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Celebrating International Women's Day 2022

February 24, 2022

A message from our Director Julie Verner-Mackay

International Women’s Day is always an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the many positive changes that have occurred to create greater equality for women. It is also a good time to reflect on how we can commit ourselves more fully to the necessary structural and social changes needed to make full equality of opportunity possible for everyone. 

My focus at aXcelerate has always been about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents, and that no one should have poorer life chances because of where they come from, what they believe, or whether they have a disability. An equal world is an enabled world and I’m proud of our company for recognising the unique talents of all our team and for creating a culture that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

IWD theme for 2022 - Break the Bias

Two years into the pandemic, and we are not sure whether to sigh with relief as the borders are opened or worry about what the future has in store for us. One thing for certain is that this period has presented a major crisis for many women. 

With job losses in industries that employ casual workers such as hospitality and tourism, many women have been dependent on Government support. A large number of small business owners are women who have now seen their businesses totally fold. Many more are struggling with burnout largely due to extended periods of lockdown and considering downshifting their careers or leaving their jobs.

It is therefore very timely that the theme for IWD 2022 is ‘Break the Bias’. Combating the biases women face at work is critical to getting things right and increasing opportunities for women. There’s much research on the subject with a report by the UN in 2020 finding that almost 90% of men and women hold some sort of bias against females.

It’s clearly time to generate some dialogue around gender bias and how it impacts on women generally and vocationally. 

We had planned to celebrate IWD on 8 March with a morning tea and education session for all of the aXcelerate teams on the IWD theme: Breaking the Bias. The session would have covered ways to become more aware of bias behaviours along with strategies and techniques for managing these. We also intended to host a Women’s Leadership Lunch and Learn session. However, due to flooding directly affecting the aXcelerate office, these events have been postponed, and we will do our best to facilitate conversation with the team online. 

We hope you enjoy reading the short interviews below with some of our brilliant women leaders in the VET industry. 


Leading with heart: hearing from women leaders in VET 

Lauren Hollows

Can you please introduce yourself, telling us about your role and how you contribute to the VET sector? 
My name is Lauren Hollows, I am a Director of a few companies that work within the VET sector including Aniwaya Education Services, Learning Lifelines and Cartec Training. I provide content, training and support to RTOs online and in person to help others try and keep up with the ever changing interpretation of Standards in our sector. RTOs and VET practitioners have a real challenge in knowing how to meet all the requirements, especially if they operate across traineeships and funded training models. I do what I can to help keep things as simple as possible.

What do you think are the top challenges facing women in leadership today and do you have any thoughts about how we can overcome them?
I think our own heads are the biggest challenge that we have, the expectations that we put on ourselves to be more than perfect, to be perfect mothers, perfect partners, perfect CEOs, to look perfect – it's all too much. In addition, it takes a while to find a good tribe that will support you and help pull you back when you are reeling. Finding others who you can trust to take care of you as you will take care of them takes time and mistakes, you need to be ok with getting your heart broken and stay willing to put it out there again, that goes for your personal life as much as it does for business. It took me four of five big mistakes before I found the best business partner and I can say the same for my personal life with my husband.

Something everyone is familiar with in all industries is imposter syndrome. Can you think of a situation where you experienced imposter syndrome, and how did you navigate your way through it?
Ha ha ha… every day! Last year I made a huge leap and bought into and started three businesses, this week between those businesses we took on nearly $200k in wages with new staff, and I go to bed every night questioning if I have made the right decisions that day. I also have some great and very successful mentors and business owners that I work with and most of them experience the same thing. I think everyone is in the same bucket, we do the best we can, we hope for the best, but we always believe that we should be doing better. The more you can surround yourself with mentors and those who are more successful and more experienced than you, the more reassured you will be and find out that your fears are the same as everyone else's. We all walk the planet thinking we are the only one not good enough.

