for a number of years.  Teresa says: “Julian does want to have a job and he enjoys working, and he does want to make a difference, but we do have a different view of work.”

Some people say that if I didn’t have kids I might have gone further.  I think in some ways, I chose positions that would support my family in the way I wanted to.

You either give up time or money, and I chose the latter.  I don’t own a house –I gave up on the idea of owning real estate, and I gave up having as challenging a role as perhaps I’d like. I gave up being remunerated a lot more.  But I think you’d find that the community sector is dominated by women, and that’s probably why.   For example, I was able to take time to be with my daughter when she did the HSC, and I know that she didn’t feel that the job was more important than her.

But now the kids are grown up, in some ways I feel a sense of freedom – if I have to work long hours I can.

Teresa started a Masters in Information Communications Technology a few years ago, but the workload was too difficult to balance with family and work responsibilities.  She is still keen to finish this degree at some stage in the future.  She studied a unit of Law recently that “gave her a lot of power in being an advocate”.

A number of colleagues have told me over the years that I’m a better consumer advocate as a non-lawyer, because I don’t hold back, don’t think that’s not possible, so don’t argue for it.  But there’s still a loss of power through not having all the information about a particular issue.

Three years ago, the government decided that it wanted to change the way that consumers were represented in the telecommunications areas.   Teresa was very involved in the process of creating a new umbrella organisation for consumers of communications services  – the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN).

Teresa coordinated the development of  the model for ACCAN, including the negotiations between the different consumer groups about representational issues.  She applied unsuccessfully for the first CEO position (it went to Allan Asher) and she was offered deputy CEO.  Teresa describes herself as being quite burnt out and in a sense relieved to have a break.  “I’m quite attracted to the 2IC position – I didn’t know whether I wanted to stick my neck out again.”

But then in 2010, Allan Asher took on a job as the Commonwealth Ombudsman and Teresa applied again – this time successfully –  for the CEO position.

In the interview, we talked a lot about Teresa’s approach to managing people.  She really enjoys mentoring people – mainly informally through the young people who have worked with her.  She has a big focus as a manager on achievement – “in the community sector we don’t value what we’ve done” – and she has been part of instituting regular celebrations of successes.  “I like setting a tone and culture around a place, and I like making sure that people feel safe and confident in a work place, and can raise issues as they need to.

Teresa sometimes finds the political aspects of her job difficult –  she describes herself as “straight up and down” and says she doesn’t want to be manipulative.  “I find it hard to accept less than high standards of integrity, and that’s a challenge every day.  I find it hard, but I can’t make any short cuts”.

Nelson Mandela is a role model for Teresa, but closer to home, Phillipa Smith and Deirdre O’Donnell  (NSW Information Commissioner) have provided her with mentoring and support – for Teresa these are women who “are happy for me to download, then they make little suggestions”.

I asked Teresa about women and men in leadership roles in the consumer movement.

I have a real thing about ego.  For me, it’s important to be humble, and it was pretty important to have that characteristic when I was managing CTN – my role was building a coalition.  Now, the CEO of ACCAN is perceived to be the person who is the keeper of the vision for the organisation, and there is much more focus on being high profile.

I’m still disappointed about how few women are out there doing things.  Senior positions continue to be male dominated – I’m not convinced that selection processes based on what is seen as merit, are always effective.

Teresa sees her own decisions in work/life balance as providing different strengths for leadership than might be selected for in mainstream recruitment processes.  “There’s something about not just valuing the results of a competitive world, but also valuing the results of mutualism and the gains you can have from a different approach.”

One of Teresa’s final comments encapsulates her approach to leadership – which is based in her belief that it is always important to be humble.  “I’m not “the one” – I’m the leader of many.  I see myself as part of a team, rather than the team being there to support me.”

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Karen Alexander

Karen Alexander 2012 (photo by G & J Lambert)

Karen was born in Melbourne in 1948 and has a younger brother. Karen’s parents were agnostic – they struggled with being brought up with rigid religious backgrounds that they broke away from – Mennonite in the case of her mother and Baptist/Presbyterian for her father. Karen is an atheist.

Karen had a mix of public and private school education – the last five years were at the local high school. Immediately after school, Karen started at Monash Uni studying maths. In her second year Karen had, in her words, “a very good year” and ended by failing all her subjects. A year off from studying followed during which time she went to Tasmania – “I had no clear idea about who I was or what I wanted to do, but I knew that maths certainly wasn’t it”.

By this stage, Karen had begun doing long bushwalks in Tasmania. Growing up near Sherbrooke Forest and being encouraged to explore had kindled Karen’s early interest in the bush, and she found the idea of studying something to do with the outdoors very appealing. So she embarked on a degree in geology part time in Hobart.

While in Hobart studying, Karen observed the campaign to save Lake Pedder and the role of people such as Olegas and Melva Truchanas, Richard Jones and local campaigner and Tasmanian Environment Centre founder Leigh Holloway, all of whom she describes as “extraordinary people”.

