Society & Culture

An Olympian and Minerva Network Chair discuss female inclusion

Taryn Woods and Christine McLoughlin | 06 March 2024 | 19:58

Podcast Transcript: An Olympian and Minerva Network Chair discuss female inclusion

Maria Rampa: Hi I’m Maria Rampa and welcome to the latest episode of Engineering Reimagined.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is Inspire Inclusion; when women and men are inspired by inclusion, it creates a culture of belonging, relevance, and empowerment – and ultimately, success.

Inspiration can come in many forms. It could be from the sporting heroes you looked up to as a kid, a professional mentor or teacher and of course good old mum and dad.

Today you’ll hear from two professionals who have turned their inspiration into incredibly successful careers in the workplace and on the sporting field.

Taryn Woods is an Olympic Gold Medallist – as part of the Australian Women’s Water Polo team at the Sydney 2000 Games and is now the head coach for the Australian youth women’s squad. She is also working at Aurecon as an Associate, in the Engagement and Change Advisory team. Taryn joins Chairman and Co-Founder of the Minerva Network, and experienced non-executive director, Christine McLoughlin. Together they share the inspiration behind their career choices and discuss the evolution and importance of female representation in the workplace.

Taryn Woods: Welcome, Christine. Thank you for joining our podcast today. To kick off, I'm always really fascinated, to hear people's life and career journeys and what has inspired them along the way. I know for me, in my water polo career, I was inspired by my father, who was an Olympian, and always very involved in sport and coaching while I was growing up. So as one of my earliest coaches, he really helped instil a strong work ethic and a belief in me that I could really achieve in sport. So, what has inspired you along the way to pursue your career?

Christine McLoughlin: I grew up, in a small country town, and I went to a very small public high school, and I say that because what I'm doing now is so very, very different to where I started and at my very small public high school, we were all encouraged to do work experience. And I went to do work experience as a physiotherapist, and I found that I didn't really have the right stomach for it. So, my maths teacher said, have you ever considered, doing law because this would play to your strengths? And in a small country town, there were no lawyers who were women. So I didn't actually know what a woman who was a lawyer would look like. So, I took that challenge from my teacher, and I did embark then on, a law degree at ANU, and discovered that the areas that I could get most passionate about were probably different to what I thought as a 15, 16 year old.

Naturally curious is how I would describe myself. I am competitive, although not competitive like you are I am not sporty competitive. I try to be competitive on the golf course, but I’m a disaster. I've always been ambitious. If I reflect on some of the decisions that I've taken along the way, they have probably been fuelled by the. Can I do that? I think I can. Why don't I try?

Taryn Woods: I think that ‘ambitious’ word is an interesting one, because I think there's some real difference in what different people's ambition looks like. My ambition doesn't drive me to be the CEO of a company, but it drives me to always be moving forward and always progressing. Sometimes ambition can be seen as a bit of a dirty word, we all have it in different shades.

Christine McLoughlin: It's interesting when people describe women as ambitious versus men as ambitious. Quite a different connotation will often follow.

Taryn Woods: And something that I feel is important for women to say, yes, I actually do want to do well, I do want to achieve and be comfortable in their ambition. As a former athlete, I feel like I've had to navigate both the sports and the business world and had some really great mentors and role models along the way, I think back to early in my career. I was working in a job that was amazingly flexible, allowed me to train morning and night, have time off when I needed to have time off. So I was very lucky. But my boss or mentor at that time really encouraged me to go back to study. I ended up doing my master's in business. It was that little bit of a shove and a little bit of encouragement for him to say, don't just look at this as something that you're doing between training sessions. You can actually build on this. Who's been some pivotal mentors or role models in your life?