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders starting out in the VET sector (or just in general)?
Find an outlet for all the pressure you are going to experience. I play indoor beach volleyball to be able to smash stuff and physically work out the frustration, I sing Disney songs at the top of my lungs and cry my eyeballs out to kids' movies. Then I have a husband who will plan holidays where there is literally no signal and where my laptop battery will run dead so I can’t work. I love my job, I love it so much I do it every day, well into the night, because I love what I do, but I am not immune to the stresses and no matter how amazing you are, which you are, you won’t be immune to the stress either. Find something you can do to work it out mentally, physically and emotionally.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. What does this year’s theme and International Women’s Day in general mean to you?
I have been lucky enough to live and work all over the world. I have worked in international education and in RTOs that had staff and students from almost every continent (except the poles). I truly believe that most people deal with me first as a human being and that’s certainly how I try to deal with them. I have also come across a range of people who believe that they are better, however, while these individuals stick out in my mind, they are statistically few and far between. When others have treated me badly, when I reflect on it, it's usually because they are mad, sad, etc. It’s not about me, it’s about them and their issues. To me, ‘break the bias’ is just a reminder that we need to deal with each other as humans first, fallible humans, who make mistakes, but ultimately have the potential to be better, if we can work with them and give them that chance. If I say something dumb (and I do), I hope that others will give me the chance to learn and do better, so when I see that in others, I like to give the same opportunity.


Tania Gomez

Can you please introduce yourself, telling us about your role and how you contribute to the VET sector?
I’m the Founder and Director of Strawberry Solutions, a unique eLearning content provider helping RTOs and education providers create better learning. 
I’m responsible for overseeing our team of Rockstars who design and develop engaging, interactive, memorable and fun learning. I’ve been involved in the VET sector for over 15 years, and love the practical and competency-based nature of VET. I contribute to the VET sector by working with RTOs to transform their business using technology. 
The work we do directly impacts all parts of the RTO business. Better learning improves student retention, learning outcomes and engagement. Our work with trainers and compliance managers ensures that systems used by an RTO are fit for purpose and deliver the results they are after. This includes reducing double handling, reducing the administrative burden of running an RTO and also ensuring compliance. 

What do you think are the top challenges facing women in leadership today and do you have any thoughts about how we can overcome them?
Lack of representation is one of the top challenges for women in leadership today. This is especially true when it comes to the placement of women in leadership roles, there is still a perception that women will leave to have children, or won't be as committed, or do as good a job due to having young children. 
As a mother of 4, and owner of 2 businesses, I’m the first to say it's not easy to juggle young children and work, but it doesn't make me any less committed to my team, my business, or the sector. We have a flexible work policy and celebrate the many mums who work in our business. We also have a fully female leadership team which makes me feel we are doing our small part to overcome this stereotype and embrace female leaders. 

Something everyone is familiar with in all industries is imposter syndrome. Can you think of a situation where you experienced imposter syndrome, and how did you navigate your way through it?
My first day as Trainer. and assessor, I was 21 years old and was asked to fill in for a Certificate III class of 63 international students. All of them were older than me and to add icing to the cake, a VETAB auditor was sitting in my class. I was beyond nervous and had stayed up all night preparing my class and handouts. The principal walked me into the classroom and at that moment, I was either going to cry, leave and never come back again, or I had the chance to just do it. So I clapped my hands as loud as I could. Walked to the board, wrote my name on the board (as I saw that in the movies), and greeted my class in my loudest, most confident voice. I had their attention and faked it until I made it. I was shortly offered a permanent role at that college and before long was the course coordinator and took my first leadership role in VET. 

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders starting out in the VET sector (or just in general)?
The VET sector is a unique sector, made up of industry experts that are deeply passionate about educating the next generation of their chosen profession. 
My best advice is to stop thinking of other RTOs as competitors and rather see them as a like-minded community that you can work with, collaborate with and help you to reach your career goals. Organisations like ITECA or VELG facilitate opportunities to grow these networks and these networks are worth their weight in gold for anyone starting in the industry. 

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. What does this year’s theme and International Women’s Day, in general, mean to you?
#BreakTheBias for me is really about highlighting that women are still not given equal rights, equal access or equal consideration. We have come so far, but have equally as far to go to be equal to men in this country. We need more representation in all levels of leadership and start to value women for the amazing contributions they make. 


Katya and Alicia Holker

Can you please introduce yourselves, telling us about your roles and how you contribute to the VET sector? 
Hi, we are Alicia and Katya Holker from Hawkeye Consultancy. Since its inception in 2017, our growing team at Hawkeye Consultancy has gained a reputation for a fresh approach to compliance and education. Our consultants provide guidance, coaching, and support to existing RTOs and those businesses wishing to enter the VET sector. 