She discovered that female geology students were not allowed to go out into the field (this was 1973 before antidiscrimination legislation).

In 1974, disappointed in not being able to do field work and wanting to leave Tasmania, Karen moved to Canberra without finishing her degree. She intended to do an education course, but a scholarship to study natural resource management at Canberra CAE fitted well with Karen’s interests. The more practical approach taken by lecturers such as Peter Cullen and John Harris and being encouraged to think about ecology and its application suited Karen’s needs.

Karen has been in a relationship with David for 31 years. They first met at the Monash Bushwalking Club as university students, which Karen says is a good place to size up a future partner. “When you’ve seen someone with mud on them, when they’ve woken up with puffy eyes, when they’re grumpy because they’re very tired, then you’ve seen the real person.” But it wasn’t until 1979 when Karen moved back to Melbourne that their relationship really began and they moved in together.

For some time Karen had a job that she really enjoyed in rural Victoria, caretaking in a national park, and she managed to save what seemed to be the huge sum of $10,000. This nest egg then allowed her to work on the Franklin campaign for the next 3 years, in an unpaid capacity.

A few people in Melbourne – including Margaret Blakers, Ross Scott and John Terrell – were meeting to form a branch of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, and Karen became part of this effort.

In the extract below Karen talks about their early activities, which she describes as being “built on the anger of the loss of Lake Pedder”.

Karen worked on the Franklin campaign for 2 days per week initially, which quickly became (more than) full time. As the presence in the office, she became the public spokesperson in Melbourne, coordinator and organiser, and MC for public meetings.

I never saw myself as the leader. I just happened to be able to work on the campaign seven days a week. I had the time, and other people didn’t have the time.

When I look back on it the skills I brought to it – the skills I learned in observing my parents – were a keen eye and ear for how the group was operating, how you could help the group make a decision, how you could pick out the best of what was going on, and in people, and how you could support people. I wasn’t conscious of those particular skills at the time. I just thought that was how you did it. It was only afterwards that people said that was what I did. We worked really well together, and some of it – not all of it – was because of those skills that I learned in the teenaged years.

After the Franklin victory, Karen stayed with the new national Wilderness Society (TWS), becoming co-Director with Chris Harris in 1984-85 – a six-month leadership position Karen describes as almost impossible – “endless talks about structure, no recognition that we didn’t know about governance arrangements – also no clear role for me.”

Karen then went to Brisbane to help with the TWS campaign to protect the Daintree rainforest, but found this a very different experience than working on the Franklin campaign.

With the Franklin campaign it was very fluid. You’d grab opportunities as they came up and run with them. With the Daintree campaign you needed a more structured environment, liaison with other organisations and people, and I remember feeling I had no real idea what I was doing. The Daintree campaign needed more considered planning, and more understanding of what my role was as co-Director of this national organisation – it was a huge shift for me from going from just a campaigner, to having this title as co-Director.

After Karen left the co-Director position, she moved back to Melbourne. Working with Margaret Robertson she convinced the TWS national decision making body that the organisation should focus on wilderness across the country, rather than fighting individual campaigns. As a result of this Karen became involved in making a series of 6 wilderness films over a period of 4 years (1984-87).

In 1988 Karen went overseas for a year, and worked for the United Nations Environment Program in Paris.

I rang up David and said I’d just been offered this work and it’s six months. There was a silence, and then he said “I think that’s a fantastic opportunity”. And I knew he’d say that. He’s supportive in a quiet way.  He doesn’t block me from doing things, and doesn’t demand more time – he never says “What about me?”.

But we’ve had to work at making sure that we don’t live parallel lives – we enjoy eating and talking together, and our big overseas trips away have been really important times for us.

Karen was offered more work in Paris, but was concerned that her work there wasn’t having an impact, something which is very important to her – “I need to see things changing in some way” – and she wanted to come back to be with David. So she returned to Australia and took on the job of Environment Manager at ACF, which she held between 1990- 1993.

During the interview, Karen and I had a long talk about leadership and management – and how she approached these issues in her ACF position. When she began the job, Karen was concerned at her lack of management experience – she had never done any leadership or management training. In the extract below Karen talks about defining leadership, and about her approach of focusing on “enabling staff to do their job well”. Karen also talks about the impact of the 1991 recession on ACF and on her leadership role.

In the 10 years after leaving ACF, Karen worked as a consultant, mainly doing facilitation and strategic planning. She did a Masters of Applied Science at the University of Western Sydney in 2002 and was President of Australian Bush Heritage between 2000-2004 – a period when the organisation underwent considerable growth.

There were also some personal challenges – her mother became ill and died, and Karen was getting to know the daughter with whom she had recently reunited after 19 years.

Karen also became involved in the early days of the Victorian Greens – being on their first Greens Council. As part of the Victorian Greens, Karen continued to work at bringing people together – helping run the first Greens candidate in La Trobe and working on the Australian Greens national communications strategy in the 1996 Federal election campaign, which included organising focus groups and helped with media training for all the Senate candidates. She was, in her own words, “seeing opportunities and making them work.”

