Interview: Michelle Redfern of Advancing Women
The Appscore office has been abuzz with excitement since the inception of our #WomenInTech competition. Our staff members have had the opportunity to network with some incredibly inspirational women who give us hope for the future of gender equality in the workplace.
One such woman is Michelle Redfern, who will be sitting as a judge for our competition. Michelle’s 20 years of executive leadership, sports directorship experience and passion for gender equality led her to leave the corporate field to create a unique enterprise called Advancing Women In Business & Sport. The business functions as an advisory practice that assists sporting and for-profit organisations move gender diversity from conversation to action.
Read on to find out more about Michelle’s career and her thoughts on the current landscape for gender equality.
Tell me about your current role.
Advancing Women in Business & Sport is a gender equality and female leadership advisory practice. Put simply, I do two things. Number one is I help organisations fix the system that is broken and stops women advancing, and number two is I help women navigate the system. I give them tips and techniques around leadership to navigate the system until I can fix it.
The other business that I’m the co-founder of is called CDW — Culturally Diverse Women. My co-founders and I are addressing the problem where there are less than 2% of culturally diverse women in leadership in Australia.
How did you work up to being in this position? What were your previous roles?
I had about thirty years in corporate Australia and all throughout that time I’d been an organiser, activator, and pain in the neck, as some of my bosses would say. I advanced to an executive level in a couple of different industries, but always had a great passion for people, leadership and particularly equality and inclusion.
What are your thoughts on the current landscape for women in business and tech?
I vacillate between despair and hope. I despair because I feel like we’re frozen. We’re not making progress and in fact, in some sectors, we’re going backwards.
We’re in the fourth wave of feminism. My mum, when she got married in 1963 and had me in 1965 (so you now know how old I am!), she had to quit her job because married women with children weren’t allowed to work.
Fast forward to myself, when I first got married. I was 22. I didn’t have to quit my job, but when I had my first child at 25 I had to make a lot of trade-offs. I didn’t have to make the same trade-offs and decisions that my mum made, but it was still tough. I’ve always been a working parent, so to be a working parent in the ‘80s and ‘90s as a woman was unusual.
Fast forward to the next generation. I now have a 23-year-old daughter who fortunately is not married and even more fortunately hasn’t made me a grandmother yet. However, if she were to, she would have to make the same decisions and trade-offs and encounter almost the same barriers and judgment that I encountered in my generation.
I see a huge change between my mum and I, and an absolutely glacial or static change between myself and my daughter.
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for women wanting to get into positions of power?
In Australia, we certainly have attitudes around gender stereotypes that remain anchored in the ’50s and ’60s. We’re not seeing some of those attitudes shift quickly enough. Australians often view themselves as a very inclusive, egalitarian society but because I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and work all around the world, it’s just not the case.
I use myself as an example. I’m female, I’m in my 50s, I’m in a same-sex relationship so I have these multiple barriers to advancing because there are attitudes about what I should and should not be doing.
I talk about the three Cs: cooking, cleaning, caring. When the three Cs are not equally shared among partners in relationships, there’s an imbalance. There’s only so much one person can do. Solving the main barrier is attitudes, and then you have all the structural outcomes that occur as a result of that. Pay gap. Career gaps.
I want [women] to talk about money, power and influence a lot more. We need money and we have to earn money. We can’t die as old poor ladies anymore, which means we’ve got to start dealing with the gender pay gap now.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career and what did you learn from it?
I think the biggest challenge came very late in my career, just before I left the corporate world. I was in an all-male leadership team in a male-dominated organisation. It was a great organisation, but I remember sitting in a particular meeting thinking, oh, it’s not them, it’s me!
The problem was me because I’d never done anything about the problem, which is why women like me could only get to a certain level and never get beyond it. I was too much of a pain in the neck, feisty, outspoken. My unique leadership style kept trying to be shaped into what was an acceptable leadership style.
There’s a saying: “you can’t be what you can’t see”. When I encountered that challenge, I thought, I’m sitting here admiring the problem. I’m not doing anything about it. I’m not being a dreadfully active visible role model to other women and thought, well, if I can do [something about it], women will see someone like me and go, “if she can do it, I can do it”.
To wrap up, if you could give your younger self a piece of career advice knowing what you know now, what would it be?
Stop being so scared and seeking approval. I bent myself out of shape for a long, long time to fit in and be what I thought other people wanted me to be in terms of a leader. I came into leadership quite young, so I was very fortunate that I had a lot of experiences young to shape me, but I would say stop being a pleaser. Be your authentic self, and work out who you are.