Confident in the Workplace

Taking on a senior position as a young woman can be a daunting experience, especially when you are in a male-dominated industry.

Kellie Northwood, Executive Director, Australian Catalogue Association (ACA), says confidence is key for young female executives.

“I feel younger women may not have enough confidence to speak up in a meeting and voice their opinions. I remember in my early twenties sitting in meetings, too scared to take a sip of my coffee, let alone contribute to a conversation out loud. As the meeting progressed, some very senior executives would say things I had been thinking and I’d wish I had spoken up more,” Kellie says.

At age 36, in addition to her role at ACA, Kellie is also the Executive Director of Xsd, a brand and communications agency, and Two Sides Australia, a movement to raise awareness about the environmental credentials and effectiveness of paper and print.

Kellie shares some of her experiences being a young female executive juggling multiple responsibilities.

How do you manage a work/life balance? Do you have any advice for those who are trying to juggle a career with raising a family?

Work/life balance is managing time to suit me. I have two primary school aged girls and they are my number one priority. When I’m 80 years old, my girls will be sitting beside me. However, I’m pretty sure the print industry will have long forgotten me once I reach that age.

Sometimes when I’m feeling under the pump or that I have over-committed myself, I remind myself of that. It provides me with the perspective I need to put the things that matter the most first.

My girls are awake from 8am to 8pm each day. They attend school from 9-3:30pm.

Due to their schedule, I start my day early, sometimes at 4am. This allows me to clear out some emails or read new research. Then I’m offline for an hour sorting school lunches, the school drop-off, pony-tails and all the day-to-day things of family life.

I pick up the girls up from school after work; we go home and have a snack. After a while, the girls start their homework and I get back to work in the study. Sometimes I don’t, sometimes I end my day at 3pm and spend the afternoon in the park. I used to feel incredibly guilty for having children and taking time off if they were sick or the dreaded school closure days, now I simply manage my time. I say to my staff, you’re an adult, you manage how you do your job. Sticking to a 9 to 5 schedule when working is not something I promote to my team.

I have a wonderful partner who helps and contributes to running the family, however I’m a mother, and like many mothers out there, I like to run my home. It gives me satisfaction to know I’m nurturing my family and I’m providing for them in my own way. My partner and I have actually had arguments because he has done the washing before I had a chance. Silly, however at the time I felt like I was being replaced because I’d been travelling for work or attending a function. My advice to those juggling a career, children and relationships is to find the time to breathe.

Manage your time to suit your family and think outside the 9 to 5 schedule, build up the support networks around you (cleaners, someone to do the ironing, gardening or get the grandparents to pick up the kids once a week) and don’t try and be everything to everyone all the time – breathe and make your space.

How do you juggle having so many high responsibility roles?

I sound like a cliché, however I honestly love what I do. I really enjoy each of my roles and whilst we all have our moments, I think the fact that I enjoy my work keeps me motivated.

I am also one of those people who are always thinking of the next thing – wherever I am. I come up with all these wonderful ideas when I’m holidays such as “what if I studied next year?” or “we should launch X campaign internationally”. I then remind myself that there are days I struggle to eat, let alone launch a campaign across the globe.

In order to juggle all my responsibilities, I have to keep myself in check every now and then.

Do you have any advice for someone who is stepping into a leadership role, especially at a young age?

All you need is two ears and one mouth. When you’re young, you can fall into the trap of feeling like you need to prove yourself all the time. You don’t. You’ve been put into the position because you have talent and experience – people believe you can fulfil the requirements of the position. Listen to those around you, consider what is presented to you and then you can provide your leadership.

I remember a quote from the Dalai Lama:

“To only talk and not listen means you’ll only ever know what you already know.”

Stick to your path, don’t take things personally and find someone you trust in your workplace. Someone you trust can help you when you’re frustrated and need to vent without having to gossip. One of the worst things, male or female, is to get caught up in is gossip. It destroys your motivation, your ideas and your opportunities.