At the same time, Karen was working at her local level in the Southern end of the Dandenong Ranges. She was a member of the Environment Management Committee for Cardinia Council and over a period of 3 years helped Council to develop environmental sustainability indicators.

In 2005, Karen took on a contract with the Victorian National Parks Association to develop a long term, cross-sectoral campaign to raise awareness of biodiversity and increase its value in the community. She brought together a range of organisations into the Victoria Naturally Alliance and by 2007 had raised sufficient money to support the Alliance. She’s currently team leader of the initiative.

I asked Karen whether she had ever been mentored by anyone:

It would have been really good, but no. When I started to work for ACF, Deni Greene [environmental consultant] offered me the opportunity, but I didn’t formalise it. I didn’t have an idea of how valuable it would be. But also, I think I’m wary of asking for help for me – I’m very good at asking for help for others, or for the campaign, but not for me.

Karen has been inspired by many people including Bob Brown, Judy Henderson and Judy Lambert and she really admires people with a capacity to focus on one thing and get it done.   She admires Gwynneth Taylor, the first female president of the Victorian NPA, “for her capacity to ask a particular question, which may not have an obvious immediate answer, but it would get you thinking”.

Karen also says she admired the way that Philip Toyne was not excessively concerned when things didn’t go according to plan. “I tend to have an overly developed sense of responsibility.  I think many women do – when you don’t do something well, women agonise over it.”

As I’ve got older, I understand more about what I do well. As I understand this, I can then use my skills more effectively. I do have the capacity to see the underlying need, and the capacity to see how you might act on that need. As I’ve become older I’ve become more confident, and I’ve been able to argue for the solutions that I think are right.

The last extract below is of Karen talking about the differences between women and men in leadership.

I asked Karen about the rewards and difficulties of leadership:

Seeing some change, seeing something operating well – that’s the reward of leadership. The difficulties arise when you have to make hard decisions – perhaps when you haven’t had time to consult properly, and you might get bad reactions. I sometimes find it difficult to take the full responsibility of leadership, as it can be very stressful. The impact can be high on your sense of well being, and that has put me off leadership at times – I don’t want to feel that extra sense of stress.

I also asked about whether Karen thought she’d missed out on a higher level of income by working in the non-government sector. She said that the lack of pay or low pay is part of working in the environment movement, but that

the sort of work I do – relationship building – is not valued anywhere in society, so whether it would have been recognised in a corporate world I doubt it.  It might have been more recognised in government…

I’m glad there’s a pension. I won’t have enough superannuation. But I have found that so long as you’re not paying out a lot of money for a huge mortgage, you can live quite well, by living fairly simply.

Finally we talked about why women might not want to become involved as leaders in the environment movement.

There’s not an active program of support for women to become leaders in the environment movement. Such a program might include discussions about what leadership is, what you might bring to leadership, how you might be trained in leadership roles. It may also include a recognition of the current leadership roles, a mentoring system. I think that the leadership styles that are the role models need to be expanded … while it’s still considered to be narrow, political head bashing stuff – I think it’s a bit of a barrier for women.

It would be fantastic if the notion of leadership could be expanded – so a leader is not just a prime minister or CEO. This would then enhance everyone’s capacity to see where they can play a leadership role. Nearly everyone would find themselves in some leadership role. This would then provide value to that person – it’s an empowering notion. It’s disempowering when it is implied that one person is the leader and the others don’t have the skills. Any good CEO knows that they rely on the leadership skills of staff, although not many acknowledge it. I have found, in general, that women are better able to acknowledge the roles that others play, and thank them. For the blokes it’s not so easy– because that’s giving away power.

Interview by Jane Elix.  Extra material and editing by Judy Lambert

Comments very welcome below.

Posted in Alexander, Karen, Women leaders in the environment movement | 4 Comments

Kelly O’Shanassy

Kelly was born in 1970 in Geelong, Victoria, the middle child of 3.  Her family was  Catholic – her parents attended church regularly, and her grandmother was particularly religious.    Kelly attended Catholic school all the way through her education but says she rebelled against Catholicism when she was about 12 (she’s an atheist now).

Kelly describes her parents as being generous in an understated way and that this helped determine her values (rather than anything from the Church).  Her father was a policeman and her mother was a teacher, and they were committed to giving back to society.  “Even on their days off, everyone would come around and ask my dad for help”.

When Kelly was about 12, her family moved to the country, and the impacts of drought on the natural and human environment made a big impression on her.  Her mother’s side of the family are all farmers, and the young Kelly wanted to be a vet, or an advocate in the environment sector – “but only in a way that would let me help negotiate an outcome – I never wanted to be the person tying themselves to a tree’.

