Breaking the mould – women in leadership with Senator Janet Rice

janetrice_02Greens Senator for Victoria Janet Rice knows a thing or two about leadership.

As part of the Franklin River blockade alongside Bob Brown and Christine Milne, she went on to become a founding member of the Victorian Greens. She has also worked in the not-for-profit sector as the first coordinator of Bicycle Network’s Ride2Work program before going on to become the Mayor of the City of Maribyrnong. Most recently , Senator Rice has succeeded in – arguably – one of Australia’s most male-dominated sectors and taken her place as one of the federal parliament’s 76 Senators in July this year.

Senator Rice will be joining us at this year’s Not-For-Profit People Conference in November. Here, she shares her wisdom on the challenges female leaders face and how workplaces can better support women in leadership roles. 

Congratulations on your recent election! How have your found your time in Canberra so far?

Exhilarating, exasperating, energising, exhausting, fascinating, frustrating, intriguing, and always interesting. I’m learning something new every day, and enjoying being a voice for a clean, green caring society.

What do you enjoy most about being in politics?

It’s an opportunity to make a difference, to use power and influence for good, and to share that power by being a voice for people who share our values. I’m enjoying being in the thick of things in Canberra, but enjoying learning from, listening to and supporting community groups and members just as much.

What do you see as the major challenge facing female leaders?

The first challenge female leaders have to face is always one of appearances – being judged on image rather than what you bring to the role.

A related obstacle is the stereotypical mould of what many people perceive as a leader. This tends to be based on the idea of ‘strength’, which in many organisations has a predisposition to favour men aged over 40. There is a much narrower window for women to fit into to be perceived as a leader.

On top of all this, women often have to balance a more diverse range of activities in life, whether it is parenting responsibilities, other caring responsibilities such as looking after ageing parents or just a different sense of what’s an appropriate work-life balance.

How do you think organisations could better support women in the workplace?

There are plenty of organisations that are doing their bit to support women in the workplace, and others that could be doing much more. We should be looking at the practices that are working to improve support for women.

The workplaces creating a positive environment are offering and valuing part time work and job sharing. They are open to flexible work hours and opportunities to work from home to allow for school pick-ups, sick children, doctor’s appointments, etc. They have strong female role models in leadership positions who act as mentors for aspiring women. And they have a strong focus on explicitly eliminating sexist behaviours and attitudes within the workplace, as well as in other areas of their employees’ lives.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have been given about leadership?

I’ve been given an incredible amount of wise and valuable advice over the years. Some that I try to include in my everyday life includes: to be forgiving of yourself and others, put yourself in other people’s shoes and care about what’s going on for them, be simultaneously courageous and humble, know your strengths and weaknesses, and get enough exercise and sleep.

Hear Janet in conversation with former Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings, discussing women in leadership at this year’s NFP People Conference, November 13 & 14 in Melbourne – book your place today!


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