Christine McLoughlin: In my first professional role as a lawyer in a major law firm I was given a gift. The partner that I was working for really wanted me to work with him, and he took me under his wing, and he assumed an informal mentoring role as well as being my boss. And to use your language, a bit of a shove every now and then. He really kept pushing me to do more, to do things differently, to see myself at the top of the crop rather than, as a young woman lawyer, you tend to stand back a little bit. And I was actually reflecting on this with a colleague this week. When we finished our first one year in the large law firm, the intake had five women and 40 men, which was quite normal that time whereas now law firms tend to be 50/50. And at the end of the first year, we five women found out that the young male lawyers got a bigger pay increase than we did. And this mentor was horrified. And he's saying, in this case, Christine is billing just as much as all of these other boys. Why are they getting more money?

Taryn Woods: Can you talk to any specific instances where you've seen increase representation or female representation make a really positive impact, whether that's in sport, business or other areas of life.

Christine McLoughlin: Well, I am going to talk about sport. If we look at what's happened in recent years and as you know, I've been very involved with that through the Minerva network. And we look at the rise and rise of women's sport. I'll state the obvious, 2023, we have to have your head under a rock if we didn't know the Matildas were in Australia and really changed the dialogue of the nation. Boys and girls and families and communities around women's sport. It was just absolutely awesome to see what they're calling it the Matilda effect. And these women are actually incredible and they're inspiring and they're motivating for young boys and girls to actually embrace sport and in some cases, even embrace competition. So, I think that seeing that increased representation of women in sport at a competitive level is actually filtering through the business. So when you get these amazing women's competitions playing out in a very public way at the elite level, it becomes a conversation in the corporate workplace. And suddenly there's a level of consciousness of, well, are there any women in the room in our workplace?

Taryn Woods: Adversity can often serve as a very powerful teacher. I think particularly through sport, time and time again, it's taught me, how to learn from and come back from disappointment. Every time you overcome a challenge, you feel more capable and more able to take on the next one. One particular challenging time for me, after competing in the Sydney Olympics, I missed out on the Athens Olympic team after I was coming back from quite a significant injury. Getting past that disappointment and finding my love of the sport again through going back and playing club, going back and doing some junior coaching. How do you think we can better embrace and lean into the adversity we encounter to get some value out of it for ourselves.

Christine McLoughlin: If you have asked me this question three and a half years ago, I probably would have answered it differently, because I think that for me, the adversity that came with the pandemic. There's still a moment embedded in my mind. During 2020, when the Japanese announced that they were going to postpone the Olympics and the Minerva network, which I chair. We called a webinar of all of the athletes who would go to the Olympics and the Paralympics, it was like looking at a school of seals. There were 100 little boxes on the screen because we were much smaller than we are now. All of these athletes who are going to either the Olympics and Paralympics have just learned, and you know this Taryn, you've done it. You work up to that four-year period. You're trained to it. You live your life to it. And suddenly they weren’t on, and I looked at these faces, and we had a really incredible session. We had a psychologist on with us. And I just took my hat off to these incredible women athletes because that was their low point. But then we worked on what we could do and how we could work through that 12-month period and what the different support systems and different people needed.

Now that to me was adversity that I was meant to be the person that's saying, oh, there's always a solution but, we didn't really have one. So, what I would define as adversity three and a half years ago was probably a bit softer. Whereas now, that was real adversity, I think what we all went through during Covid.

Taryn Woods: The use of the word resilience really has, I think, a new meaning for a lot of people, both in sport, and certainly in business. I think this requires making some tough decisions, whether that's on the field or in the swimming pool in my case, at home or in the workplace. Can you reflect on any particularly difficult decisions that you've had to make in your career? And what insights you might have gained through those experiences?

Christine McLoughlin: One of the really tough decisions that I took was I was offered a CEO role in New Zealand at a time when it would have been really natural next step for me in my career. I was very excited about the role, but I really wrestled with it. I wanted to be with my family and I actually turned it down. It was really tough for me to turn it down. I've turned down a couple of things over the period when my kids were younger. That was always hard. But I guess one thing I would say to people now is you don't have to turn it down. You can actually figure out whether there are other ways to do it, because I think there's more flexibility in workplaces now. Aurecon in particular have a very progressive approach to flexibility. But I think sometimes difficult decisions are good to make, because they actually do get you to peel back all the layers of the onion and decide what it is that is most important to you at that point in time. And sometimes you go, well, can I have another go at this in a couple of years’ time? Doesn't have to be now. Sometimes you might not have that luxury of choice, but it is about weighing up all the different components of your life.