Kelly was the first in her family to go to University, completing a BSc Hons, focusing on river environmental processes.  Her career started out in the State Water Laboratories, which was privatised shortly after she began work and became Water Ecoscience which was essentially a consultancy business.  Kelly talks in the extract below about her early positions and about how she has always worked for the environment

In 1998, Kelly joined the EPA in Victoria, where she quickly became a Manager in a policy development area, and also became more involved in overall organisational management.

At EPA, Kelly was invited to be part of a 6 month leadership and management training course (run by Fabian Dattner) – which she describes as a huge turning point in her life.

I was working in an organisation of scientists and engineers who were skilled at making highly structured decisions.  But I would get to the same answers to problems much more intuitively .  [Through the training] I came to realise that the way that I make decisions isn’t highly structured.  ButI also learned that my style is no better or worse than other people’s styles.  I also realised that people wanted me in their teams because I was different.

The course gave me information about how I and others like to work, and helps me to manage other people.  These days, [the information from the course] allows me to notice when I’m falling back into behaviours that aren’t positive.

Kelly is now talking to her current staff about whether similar training might be useful for them.  “They’re highly passionate – which is wonderful – but they need to know how to manage that as well.”

In 2004 Kelly was seconded over to the Department of Sustainability and the Environment, working on Victoria’s Environmental Sustainability framework.  This work lasted for 18 months, and Kelly found it a difficult period.  During this time she sought advice from a coach at times to get through some of the management problems she was facing.  The coach gave her some good skills in understanding how other team members were feeling, and tools for managing the problems.

Kelly went on to manage a joint venture for the water industry in Melbourne, developing and running a 50 year water management strategy.  In this position, Kelly was working with 4 different Managing Directors and 4 different Boards, each of which was very different.  She really enjoyed the experience – although saying that a short term panic over a period of drought led to many of the initiatives she had worked on being overshadowed in favour of new pipelines and a desalination plant.

In 2007, Kelly became CEO of Environment Victoria (EV)– the leading environment group in Victoria.  There are currently 20 staff working in the organisation.  In the interview, Kelly described the changes that she helped bring about, including ensuring that EV’s funding became more independent of government, developing more long term programs and strategies for staff, and building team work, and re-focusing campaigns to become more solution based.

Kelly found it quite a challenge when she first came into the environment movement – at times she felt quite judged by others in the movement (not in EV), for coming from government, and for some of the solutions she was supporting in the water area.  Kelly also felt surprised by some of the environment movement’s beliefs about people working in the corporate sector being inherently destructive. Kelly says thay she has worked hard within EV to encourage a culture where people are seen to be positioned somewhere along an environmental awareness continuum, and encouraged to take the next step rather than criticised for where they are, and who they work for.

In the extract below Kelly talks about some of the differences between women and men leaders in the environment movement.  Kelly is currently the only female CEO of a state conservation council.

I asked Kelly why women might not want to become leaders in the environment movement

I think a lot of what we do as an environment movement is political – we have to influence politicians, and there’s still an old style of working – tactics haven’t come as far as they could – a lot of the time it is the bravado that gets you there.

Maybe more women aren’t doing so much leadership because the toll is high – you’re always thinking about the impact you’re having on other people.

Kelly also thinks women get held back in leadership when they have children.  She has been in a long term relationship for 8 years and is not planning to have children.  She says she’s never had an overwhelming desire to have children and she doesn’t want to bring children into a world which she sees as having a potentially devastating environmental future.  “I do think that having kids is giving back to the world –but we’ll have to give back in another way” she says.

Kelly has informed her Board that she will leaving her position at Environment Victoria next year.   I asked her what sort of jobs she could see in her future. Kelly says she likes the CEO role in large part because of the rewards of seeing a change in attitude or behaviour that she has helped bring about.  She says “I can’t see myself as doing something in the future that doesn’t involve advocacy.”

When I started this job, I didn’t want to foist my opinion on other people, because I respect other people’s views, and I was apprehensive of advocacy. I didn’t like upsetting people.   What I’ve realised is that you can’t make everyone happy.  The environment movement’s policies and positions are correct, most people in the community are in agreement with them, and we have evidence to back everything up.  I now have no problem being an advocate for an environmental position.

I don’t want to be adversarial though – the big leadership challenge is having solutions, and putting the information forward in a way that people who don’t already agree with us can understand.  I see myself as “mainstream-ish”, but I like it when people call me an advocate now.

Kelly’s profile shows her commitment to working for the environment in a range of different settings – moving between consultancy, government and the NGO sectors.  I also found Kelly’s willingness to look for help when she needs it, and her ability to see the way her own attitudes have changed over time, to be refreshing in a world where we seem more frequently to expect people remain unchanging in the face of new information or new experiences.

Posted in O'Shanassy, Kelly, Women leaders in the environment movement | 1 Comment

Sally Crossing

Sally Crossing

Sally Crossing was born in Melbourne at the beginning of 1946 – an early baby-boomer.  Her mother was a librarian, and her father, an engineer by training, was managing director of a large management consulting business.   The family spent some time in England, and moved to Sydney when Sally was 8 years old.  She describes her childhood as happy.  Although she had a brother, six years younger, Sally remembers feeling pretty very much an only child.  She was bookish and liked to read and explore – ‘I was off on my own imagining adventures’.

