03/10/2019 - 12:35

Empowerment, confidence vital for success in business

03/10/2019 - 12:35


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Business News’s inaugural Food for Thought breakfast brought together some of WA’s best female business minds to discuss issues ranging from inequity to ongoing workplace challenges.

More than 240 people attended the inaugural Food for Thought forum. Photos: Gabriel Oliveira

Business News’s inaugural Food for Thought breakfast brought together some of WA’s best female business minds to discuss issues ranging from inequity to ongoing workplace challenges.


Cardiologist Michelle Ammerer has been in the profession for 16 years and is surprised by the way some patients still treat her.

“I’ve never had a problem being respected by colleagues, I think they have always treated me equally,” Dr Ammerer told the recent Business News Food for Thought forum.

“But when I walk into the theatre in scrubs and sneakers and my hair in a ponytail with no makeup and I lean over a patient having a heart attack and say, ‘I’m going to be the doctor fixing you’, they just have this look horror.

“The ambulance officers often walk in with the ECG and look for the tallest man in the room, so they have even given it to an orderly instead of me or they will give it to the male nurse.

The 2008 40under40 First Amongst Equals, Dr Ammerer said she had moved past these slights and no longer felt the need to defend herself.

“My work now speaks for itself,” she said.

Angel Chen

Alongside Dr Ammerer, business co-founder Angel Chen, entrepreneur Alicia Curtis, chief executive Ingrid Cumming, scientist and surgeon Fiona Wood, and clinical psychologist Amanda Paton also shared their insights about women in business with MC and Perth journalist Narelda Jacobs.

DrawHistory strategy chief Angel Chen said starting her social impact consultancy and walking into male-dominated dominated board rooms with people who were 30 or 40 years her senior was challenging.

“Walking in, they have a certain perception of you,” Ms Chen told the forum.

“My take on it is that you are there for a reason, you have a seat on this table.

“Those nerves about how scared you are or how intimidated you are, let that be fleeting; you can be nervous for a few seconds, 10, 20 seconds, but then let that go and think, ‘I’m here for a reason and they’ve given me a seat at this table for a reason’.

“I think for me, [from] my journey so far, there are lots of stereotypes about women, and it’s not just from men but also from women themselves.

“I think it is just up to all of us to go, ‘Well that’s not us’ and it’s not about thinking you have to be tougher, you have to be louder, it’s about being you.”

Kart Koort Wiern founder Ingrid Cumming said she was warned about presenting cultural training in male-dominated rooms but said she never felt intimidated.

“I went in knowing I was there to provide a service, knowing this was an opportunity to see there was a different way of people looking at things,” Ms Cumming said.

“Only very few and far between did I have blokes size me up or talk me down in that room. I think there was an understanding from the outset of what we were all there to do together.”

Alicia Curtis 

Alyceum founder and 100 Women co-founder Alicia Curtis, who started her leadership consulting business when she was 18 years old, also addressed the breakfast about how everyone, especially young people, should be involved in social issues.

“Business, young people, women and our community, we all have a place in creating the world that we want,” Ms Curtis said.

However, the inequities women and girls still faced was one of the things that annoyed her the most.

“In this day and age, this is a choice that we are making,” Ms Curtis said.

To work towards addressing this problem, Ms Curtis established 100 Women, with the giving circle having donated $600,000 in six years to charities supporting women.

The panel agreed empowering women through education and the belief they could choose what they wanted to do in their life was paramount.

Professor Wood said although her parents had left school at 13 and 14, their focus was on education for the family.

“And education not to be X or Y or Z but because education gives you choice,” she said.

“[They said] ‘Education, Fiona, will mean that when you wake up in the morning you will go to a job you enjoy’.

“’Education gives you choice, all you’ve got to do is work hard’.”

“Those two four-letter words ‘work’ and ‘hard’; that was the environment I was bought up in.

“In my house when it was two boys and two girls, as a kid it was, ‘You can all do anything you like but you can’t go down a coalmine’.

“My father was absolutely adamant about that because he hated it.”

Parkerville Children and Youth Care director of therapeutic services Amanda Paton used her education to choose to work somewhere she could make a difference.

“I moved into management and senior roles quite quickly and the years simply flew by,” Ms Paton said.

She told the forum she had been able to balance family and work life and been able to go to school drop-offs, assemblies, sports day carnivals and excursions with the support of her workplace.

“I’ve been really fortunate over the years to have a chief executive who understands raising a family and has truly supported me to develop as a woman in leadership,” she said.

“I was supported with flexible hours in my return to work after I had my two beautiful girls.

“I know that’s something that is not often given freely to women, or even men.”

At the end of the panel, Dr Ammerer offered advice to what people can do now to improve gender equality in the workplace.

“In my arena, it is giving time and being available to be a good mentor for men and women,” she said.

“The most important thing is being available to mentor people to help them because you know you are creating people better than yourself, better trained [with] better skills.”


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