Kylee Fitzpatrick, Founder of TEAM Women Australia is a consummate storyteller. Claiming the moniker of “Australia’s Oprah”, she’s an irrepressibly curious and effervescent force of nature. Kylee’s driven by a sharp intellect and boundless energy to connect women through storytelling. She’s spearheading a movement of women to inspire each other, share stories and stand up for themselves and each other to live a courageous, compassionate and confident life.
Kylee draws on her background in media marketing to facilitate TED-style talks at events, curating women’s raw and authentic life stories. She wants to women to openly talk about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of juggling a career with devoting time to their family, taking care of their health and living a more meaningful life. In a world where perfectionism and social media comparisons are rife, Kylee is encouraging women to ditch the guilt, embrace possibility and build the life they want.
Tell us about your journey of compassion, courage and confidence. How has this has become the foundation for Team Women Australia?
I’ve always been a compassionate, courageous and confident person. I’ve always cared deeply about other people and have never held back in going for what I want. That’s not to say the journey has been easy, quite the opposite. What I learnt, often through sheer determination, was how to be resilient and rise above adversity. That, however, all came to a grinding halt in 2011 when I returned to work after my third child (in three years). And for the first time in my life I thought that “I just can’t do this anymore”.
Frustrated with the uncertainty, I went back to uni to do an MBA, I got a coach and a mentor and I applied the change-journey to my own life. Starting with what Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great”, refers to as the ‘brutal facts’, I mapped out my life-journey (giving me a solid understanding of what was working and not working). I re-evaluated my values and strengths. And I organised a mentoring group with 55 women who, like myself, were struggling with the balance of their personal lives while feeling sidelined in their career.
I was pumped! I had everything I needed to map out my plan for ‘what’s next’ and I had the support of a tribe to hold me accountable for being in action.
Then, on Tuesday March 5, 2014, I received an email that a close friend and former colleague had committed suicide. I was a mess. It was the same day as my son’s 7th birthday. When I arrived home I attempted to park my emotions to celebrate. But it went from bad to worse when I found my husband falling apart because his business has gone into administration, and he feared “we could lose the home”.
It was one of the most challenging and difficult periods of my life.
I literally called on everything I had: the life-lessons, strengths and talents and my tribe, to help me navigate what was inevitably my own ‘mid-life crisis’. Moving from a state of resentment and frustration to one of fulfilment, joy and satisfaction.
What I realised was that I had, in fact, spent most of my life focussed on what I wanted without really paying attention to the needs and suffering of those around me. And that the access, for myself and all women, to return to work, advance in their careers and get the money they deserve (and are worth) actually comes from women having the courage, compassion and confidence to stand up for themselves and each other. This is where the vision for TEAM Women Australia was born.
Recognising that without a tribe or resources to better navigate my life, so I can amplify the impact I want to have in the world is where the vision for team women australia came to fruition – to inspire and enable other women with the resources they need to stand up for themselves and each other living a courageous, compassionate and confident life.
Why? So together we can all have a positive impact on gender equality, equal pay, domestic violence and suicide.
Why are you Australia’s Oprah and how does your Aboriginality help with the art of storytelling?
My dream of being an Australian Oprah came from my own passion for storytelling and working with people to share their real life stories, the trials, tribulations and triumphs of their life as lived. Ordinary people living extraordinary lives. I find joy in many things. But there really is nothing more miraculous than the opportunity of being with another human being as they share their story with you. You’re able to witness the magic of them discovering who they really are for themselves and others.
Stories truly have the power to engage and connect human beings across all walks of life. No matter who you are or where you come from, there really isn’t a single person you couldn’t love when you’ve given them the opportunity to be heard, appreciated and known through the sharing of their story. It’s also the place where I come alive. Where I can support and empower another human being to unleash their natural self-expression and vitality for life.
It wasn’t until later in life that I joined the dots between my love for storytelling and my heritage. But having done a lot of research on storytelling and my culture, I’ve come to realise that the real power of storytelling happens in the way that we listen. Those who listen around a campfire really are listening only to the words of what’s being said. There’s no internal judgement or assessment about the storyteller or their story. In our culture we call it Dadirri – listening.
How would you like to see Australia’s media industry evolve over the next decade?
While it’s perhaps one of the most challenging times for media, and heartbreaking for so many journalists and photographers who’ve lost their jobs in recent years, I believe we have an enormous opportunity to capitalise on a human beings need for connection to hear and share the inspirational real life stories. The stories of all our unsung heroes. The stories of the 85 year old woman next door who lost her husband and spends her day alone in anticipation of her weekly visits from her son, sharing about what her life was like when she was in her mid-30s raising a family.
There are so many incredible people in this world, who’ve had a lifetime of experiences and it seems real shame to not have those stories told.
Media does have the power to shape a nation. Given we as a society have spent a lifetime complaining about the negative influence it has, because of its own political or commercial advantages, I’d like to see the media industry focus on content that actually helps transforms lives. Moving away from voyeurism to real life people, moving away from celebrities and high profile leaders to our community leaders and local changer makers. As the Dalai Lama so eloquently says “the planet doesn’t need more successful people. The planet is in desperate need of more healers, peacemakers and storytellers”.
What experiences have shaped you as a leader?
Managing the consolidation of a business while it was going through a restructure and losing a significant number of people, people who’d been in the business for over 20, 30, 40 years, was certainly the most confronting and impactful. I’d always had the view that nothing was more important than the quality of our relationships. And that our people are what makes us successful as a business and a leader. But it’s not always easy to act on when the people around you are under threat of losing their jobs. I learnt a lot about myself as a leader and a human being. If anything it reaffirmed my passion for communication, specifically our ability to listen to others, as a source of healing for people.
Of course, being a parent has got to be the best lesson in how to be a great leader. How to have others do what you want or need when they simply refuse. It’s not like we can threaten to sack them! So I’ve found myself being more creative and innovative in having everyone one.
What are you most proud of?
That’s hard. I’ve spent the past 15 years coaching others in the value of acknowledgement and paying attention to how much there is to be proud of in life, so to narrow it down to something I’m most proud of is a challenge. I’m proud that I’m still married to the same man and that we’ve been together for 20 years. That to me is not only an accomplishment but a miracle. I’m proud of the great job I’m doing as a mother in raising three young children who are only 3 years apart.
I am proud of my indigenous heritage, and of my mother for what she accomplished in the face of the struggles she had growing up. I’m proud of my hard work ethic and the success I’ve had in my career, despite not having a traditional or nuruting upbringing. I’m very proud of the difference I’ve made in other people’s lives. To know that I spend my life giving generously to others, despite having my own family and my own challenges, makes me very proud.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Can I steal the one from the Cinderella movie, “have courage and be kind”. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about – listen, learn, love and lead like it matters!