Education was in ‘lots of different schools’ which Sally says ‘didn’t do her any harm’.  Her secondary school years were at North Sydney Girls High School and then at Abbotsleigh for the last two years.   After leaving school, Sally went to Sydney University where she lived at Women’s College – which she found a rich and exciting place, which later lead her to serving on its Council for several years.   She had decided to study economics after meeting the eminent economist, Herman D Black, at one of her parent’s dinner parties, and he convinced her that this was the degree she should do.   She says that it was a good choice, and that it would open doors.

Because there were few women economists at that time, Sally found that she had more job opportunities than if she had taken an Arts degree.   At university she had developed a love of economic history, and her first job was at the Bank of New South Wales, where she helped the economist Reginald Holder to write the history of Australia’s first bank.  In 1966 Sally moved to London where she lived for four years and was employed as an industrial market researcher.  She also spent a year working for the Conservative Party’s Shadow Minister for Minerals and Energy.

Sally returned to Australia in 1970 and got a job on the UK Desk in the Reserve Bank.  A year later she married Peter, and they moved to Griffith in NSW, which she says was ‘a change of pace’.  Peter was working as a farm management consultant and Sally got a job as an English teacher in the local high school.

Peter then accepted a job in Iran, working for the government of the then Shah.  Sally’s experience in marketing enabled her to work as a marketing expert with the same company.  They lived in Tehran for a year, and frequently travelled to their project area in the north east of the country.  She found that living and working in Iran was not difficult for a woman at that time – there were a lot of well educated, middle class women and the capital itself was very westernised.

After Tehran, Sally and Peter moved to Rome where they stayed for 8 years and where their children were born.  Sally was a full time mother and student of things Italian (which she thoroughly enjoyed), until the last 2 years of their stay when she worked for the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The family returned to Australia in 1980 when the children were 6 and 4 years old.  Sally was surprised at how hard it was to get the 4 year old into preschool, due to prevailing Australian philosophies – in Italy she had attended preschool since she was 2 years old.

In 1984 Sally got a part time job in the NSW Parliament – working for some of the Liberal Party’s Shadow Ministers. She says this was ‘a very exciting, lovely way to go back to work’.  After the Greiner government was elected in 1988 she joined the staff of one of the ministers, which she says was ‘a strange world’.  However, it taught her a lot about politics and how governments work.  After 9 months she joined the NSW Department of Minerals and Energy where she worked on implementing the policies she had helped to develop while working for the Liberals when in Opposition.   Her subsequent career within the NSW Public Service included being a Senior Policy Officer within the NSW Cabinet Office and Acting Director of Policy within the Department of Mineral Resources.

In 1995, when Sally was 49, she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.   This was a psychological shock which she ‘thought was the end of the world (it was not!’).  She had surgery and radiotherapy, and carried on working for another 18 months.  She had given a lot of thought to her experience of breast cancer, and wrote an article which was published by the newly formed National Breast Cancer Centre (NBCC) in their newsletter for clinicians.  The NBCC had been formed in 1995 in response to a Senate Inquiry which found that breast cancer treatment in Australia was less than optimal and needed to improve.

The NBCC then invited Sally to participate in their 3 day course on consumer advocacy and science which was held in Melbourne.  While there, she met Lyn Swinburne and Sue Lockwood, consumer advocates who had already established a breast cancer consumer advocacy organisation in Victoria.  Lyn and Sue knew that a similar organisation was needed in NSW – so they asked Sally to take on the task.

It was a challenging decision for Sally.  Her life was already full – she had a full time job, a husband and two children, a dog and two houses.   She thought about it for a while and realised that it was an important thing to do.   ‘I realised this was the sort of thing I could do, it needed to be done, I had the skills and understanding and I had the urge to do it.’

Sally was now in her early 50s, and, if she took this challenge on, it would mean a complete change in her working life.  She would have to give up her paid job. Husband Peter was very supportive of the idea. He had a good salary and their lifestyle would not need to change.  So, Sally resigned – a step she describes as ‘not hugely brave’.  She ‘started off in a new direction of giving back and creating something that needed to be created.’ In retrospect she says that giving up her job was a ‘great relief’.  It was giving her less satisfaction and she was interested in being able to use her skills, experience and ability for a better end.

Establishing a new organisation was a huge task – one which Sally had never had to do before. At times she would sit in her office and wonder what she had got herself into.  The operational side was a totally new area of work for her, but other women were very supportive.   The result of Sally’s work and the support of other women was that the Breast Cancer Action Group NSW was established in 1997, with Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW as its patron and major encourager.

Sally remembers their efforts at publicising the new organisation, and the need for good breast cancer care.  She managed to get an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, accompanied by a photograph of 3 women in the NSW Art Gallery standing in front of a picture with nude breasts!  As a result of that article about 100 people responded and a meeting to form the new organisation was held in Sally’s house with Lyn Swinburne and Sue Lockwood on hand to advise.

