In 2016 Michelle Redfern made the risky leap from corporate executive to entrepreneur, founding Advancing Women with the mission to improve gender diversity in the business and sporting arenas. She has carefully curated a diverse portfolio career, which includes: Founder of Women Who Get It (WWGI), a professional women’s networking group; Co-Founder of Culturally Diverse Workforces, a social enterprise committed to advancing cultural diversity in Australia’s senior leadership ranks; and Non-Executive Board Director roles with Good Shepherd Microfinance and Williamstown Football Club.
Generous of spirit, with a natural gravitas and humorous wit, Michelle is an inclusive leader who accumulates followers to the excellent causes she supports. She is an Ambassador for Flexible Work Day and also Honour a Woman, which is seeking to bring gender parity to the annual Australian Honours process.
Michelle’s eloquence and determination to use her influence and take action to advance gender equality has lead to her being a sought after keynote speaker and facilitator, and national recognition as a 2018 AFR 100 Women of Influence.
After a successful corporate career, you now have a rich portfolio career. Tell us how you made these career changes and why.
There wasn’t one catalyst for the change I made in my career, rather a series of events and awakenings over a period of a few years.
Commencing an Exec MBA was a challenge I had set myself. I wanted to graduate in the year I turned 50. I had no clue when I commenced that undertaking my MBA would be such a turning point for me, personally and professionally. One of my aha moments during my MBA was learning that despite telling myself for a long time that I wasn’t creative, innovative or entrepreneurial, I discovered I actually was! I also worked out I was a lot smarter than I had given myself credit for (good old imposter syndrome) and I worked out that I had a burning desire to change the world for women. Given I had always had a hankering to have my own business, but never thought I had any great ideas, this was a revelatory period!
At the same time of completing my MBA, I was working as an executive in an organisation where I saw the best of and worst of leadership and culture. I was shocked that attitudes towards women and the representation of women in senior roles was so poor. When I was asked to become involved in various diversity initiatives, I leapt at the chance, thinking I could be a catalyst for change for this organisation. To a degree I was, but I felt it was limited and constrained success.
So, a combination of some success, a massive amount of frustration, my MBA aha moments and a profoundly steep personal development curve led me to establish my business, Advancing Women, initially as a side-hustle, so I could have greater impact for women in sport and in business.
I also established WWGI whilst I was still working in corporate, and to be honest, it’s an accidental success. I thought that starting a feminist Facebook group and hosting some small networking gatherings for great discussion, woman to woman, would meet my need to hang out with like-minded ‘women who get it’. To say that it gathered momentum and became a runaway success would be an understatement. Two years down the track, I’ve got 3500+ members and followers across Facebook and Instagram and I have run 11 events for women with on average, 90-100 women at each of those events. WWGI is simply my ‘love project’ and because it’s such a big part of who I am and what I stand for, I am enormously proud of the connections, advice, jobs, fun and support that the women in WWGI receive from each other.
CDW is the social enterprise that Div Pillay, Vick Pillay and I founded to address the significant under-representation of culturally and linguistically diverse women and men in corporate Australia.
I first met Div through her organisation MindTribes. Div and I quickly became firm friends and business collaborators. When Div and Vick came to me and said why don’t we collaborate and combine the forces of MindTribes (cultural D&I) and Advancing Women (gender D&I), it was an easy yes for me. CDW started as Culturally Diverse Women and has now evolved into Culturally Diverse Workforces.
My directors’ roles are a joy, and both aligned to my purpose and values. My football director’s role is for Williamstown FC and is the second time that I’ve been a football director. I am proud to be a contributor to the explosive growth of women playing Australian rules football and being a role model for women to step up and seek roles on boards in sport that have been traditionally male dominated.
My other directors’ role is with Good Shepherd Microfinance, an NGO that exists to address the systemic issues that lead to more than 3 million women, girls and their families being financially excluded in Australia.
You founded a group called Women Who Get It, with over 3,000 members. What is WWGI’s mission?
The mission and vision for WWGI is to advance women by creating safe spaces and places, online and in person, for women from all walks of life to learn, connect and advance. The closed Facebook group is an online space for anyone who identifies as a woman to post interesting articles, ask advice, find a friend, find a collaborator, employee, client or job.
I curate and moderate the group with a deliberately light touch (that’s code for not many rules) as it’s not my space, it’s the WWGI members space. WWGI events are typically a bit educational with a LOT of connecting, energy and fun for women from all walks of life. WWGI is my passion project and a source a much inspiration to me, because women are amazing, and I get a real kick out of seeing women’s relationships, businesses and careers develop as a result of being involved in WWGI.
What’s really needed to shift the dial to accelerate advancing gender equality?
It’s a timely question, because the dial is not shifting. In fact according to Catalyst, statistics for women across many measures, including workforce participation, equal pay and unpaid work are going backwards. This means that predictions that global gender equality will not be achieved for over 200 years are accurate.
My own research also shows the continuing disparity between the lived working experience of women and men.
Further research that I currently have underway is already showing some key factors that could be the game-changers to accelerate gender equality in sport and business. These include a lack of men actively stepping in to take ownership of the issue of gender equality. Why? Well that’s what we are deep diving into now, but early indictors are that:
- men see gender equality as a women’s issue,
- men aren’t sufficiently aware of or impacted by a lack of gender equality,
- men are not confident to speak out or voice their opinion, and;
- that productive, positive spaces for discussion about how to solve this wicked problem, together, haven’t yet been created.
The short answer is that men hold much of the power in sport and business, so we need men to take action. My job is to provide those powerful men with advice, guidance, tools and support to step in (leaning in is not enough!) and take action.
Share the key takeaways from your recent research into gender equality in Australian sport.
The issue of inequality in leadership and pay is exacerbated in sport. Although women make up 55% of people employed in sport, sports leadership is dominated by men with:
- 92.9% Male CEOs;
- 71.2% Male Executives;
- 87.6% Male Chairs;
- 72% Male Board Members.
There is a 35% gender pay gap in sport, which is significantly higher than the national average of 21%.
Women persist in choosing sport as a career, despite all this, because they know the difference that sport can make to society and that they can individually and collectively make a difference to their sport and organisation.
We know that the sporting industry is worth billions of dollars every year, and with women making up to 85% of purchasing decisions, it makes sense for sports leaders to inject more female perspectives into the sporting sector.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud of the relationship my wife and I have. We’re in our 19th year together, will celebrate our first wedding anniversary in 2019 (yay for marriage equality), are still in love, best friends, superb business partners and make a formidable team. We know that we are role models for many people because of our respectful, fun, loving partnership. We get good shit done, together!
Advice for future female leaders?
I was recently asked to contribute to a book with a letter, written to my twenty-year-old self. The advice that I gave the twenty-year-old me is what I’d give to any woman aspiring to leadership:
- Slow down and listen to that nagging voice that you shut out with your busy, hurrying life full of activity. Stop hurrying and listen to that voice, because it will help you find and use, your courage, your burning drive and your voice sooner.
- Then, be in a hurry. But be in a hurry to ask courageous questions, take courageous actions, explore your burning drive and be in a hurry to understand how you can make a difference, find your purpose, your bliss and true happiness.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
Advancing Women in Business & Sport is a Femeconomy Platinum Member. To learn more about Femeconomy, hit the big red button below: