The evidence is clear that balance is better for business
Megan Shellie is a consultant in Risk Advisory with Ernst and Young’s Melbourne practice and a former Ribit Intern. She’s passionate about the future of Australia’s young people, co-founding the intergenerational fairness advocacy group Think Forward, and sitting on the Advisory Board of Swinburne University’s Centre for the New Workforce.
Welcome to the Ribit International Women's Day series of inspiring stories designed to encourage students to ‘Shine & Rise’. In the lead up to March 8 and supporting this year’s theme ‘Balance for Better’ we invited leaders and influencers we admire to share their experiences entering the workforce, building their careers, and the lessons they learnt along the way.
This year’s theme of ‘balance for better’ resonates strongly with me, because it emphasises not only the need for gender balance in the workforce but for companies to hire different types of women. I work for Ernst & Young, a large accounting firm, in risk advisory, an area historically dominated by introverted and studious men and women, with calculators, risk matrices and spreadsheets. I sometimes look around my workplace and struggle to see myself reflected in my peers and leaders, not because I’m a woman, but because I’m an extroverted, passionate and gregarious woman. There are not too many people who relish team meetings as much as I do, as an opportunity for a ‘tight five’ of office banter. But when you look around your office, and you don’t see your gender, let alone your kindred spirits reflected around you, it can be a very lonely place, to be a loud mouth.
For the first year of my job I felt like I was constantly saying the wrong thing, or being too loud, and that I wasn’t getting traction with ideas and opportunities. I felt I couldn’t be the kind of ‘professional’ that was expected in my company. Slowly, I’ve found my tribe and the men and women in my organisation who love people as much as I do. Those people who want to do the work, and have fun doing it, and who importantly, have years of managing chronic foot in mouth disease that plagues all extroverts. It’s through their sponsorship, guidance and support that I’ve started to gain a foothold in our business. They’ve also allowed me to rethink of my personality or difference as central to my value. Simple advice like ‘not everything has to be said there and then’ and great encouragement like ‘don’t change, you’re an asset’ does wonders for a young woman’s confidence and ability. Letting women know that it’s okay to bring their whole selves to work, even the bits that challenge a feminine ‘demure, quiet and deferential’ stereotype, empowers them, and empowers companies. The evidence is clear that balance is better for business.
The challenge of intersectionality rests with all of us. Critical to this is finding a balance of different personalities, faces, accents, experiences, ages and genders in a workplace. We need to correct imbalances quickly to ensure that everyone can look around and see themselves reflected in their peers and leaders. Imbalance is a catalyst for isolation and disengagement. Younger and older women need to find the confidence to be themselves. Being bold and visible in the workplace is an effective and quick way to show that there aren’t too many like you and that the balance isn’t there.
For women getting on their way, I’d always advise to lead with your passions. In my experience, women tell the best stories, so take up some space and tell yours, whether it’s in interviews or meeting new people, it makes you memorable. I’d also advise to not judge a book by its cover. I’m grateful to work in a company of predominantly introverts, I think it has made me a much more considered and thoughtful person. Equally, I like to think that my zingers in office meetings brighten up my colleague’s day, as much as they do mine.
Ribit.net is a free to use online marketplace that connects student talent to jobs with growth startups and innovative organisations. With a focus on STEM and entrepreneurship, Ribit is committed to helping students present their ‘best selves’ and gain a successful and rewarding experience to further their careers, while also assisting Australian businesses seeking to transform or innovate find the talent they need to grow.
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