The organisation surveyed consumers, and heard many stories about the isolation that women felt, and the difficulty of finding the services and the information that they needed.  People diagnosed with the disease did not know which way to turn, and their GPs were often equally uninformed.   Although breast cancer is quite common, individual GPs do not see many patients with the disease – so they may not have the knowledge or experience to direct consumers to good quality services.

BCAG NSW decided to research and compile a directory of services to meet this unmet need, the NSW Breast Cancer Institute at Westmead Hospital joined them as a partner, with NSW Health providing initial funding.   The AMA were firmly opposed and threatened to sue – but the women proceeded anyway.

It was a huge task, but the directory was received with enormous enthusiasm, and marked a milestone in the provision of consumer information.  Sally describes it as a ‘sort of breakthrough’ at the time – they were able to obtain information about how many cases of breast cancer a doctor had treated in a year (an indicator of good quality as high turnover usually meant good outcomes). Sally now makes the point that privacy legislation is hindering attempts to update the directory, because the Health Insurance Commission which administers Medicare is no longer able to provide the de-identified information that the original directory relied upon, which, she says ‘is not a good consequence of privacy legislation’.

In 2005 Sally had a recurrence of breast cancer and reluctantly decided to have a mastectomy.  During the preparatory work leading up to the surgery, she discovered that she also had 3 tumours in her liver.  This was hard to digest, and she thought the advice given by a medical oncologist ‘that we will just give you a bit of chemo – and we’ll leave the tumours there to see how they respond’ to be not very convincing, so she turned her mind to investigating other options.  She used the internet, and discovered that the liver is the only organ that can actually regrow, and that people can survive with only 20% of their liver.   She and her husband then interviewed 3 liver surgeons, and found one who met the criteria she had developed when compiling the breast cancer directory.  So, in late 2005  Sally had a mastectomy, followed two weeks later by surgery to remove the tumours in her liver.  She says she did it ‘over the summer holidays so that it wouldn’t take up too much time from the year’.

Through her work on breast cancer, Sally had begun to realise that a lot of the issues confronting people with the disease were shared by all people with cancer.  She says that ‘we had made such a lot of headway that it seemed to be useful to use what we had learned and apply it to other cancers’.  She became involved in the establishment of another organisation to advocate on behalf of all people with cancer.  Cancer Voices NSW, which Sally now chairs, was established in 2000.  To mark its first ten years, Sally edited and published “A Decade of Success:  Cancer Voices NSW 2000-2010”.The organisation runs advocacy and research training and supports consumer representatives on a range of committees.  It has been influential in improving cancer diagnosis, treatment, care, information, support and the direction of cancer research in NSW and beyond.

Sally has also played a leading role in the broader health consumer movement.  In 2008 she became the Vice Chair of the peak health consumer organisation, the Consumers’ Health Forum of Australia.  She was also centrally involved in the establishment of a peak health consumer advocacy organisation in NSW.

Health Consumers NSW was established in 2010, with funding from NSW Health and with Sally as a Co-Chair, becoming elected Chair in 2011.  Sally says the consumer organisations such as this are an important part of democracy.  They are also an important element in a health market place.  Every other business which has customers must take notice of what its customers need and want.  ‘Health, until recently has not done that because of its medical model nature’. Consumers, she says ‘are not just using the services – they are actually paying for them.  It doesn’t come from Nicola Roxon or someone else – it’s our money paying for it’.  She goes on to say that ‘on the philosophical side, it’s also important that not only are individuals empowered to make good health decisions about themselves, but it’s also a democratic thing that we should be able to facilitate people to get together in a meaningful and productive way to take their rightful role in deciding what society is going to do about providing health services in both the public and private sectors.’

Sally has now been working in voluntary leadership positions for 14 years.   She has used her own experience of illness and has learned from many others to inform her work.  She says that she has lots of energy and is motivated by ‘the challenge of seeing that something could be done and then seeing it done – it is extremely rewarding’.  The skills she developed during her professional life have been useful ‘particularly the knowledge about how things work’.   Her work and her home life occasionally get out of balance but her family is supportive and she is passionate and loves the work she does.

Reflecting on her work, Sally says that she has always been more comfortable leading rather than being led and suggests that ‘maybe it’s because I’m the oldest child’.   She likes to be able ‘to make things happen’ and her ‘urge to lead comes from an ability to make things happen’ and being ‘a bit of a driver’.  She emphasises the importance of being prepared to learn from people who have done something similar.

Working collaboratively is something that Sally values.  She describes herself as a collaborative leader – one who works with and learns from others. ‘Leaders’, she says, ‘should never have total confidence that they are right.  Others may know a lot more than the leader.  She also emphasises the importance of respecting the interests and skills of others, and ensuring that their talents are fully utilised.  ‘The way we work is to spark off and learn from each other.  It’s very rewarding and exciting to do it that way, and you can have confidence that you are doing the right thing – it’s not something you’ve plucked out of the air because you have a particular bee in your bonnet.  That’s a big danger.’ 

