This year’s International Women's Day theme is #EachforEqual. But what does that really mean?
According to the International Women's Day website:
“An equal world is an enabled world. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world.”
At Orbit, we decided to take up that challenge and actively celebrate the achievements of three women we think are quite remarkable: Hayley Parkes, Tracey Roper and Katrina Bobeff.
Yes, they have all had stellar careers and hold senior legal roles in their organisations.
Yes, they all work flexibly to help juggle the demands of holding executive roles and being mothers, partners, family and friends.
But no, this celebration is not about fuelling the stereotype of working mother role models.
What we are most impressed by is the fact that each of these women assess their achievements solely on the strategic value they have added to their organisations. They also all generously – and instinctively – share credit for their successes with the people around them. Surely there’s no better way to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions and improve situations.
Like many people Hayley Parkes started her legal career in private practice where she advised on regulatory and commercial issues and went on to specialise in ACCC telecommunications regulatory work. Her later move to the ACCC as an Assistant Director was a logical career step. There she thrived on working on major projects, such as the Telstra structural separation and the NBN rollout, and led the ACCC’s submission for the Harper Review.
Before starting her family, Hayley refashioned her career and moved to Housing Choices Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that provides affordable homes across Australia by working with partners to create resilient and inclusive neighbourhoods.
“The juggle between having a family and a career will always be hard, but for your career to have a fighting chance it has to be something that’s worthwhile, something that sustains you. My current role gives me that because through it I can make a contribution to public policy debate and society generally.”
Hayley says one of her biggest achievements has been in working with others to deliver projects aligned to the organisation’s core strategic focus. This has included embedding new approaches to support Housing Choices Australia to engage with residents using a human rights based approach that transcends the baseline legal requirements set out in instruments such as the NDIS framework and the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic).
“I used to see not being a deep specialist as a weakness, but I’ve come to realise being a generalist is a real strength in growth organisations like Housing Choices Australia. It means you’ve got the right ‘soft skills’ – which are actually the hardest to master – to bring clarity to negotiations and get others to reach agreement. That’s how you bring companies and people together.”
To get to where she is today, Hayley has leant into her own strengths and been resilient in uncomfortable situations. “Discomfort hits everyone at work from time-to-time. But it’s important for women to seek to understand the source of that discomfort and logically assess what’s reasonable and what might be a by-product of others’ views or your own internalised views regarding where women belong. Once you can better understand what is personal and what is driven from the political, it gets much easier to push through those situations.”
Tracey Roper began her in-house career at Tyco International, a global manufacturing, design, installation and service company in a diverse range of industries including security solutions, life safety and fire protection. After working in the male-dominated business for five years as an Assistant General Counsel, she was promoted to General Counsel and Company Secretary for the Pacific region in 2001.
“I was on maternity leave with my second daughter when I was offered the GC role, which I grabbed with the full support of my partner. It was challenging, but also very exciting to be able to make my own mark,” said Tracey.
Tracey certainly made her mark. She quickly restructured her team, recruited new staff, and worked with the team to implement initiatives, including building a precedent database, to improve the department’s efficiency and effectiveness. She also took a broader approach to engaging the business as she led the legal/corporate function in the region.
“I’m motivated by making an active contribution and having influence on strategy so it was an incredible experience to have a seat at the table during periods of both aggressive growth and consolidation and to be involved in anything that was strategically important, which included numerous acquisitions, divestitures, two global separations and spin-offs,” she said.
During that time, Tracey says one of her biggest achievements was in working with other business leaders to build a compliance culture at Tyco. “That made a huge difference for our business and transformed our relationship with the Regulator,” she said.
After 21 years at Tyco, Tracey worked as a consultant before taking on her current role as Senior Legal Counsel at Wesfarmers Industrial and Safety last year. “While I am still getting to know the business, I’m really enjoying the diversity of work in the Industrial and Safety Group. It’s a quite different, hands-on role but has all of the leadership and issue management activities I enjoy.”
And her tips for success?
“To be successful as a senior in-house lawyer it’s important to go beyond the purely legal issues and inform commercial direction. But the only way you can do that is by building solid working relationships with the business and becoming a trusted adviser. That takes hard work, excellent technical skills and great relationship skills,” Tracey said.
There’s no convincing Katrina Bobeff that she’s a role model – she just doesn’t view herself in that way.
What she is, though, is a leader who celebrates collective achievements, particularly when they involve major projects, such as business acquisitions and facility developments. She’s also someone who values her seat at the table because it allows her to be part of the collective decision-making process and to ensure any legal or ethical implications are duly considered.
“When you work on long-term projects, it is important to celebrate achieving milestones along the way. I’m part of a team that has been working on a proposed Energy from Waste facility for a number of years. The EPA works approval we were issued in 2019 was a highlight for everyone involved.”
She’s also part of the team currently working on a major acquisition, which remains subject to regulatory approval and completion.
“I think it is important to celebrate shared and individual achievements. Successfully overcoming challenges gives you the confidence to step out of your comfort zone and embrace new opportunities,” she added.
Advising on large acquisitions is familiar territory for Katrina as she spent the first eight years of her career in a private practice primarily in an M&A team working on some “significant corporate” transactions. Since then, Katrina has actively sought opportunities to broaden her experience.
“I left the law firm to join Computershare as Senior Corporate Counsel in order to gain a more generalist experience. I worked across all aspects of the business, with a particular focus on the group’s corporate governance framework. My later move to Australian Paper (in manufacturing) has consolidated that generalist experience, and demonstrated the transferability of my legal skills across completely different industries.”
One of Katrina’s personal achievements was to recently complete the AICD’s company directors course. Gaining that qualification had been one of her goals for about 15 years and it took commitment and passion to find the space to achieve it around her job and young family.
At Orbit, we are all about empowering women and celebrating our successes. We encourage you to take up the challenge: tell us your story.