While the working world is evolving, women still face many challenges in obtaining senior level roles. The latest results from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) show that women hold 13.7 per cent of chair positions, 17.1 per cent are CEOs and 30.5 per cent are key management personnel. Although these statistics are low, we are seeing many signs of progress towards gender equality, including a current 14.1 per cent gender pay gap and a 30 per cent target for females on ASX boards.
Working Mothers Connect is pleased to partner with organisations such as Broadspectrum, where diversity and equality is embedded in their culture and values. The company focuses on maintaining an inclusive workplace and actively encourages women to take up senior leadership roles.
We had the opportunity to speak with Melanie Riding, General Manager, Corporate Marketing, to discuss her journey and experience working in a key management role.
I began employment with Broadspectrum in the Corporate Affairs team as an advisor almost immediately after graduating with a journalism degree 12 years ago. At the time I had a one-year-old and my husband was working six hours away. Looking back, I'm amazed at how well we managed the distance with parenting a toddler and balancing two full-time jobs. I remember this time as organised chaos and that I loved working in such a supportive and exciting workplace that gave me experience in diverse projects and access to senior leaders, many of who offered lessons and kindnesses that I still recall today. Since then, our family has expanded by one, I obtained a Masters degree in Marketing with the support of Broadspectrum and I am still gaining new experiences. During the past decade, I’ve had roles in corporate and brand marketing, external and internal communications, investor relations, proposals and operational marketing.
General Manager, Corporate Marketing.
I’m inspired by people who lead with integrity, purpose and resilience. I’ve been lucky enough to work with, and for, some great people whose steady commitment to social, community and people outcomes means successful business results. It’s motivating to feel part of something bigger and I think that comes when teams can see their work contributing to the values that drive them as individuals.
One of the barriers I experienced early in my career is the assumption that as a mother, I am the primary carer and the implications of that on our ability to do our jobs well and parent effectively. I’m the primary breadwinner in our family and my husband works part-time. This means I have the flexibility to scale up my focus during busy times, as I have the support I need at home to make this possible. This hasn’t always been our situation, and for many women it’s not their reality; however, I have found that when assumptions of a woman’s role in the home are made, it can undermine equitable work opportunity and expectations. I think this attitude is changing as it becomes more common for parental and domestic duties to be shared, and support is provided through conversations with employees rather than assuming concessions need to be made for women who are mothers.
My greatest success is to have earned the privilege to show my kids what hard work, resilience, learning and kindness can build. My parents were small business owners, which meant my sisters and I were latchkey kids or spent our afternoons with our grandparents. Our parents worked every weekend and fought hard through financial troubles to give us a stable childhood. This instilled in me the need to work for what I wanted to achieve and to stay true to the values that are important to me. I also learnt that there is always a way to overcome a challenge, no matter how difficult it is to find. I was the first person in our family to graduate from university, and by always saying ‘yes’ to opportunities I have achieved many of my goals. I love that I’m instilling in my children the values and drive they need to achieve their dreams.
With a lot of help! I have juggled multiple responsibilities since I was a teenager. In high school, I studied full-time, trained 30 hours a week as an elite gymnast and worked part-time. At university, I studied full-time and worked two jobs. I added a baby to the mix in my final year of study. Today, I use a mixture of lessons from those periods of my life and advice from mentors and people I admire to prioritise three areas of my life: family, work and friends. I recognise life’s challenges are not solely on my shoulders and rely on our village: my husband, my daughter’s daycare centre, my son’s school and close friends. We don’t have any family that live nearby, but they offer very appreciated support in other ways. I have also learned I don’t need to do everything now and that it is ok to ‘park’ some dreams and ambitions until my children have a bit more independence. This was exceptionally hard for me to come to terms with, but that change in mindset has really helped increase my ability to be present for my kids and my work.
During the past 12 years, I have spent periods of time on maternity leave, working from home and studying and have continued to receive investment, mentoring and promotion at Broadspectrum. During an extended period working from home, I project managed our largest marketing event, was promoted to a leadership position and completed my masters degree. This commitment to flexible working is not just available to employees with children and recognises the importance of work-life balance for everyone. When my father become seriously ill in 2017, I needed to drive from Sydney to Newcastle almost every week to take him to hospital for treatment. I worked remotely from the hospital during these visits, managing my team and delivering projects. It’s hard to express just how this support kept everything together at that time, allowing me to focus on my dad’s recovery while knowing I still had the trust to deliver business outcomes.
Broadspectrum provides access to flexible working arrangements, equal opportunity for promotions and projects, diversity training and development programs. We are encouraged to join industry and business groups that focus on increasing diversity to contribute to greater social change and so we can network with people facing similar challenges to us. The biggest support I found was the encouragement to talk about what I needed to enable me to perform in a leadership role and how the company could support me to do this effectively. We can speak openly about our challenges and finding the right balance, knowing that the conversations help to create a workplace culture that enables high performance business outcomes without penalty to employees with family priorities.
I think it is important that companies honestly recognise where they are on the inclusion and diversity journey and allow their employees to lead the conversation. Systemic, process and cultural levers to support gender diversity are critical, but to me the biggest change in moving towards an equitable workplace is starting conversations in the workplace and increasing awareness of the experiences of others. My experience here is not the same as other female leaders, but we are all given the time and support to share our common and unique challenges and wins. The more accepted it is to talk about the work and family juggle, the more our female talent pipeline is encouraged to move up. I also think it provides a voice to our male colleagues to change the perception of their role in the family and to provide them access to flexible working arrangements, which I believe is a truly critical part in helping make workplaces more equitable and inclusive.
To never be constrained by someone else’s views and beliefs.