Although Sally is not motivated by a need for accolades she was very pleased when, in 2005, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to the community through health consumer advocacy.  She sees it as ‘a great acknowledgement that you have done something quite well’.  She also sees the award as being useful and is strategic about its use.  She says that ‘people being aware that you have the award can be very helpful.  It’s an acknowledgement by your country that you have done something useful – so I make sure that it’s on the business card, put it on the bottom of letters to Ministers, and I wear it when I’m going to meetings.’

Sally’s advice to other women is that they need to find something that really ‘turns you on – for which you can develop a passion.  Without a passionate commitment it’s not really going to go anywhere.’

Posted in Crossing, Sally, Women leaders in the consumer movement | 2 Comments

Jenni Mack

Jenni Mack - pic from Financial Ombudsman Service web page

Jenni Mack was born in 1960 grew up in a happy, easy going, stable family environment in Sydney.  Her mother was a stay at home parent who was very involved in community work.  Her father, Ted Mack, was a government architect.  After some questionable planning decisions by the North Sydney Council he successfully ran for local government and became Mayor of North Sydney.  He then became a high profile, independent member of the NSW Legislative Assembly in the 1980s, followed by a period as the Member for North Sydney in the Commonwealth Parliament in 1990.

It was an era of political and social change, and public interest issues were ‘the flavour of the day’ in the Mack household.  Discussion about politics and current affairs were a normal part of life.  Jenni remembers her parents giving a party for the 1972 elections, when she would have been 12.  She remembers the children at that party lined up in the backyard heartily singing the Labor Party campaign theme song ‘It’s Time’.   She also recalls her childhood being influenced by the newly emerging feminist movement, and challenging her father for allowing her mother to do all the housework and bringing him breakfast in bed.

Jenni was educated at the local schools – Neutral Bay Primary School, and the Cremorne Girls High School.   She describes herself at high school as being in a slightly rebellious but high achieving group of girls who were an intellectual challenge for the teachers because ‘we were questioning things then’.

After leaving school at 17, Jenni spent a year travelling around Australia.  She fell in love with North Queensland, but came back to Sydney to start a journalism degree.   But she went back to North Queensland for a visit and ended up staying there for the next 10 years.   During this time she met and lived with a man who was a chiropractor and naturopath with an established business.  She helped manage the business, and also trained as a midwife with a group of homebirth midwives.  She delivered her first child after only 12 months of training, when the registered midwife was unable to get there on time.

Jenni finished her journalism degree at the University of Queensland after travelling overseas for a couple of years.   While studying she worked for a radio station and then a small newspaper in Brisbane.  After completing her degree she worked on the Mackay Mercury where she had a column covering environmental and state and local government issues.  By this time she was forming an ambition to work in advocacy and politics.

She moved to Brisbane where she had worked for the Mayor of Logan City, the second largest local government area, which even in 1990 had a population of 850,000.   It was there that Jenni met Chery Kernot, a Democrat Senator who encouraged her to apply for a media position with the Democrats.  Jenni’s application was successful and she moved to Canberra.

The new job was interesting and challenging. Jenni was very involved in the cut and thrust of the media side of working for the Democrats.  She enjoyed the issues that she dealt with, but was less enthusiastic about the chaotic nature of the political process and the inter-party politics.  However, she says ‘it was an incredibly privileged position to be in.  I loved the extraordinary opportunity to see politics close up, and the Democrats in those days had the balance of power, so it was a very exciting time to be working in Parliament House.’

While there were some things she didn’t like, Jenni was comfortable in the political milieu. She says that her childhood and her father’s work had given her ‘a level of engagement with political issues’, so that in a sense life in politics was ‘like coming home – it was very normal, natural.’ She realises that ‘when you grow up in a political household you just absorb things from that background.’

And of course she says it was nice at personal level coming back because she hadn’t seen her parents that much in the past 10 years.   Her time in Parliament House coincided with the time when her father was a Member of Parliament.  She would have dinner with him regularly and talk to him about issues.

After nearly 3 years with the Democrats Jenni decided that it was time to move on.  She considered three potential jobs, one of which was as CEO of the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations (AFCO).   She discussed these choices with her father. He advised her to take the AFCO position, even though it was the lowest paid, because it would be the most interesting.  She agreed, and went to work for ACFO.  It was the right choice.

Jenni absolutely loved that job, and it was the start of her career in many ways.  She loved the issues and she loved the people and the groups that she engaged with.   She found that people in the community sector are very passionate and motivated and had values and ethics that she shared – they are she says ‘on the side of the angels’.

Although she dealt with a wide range of issues, there was an overarching theme to the work.  It was basically about working with the policy and regulatory system and Jenni found that there are a suite of options that can be applied in different sectors – such as complaints mechanisms and codes of practice.  Jenni stresses that a great strength of the consumer movement is its broad view and experiences which can be applied across a range of consumer products and services.