Taryn Woods: So the theme for International Women's Day this year is inspiring inclusion. And I know you've held prominent executive and board leadership roles with various organisations over time. So, what barriers have you faced, or do you see other women face, when they're aspiring to leadership positions in both business and in sport? And how do you think we can help inspire inclusion?

Christine McLoughlin: The perennial question. It's a great theme, by the way, for International Women's Day this year, because it's really going to get organisations thinking about what they look like as well, because it's pretty hard to inspire inclusion unless you can hold up people like yourself as examples. Making sure that there's true diversity of skillsets, talent, backgrounds and so forth. A couple of barriers or obstacles for women who aspire to the most senior roles. One has been the history of childcare affordability in this country. We need to address that. Companies like Aurecon do as much as they can to be flexible and support, but this is a systemic issue. There are other countries around the world where this is not an issue, because this a problem solved. So that's one, the second one for women who are looking to aim high and progress their career paths fairly quickly, is creating the space and the time to upskill and invest in your own redevelopment, because similar to athletes, if they're competing and training and holding down a part-time job and studying, the first thing to go is the study.

For a lot of women who are really looking at that top job and if they've already in a big job, which they trying to juggle with family responsibilities, and then finding that space to say, well, actually, to be really match fit for that big role, I'm going to have to invest a certain percentage of my time every week, yes, every week, in upskilling. And I still do that now. That's something I've consciously done all of my career. I was recently very fortunate to be doing some of the ones run through Harvard and INDEAD, Stanford, Singularity University. In my world now, the big problems that we have to be able to solve, around cyber resilience and also being ready for AI and the different ways that that will play out in different workforces. So these are all the things that aspirant women coming through on these pathways now, they need to be able to see how they can do all that and do their job.

Taryn Woods: When I compare that to what you do as an athlete, it's clearly communicated to you what your gaps are and where you need to improve. And there's a real expectation that as an individual, you go and work on those things. And it plays out the same in the workplace, what are those things as an individual you need to work on? I also empathise with, where do you find the time to do that? Women in particular, we often put ourselves at the bottom of the list of where we dedicate our time when we put everyone else and everything else first. So I think it's a really fantastic tip. Take that time. I'd like to explore some of the nuances between what might be a perceived barrier for women versus an actual barrier. Can you talk to maybe some of those perceived barriers that you think are potentially hindering women from getting into, whether it's sport or STEM pathways and careers?

Christine McLoughlin: I think a lot of the perceived barriers are probably societal. Because education pathways exist to study STEM, coming back to the importance of role models and people that you look at and can aspire to be. So one of the people who I'm sure you would have heard of is Michelle Simmons, the Australian quantum physicist. She's done amazing things in the field of atomic electronics. Fiona Wood created the spray on skin technology for use in treating burn victims after the Bali bombings. These are amazing women in STEM careers. And the other thing is having interpersonal skills is a really important part of being effective in any role including STEM roles. And you talk about sport, a lot of the athletes, by definition of being in a team, if they don't naturally have those interpersonal skills, they certainly develop them and build them.

Taryn Woods: In a team sport in particular, you do need different people that play in different positions or come with different strengths. If you've got a team of people that are all the same, you're not going to be successful on the sporting field. And that translates into business. But no one operates in isolation. You might be able to do a lot of things on your own, but at some point, you need to be part of something else. As co-founder and chairman of the Minerva Network, which is a mentor organisation aimed at supporting Australian female athletes both on the field and off the field. You've always been an incredibly strong advocate for inclusiveness, fairness and equal opportunity. How do you think major sporting events like the Olympic and Paralympic Games help to inspire the next generation to engage in sport, which we know is a great training ground for the teamwork, leadership and resilience skills beyond the sporting arena.