What do you think are the top challenges facing women in leadership today and do you have any thoughts about how we can overcome them?
While Australia is making progress on many aspects of gender equality, female representation in leadership continues to be a cause for concern. There is a myriad of challenges women face, for example, gender differences. We believe the problem of gender issues arises from the masculinisation of leadership roles and rigid mindsets and beliefs. People with a biased mindset tend to believe men better perform leadership roles as they naturally possess the qualities needed for the position. Another belief is that women who enact robust and confident leadership are often seen as competent but not likable. On the other hand, women using a softer managerial style can be considered likable but not competent.

Individually we are all responsible for challenging discrimination and bias. Some people show such bias toward women unconsciously. It needs to be realised and accepted that such biased mindsets result from deep-rooted beliefs cultivated through generations. We can overcome this by discussing how we can change perceptions and move the conversation forward to create positive change.

Something everyone is familiar with in all industries is imposter syndrome. Can you think of a situation where you experienced imposter syndrome, and how did you navigate your way through it?
A few years ago, a company approached us to conduct some validations of assessments for them. Our initial consultation turned out to be an extensive interview process conducted by their male leadership team, all of whom were years older than us and had 20 plus years' experience within the VET sector. During the "meeting", aka interview, we were asked, 'No offence, but why would we hire two young females?
We were both taken aback by the question, as we'd never encountered it before. Taking the question into our stride, we delivered what appeared to be a stellar response.  However, this question was asked three further times during the meeting, knocking our confidence, and permitting self-doubt to encroach. Each time they asked us this question, we'd politely answer, providing insight into our achievements, clients who trusted us and our work ethics and abilities. Each time we responded, we tried not to compare ourselves to others and were mindful not to let negative thoughts tell us we weren't worthy of the contract or that we wouldn't produce exceptional work. Following the meeting, we realised that this would likely not be the last time we will be faced with the conscious and unconscious bias impacting the perceptions of women in leadership.

Do you have any advice for women in VET who are aspiring leaders?
A solid foundation for effective leadership is self-awareness. Make a conscious effort to understand yourself and develop a strong sense of self-worth. Being more precise about where you are strong helps boost confidence and ease self-doubt. Self-doubt can hold us back from achieving career goals or another aspect of our life; remember that we are all human. We all make mistakes, and it's okay to do so. Doubting our abilities often occurs because we don't want to make any mistakes. However, mistakes are also how we learn and develop. We can relieve self-doubt and fear of failure by practising being kind to ourselves, no matter the outcome.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. What does this year’s theme and International Women’s Day in general mean to you?
International Women's Day honours and celebrates women, those who have come before us, who contribute every day to our families and our communities.
This year's theme means to bridge the gender gap and move closer to equality. To do so, we must break away from gender bias, anti-racism, discrimination, and stereotypes. It calls for additional advocacy work and social change within these fields. Hawkeye Consultancy is proud to support International Women's Day and play a part in helping create a more diverse and inclusive future.

Nina Hefford

Can you please introduce yourself, telling us about your role and how you contribute to the VET sector?
I graduated as a dentist and have been in practice at Ashgrove for 30 years. I became involved in Childcare & Early Education in 2007, when we were looking for a place for our son Jimmy, who is now 17 years old. Within a few years we owned a number of Childcare Services throughout Queensland and very early on this journey I identified the desperate shortage of trained or qualified Educators and also the limited training that was available for them. Quality training is essential for Educators who are responsible for beginning the learning journeys of children. Well trained Educators are essential to operate quality Childcare and Early Education. From 2009 we started training for our own staff. This was done in a partnership arrangement with registered training organisations. Fast track to 2019 and we established Lead Institute, a niche RTO for Early Education where we plan to graduate highly skilled and competent Educators ready to deliver quality Care and Early Education to our youngest Australians, our next generation.

What do you think are the top challenges facing women in leadership today and do you have any thoughts about how we can overcome them?
One of the top challenges is ensuring we have a voice that is heard within governing bodies and by policy and decision makers. We must continue to lobby for what we need as women – both professionally and within families. Women are the best to advise on what makes families function better and if our families are right we as women can contribute more professionally.
Another challenge is changing the mindset that as women our work and contribution is tokenistic, as in most cases we take leave to raise children and keep the family functioning. Even if we are part-time our contribution needs to be recognised and acknowledged as worthwhile and not hinder our careers. We need to continue turning up and voicing what we need.