Jenni is now married and has two daughters, aged 14 and 11.  She left full time work when she had her first child.  She had grown up with a full time mother and loved being able to come home from school and talk to her.  She wanted to do the same for her own children.

When her first child was 9 months old, Jenni was offered – and accepted – a Board position.  She soon realised that it was an opportunity to do really interesting work, engage her mind, make a difference and still be there for her children.  Over the years, she had taken on more board and advisory committee positions, and now has a full time load.  Her daughters are in high school, and she thinks it is a positive thing for them to see that she is out there, doing things.  While she may be away overnight, or sometimes for 2-3 days, at other times she is at home for them.

Jenni now works on a range of governing boards and advisory committees including those of Food Standards Australia, the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Travel Compensation Service. She feels very lucky that she has been able to put together an interesting portfolio of work and still have time for her family.

However, such a busy life is not without its challenges when she and her husband both have to be away from home at the same time.  But, she does have a good network of support. Her mother and another family member live nearby and Jenni has also worked hard to build a network of mutually supportive women in her neighbourhood who she can call upon if necessary – and who,  of course, can seek her help from her.

Jenni sees it as important that women are seen to be in leadership positions as they provide role models for younger women.  However, she points out that so far ‘there have not been many of us, and that is a problem.’

Jenni’s advice to other women considering taking on leadership roles is to not be afraid to ask for help in juggling roles as mother, part of a family and community leader.  She says that women as a group are a bit shy about asking for help – but they need to push a bit harder over what help and support they need.  She says than in her experience men are not shy of asking for things like additional income, but ‘you don’t see women do that too often.’  She says there is an unconscious bias towards women, and ‘we should take that head on.  Young women should not feel shy about negotiating hard for themselves because the blokes do it all the time’. 

She acknowledges that a leadership role is not easy, and it may not be achievable for everyone.  However, ‘if you look after the foundations and make sure that there is a strong community behind you can start doing a little bit more and not be afraid to have a go.’

Jenni’s leadership style is very much a consensus builder.  She likes to ‘ensure that she has the rest of the team with her’.  Leadership, she says ’involves having a clear vision of where you want to go, a plan to get there and accepting that it it may take time but is about nudging things forward all the time’.  While she gets great satisfaction from achieving change, she also enjoys the journey of identifying the problem, the possible solution, and the challenge of getting that solution accepted and implemented.

One of the Jenni’s most prominent positions is as the Chair of Choice, Australia’s premier consumer advocacy organisation.  It is a completely independent, self -funded social enterprise.  She sees the big challenge facing the organisation as being to ensure that it is around for the next 50 years and that it is as relevant to consumers in the market place of tomorrow as it is today.  To do that, the Board has driven through a suite of reforms and the organisation is now taking a higher public advocacy profile.

Under Jenni’s leadership Choice is building on its  focus of providing consumers with information towards campaigns that more actively harness the power of Australian consumers.  It is encouraging and helping consumers to use their market power through targeted campaigns.  In doing so, the organisation is directly challenging the practices of some of the biggest businesses in Australia.  The organisation is, she says ‘pushing boundaries, being a bit disruptive, being innovative’.   For example, Choice urged consumers to voice their dissatisfaction about penalty fees charged by banks.  As a result the banks experienced significant consumer demand, and changed their practices.  The Choice Big Bank Switch campaign is encouraging people who want to get a better mortgage deal to switch banks, and the Choice Big Bag Switch is trying to bring transparency to grocery pricing.

Jenni says that the reactions from the powerful vested interests are stronger today than when she first started her advocacy role and describes current the responses to Choice’s tactics as ‘particularly vociferous’ and believes that it reflects in part the current political climate.  In her 25 years’ experience of advocacy ‘we are now in the most polarised, bitter space of public discourse, and I think where we are as a country now is a very polarised and angry space…..  .  Powerful, vested interests feel they have more permission at the moment to push their weight and their might up against community voices’. 

The push back from powerful interests can be intimidating, but Jenni is clearly motivated to keep going by her passion for social justice.   She says there is ‘a satisfaction when you can speak out for those who don’t have power in their own right’.   There are also some real achievements to look back on. She cites the financial services complaints scheme as one.  Now, people who have a dispute with a financial service provider over amounts up to $500,000 can use a free, industry based complaints scheme and get a fair hearing without the use of lawyers.   Another achievement is the banning, from July 2012, of commission based remuneration in financial services. Jenni met many ordinary people who were suffering after losing large amounts of money through commission based service scheme.  She has a great sense of progress and achievement in seeing the end of that practice.

However, Jenni stresses that change can take time and it is important to be patient, keep moving forward and keep the end of in mind.  For example, the campaign to ban commission based financial services dates back to 1992, and will have taken 20 years to achieve its aim.  ‘I’ve learned that it takes time – some things require 10, 15 or 20 years, and you just have to keep plugging away, keep those little punches going and every so often you have to lob in something a bit bigger to kick it along’.

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