Christine McLoughlin: One of the athletes that I mentor is Bronte Campbell, who is shooting to go to Paris Olympics this year. And in my mentoring session with her, I said, well, why is Paris being successful so important to inspire future athletes? And her answer to me, so this is Bronte's words, “The 2000 Olympics inspired me to begin swimming and lit the dream that has been the defining feature of my life”. So Olympic and Paralympic Games show us what we could be and teach us to dream big and strive to be better, faster, higher, stronger. Now. I can't beat that. That's out of the out of the mouth of a multi-medal winning Olympian who's lining up again, this will be Bronte's last Olympics this year. So one of the things I'm working with her on is her post Paris ambitions. One of the other athletes I have a close relationship with through the Minerva network, who I just find so inspiring and I see the impact she has on kids, is Madison de Rozario, who is an extraordinary wheelchair athlete. And I see her with the GIO Australia Day Classic, and all of the young kids that come along to watch that event in their wheelchairs and they want to go to the Paralympics. They want to be like Madi de Rozario. So again, it comes back to what we were saying before, you see these amazing people. And as Bronte said, they light the fire. They ignite the dream. So that's why we need to showcase such excellence.

Taryn Woods: Nothing like the Olympic Games to really bring the country together in support of something. Thank you, Christine.

Christine McLoughlin: It's been wonderful to have a chat with you. It’s great, I think just a call out to everyone listening to this podcast around what you're going to do to inspire inclusion for this year's International Women's Day. I think that would be a great thing to walk away with, because I'm sure everyone has something different to offer, and we all benefit from hearing each other's stories.

Maria Rampa: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Engineering Reimagined.

I know I feel inspired after hearing about Taryn and Christine’s amazing journeys.

If you also enjoyed this episode, hit subscribe on Apple, Google Podcasts or Spotify and don’t forget to follow Aurecon on your favourite social media platform to stay up to date and join the conversation.

Until next time, thanks for listening.

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Women inclusion in sporting and corporate arenas

Taryn Woods is an Olympic Gold Medallist – as part of the Australian Women’s Water Polo team at the Sydney 2000 Games – and is now the Assistant Head Coach for the Aussie Stingers water polo women’s squad and an Associate in Aurecon’s Engagement and Change Advisory team.

In this episode, Taryn speaks with Christine McLoughlin AM, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Minerva Network - a mentor organisation aimed at supporting elite Australian women athletes both on and off the field of play. Christine started her career as a lawyer and is an experienced non-executive director. For Christine, she found inspiration from a mentor early in her career:

“In my first professional role as a lawyer in a major law firm, I was given a gift. The partner that I was working for really wanted me to work with him, and he took me under his wing, and he assumed an informal mentoring role as well as being my boss. He really kept pushing me, to do more, to do things differently, to see myself at the top of the crop.”

Together they share the inspiration behind their career choices and why visibility of female role models is so important, the lessons they have learned from overcoming adversity, and the evolution of female representation in the workplace.

Meet our guests

Learn more about Taryn Woods and Christine McLoughlin.
Taryn Woods,  Associate, Engagement and Change Advisory, Aurecon

Taryn Woods

Olympian | Associate, Engagement and Change Advisory, Aurecon

Taryn is an accomplished professional athlete who won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games for Water Polo and was more recently named Assistant Head Coach of the Aussie Stingers. After an extensive career as an athlete, she developed and delivered B2B partnership arrangements for the government. She excels in team environments and communication, harnessing engagement social value and change as she currently works as an Associate for Engagement and Change Advisory at Aurecon.

Christine McLoughlin AM, Chair, Suncorp Group

Christine McLoughlin

Chair, Suncorp Group | Chair and Co Founder, Minerva Network

Christine is an experienced Non-Executive Director with extensive expertise across a range of sectors, including financial services, insurance, mining and resources, telecommunications, health and education. She is Co-Founder and Chairman of the Minerva Network, a mentor organisation aimed at supporting elite Australian women athletes both on and off the field of play.

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