Something everyone is familiar with in all industries is imposter syndrome. Can you think of a situation where you experienced imposter syndrome, and how did you navigate your way through it?
For me it became evident while I was at Dental School. It was a predominantly male cohort and lecturers treated it as such. It was well known within the profession that the male faculty leaders did not want too many females to study dentistry as they felt that after a couple of years of graduating, we would all be at home “barefoot and pregnant” and the profession would face a shortage of dentists. I and my few female colleagues always ensured we used our voice to remind them we were present and we allowed our work to speak for itself as we showed we were more than capable to achieve results and success similar to the male students. Many of us have gone on to have long, rewarding careers. Thankfully now women make up over 50% of students.

What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders starting out in the VET sector (or just in general)?
Always be yourself and live your values. Ensure you are well informed in your area of expertise. Again, our voice is critical. We can in a respectful but direct way be heard in the male dominated noise around us. Being knowledgeable, capable and confident will usually get you heard and accepted for what you have to offer and not because you are female.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. What does this year’s theme and International Women’s Day in general mean to you?
We need to show that the bias should not exist. If you are capable of doing the job, it shouldn’t matter what gender you are. I also believe that those of us who have navigated some of the bias challenges that exist need to support our female community and help them find their voice, be heard and gain a presence where the decisions are being made. It will be great to eventually have an International Women’s Day that just celebrates women and without needing to overcome barriers such as bias.

What International Women’s Day means to the aXcelerate team

As an organisation that is committed to equality, we always strive to involve everyone in the conversation – on International Women’s Day, and every day. We asked just some of our team what International Women’s Day means to them: 

Amina | Customer Success Team Leader
For me, International Women's Day is an opportunity to reflect on the work of women who have come before me, but also to take time to look at how much further we have to go. Since having my daughter a few years ago, I am more determined to help create a future where she is respected, equal and empowered.

David | CEO
International Women's Day is an annual celebration and reminder of the amazing role all women play in society, and particularly in working life. At aXcelerate we are lucky to be surrounded by strong, intelligent, gifted and compassionate women who drive us forward at every level of the business and give us the diverse perspectives to make better decisions for our future. Hats off to all the incredible women here at aXcelerate and in our industry, thank you for all you do.

Dani | Human Success Manager
Together we lift each other up and make the most incredible, vibrant and powerful team. This is a day to remind us that with all we have done together, there’s still more to do. We must continue to acknowledge and honour the importance of the contributions of women so that young girls in our communities see examples of role models, to have hope and a path forward to equality.

Michael | Lead Developer
International Women's Day to me is about celebrating the remarkable achievements of women, especially those who have done so through adversity, and sharing these stories to inspire women to take on the world.

Charissa | Onboarding Specialist
A celebration of the ability to have a voice, and that means being heard, standing up to something for ourselves for what's not acceptable or agreed on.

Yangfan | Developer
International Women’s Day to me is a day representing freedom for women, so we can pursue our dreams and be authentic to ourselves in all aspects of life, regardless of what the outside world thinks we should do.

Sam | Lead Product Designer
To me, International Women's Day is about showing appreciation to all the amazing women in our lives and everything they do, both personally and professionally. 

Kim | Product Designer
It’s a time where we can celebrate us being women; for us to come together and look at all the wonderful achievements that women have made throughout history and also to motivate each other to continue paving the path for women of the future.

Mark | Manager of Customer Success
For me, it means pausing, reflecting and recognising the achievements of the women in my immediate circles. It's also a time to bring further attention to the challenges still faced by women in this world today.

Reay | Chairman
I had my first dinner and serious walk with my wife, co-director and life partner, Jules Verner-Mackay, on International Women's Day 1990. So, for me, yes, a very defining day in all respects! For many years, Jules and I worked with a range of diverse client groups under the Verner-Mackay learning and development banner including our major focus: women's development. For the past 30+ years, the business has always celebrated IWD in some form or other, whether by way of a formal lunch function, breakfast event, internal staff lunch or simply drinks after work...it's always been an important day to celebrate women's collective achievements and also to set new goals for the period ahead: to further narrow the equity gap. As a learning-and-development-turned-software company, we're more committed than ever to ensuring women's voices are heard and that we continue our efforts to develop the next generation of women as leaders. 

To all the women in my life, have a wonderful IWD 2022 celebration and looking forward to more progress in women's development in the years ahead!

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