Penelope Twemlow

Female Leader, Penelope Twemlow, CEO and Board Chair

Penelope Twemlow is an exceptionally accomplished leader. She has risen to her three concurrent roles of Chair of Women in Power, Chair of Queensland Electrical Safety Education Committee and CEO of Energy Skills Queensland through a series of challenging positions in heavily male dominated industries. Penelope’s career started off as a Warfare Officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), where she drove and navigated naval warships. On the way to her final RAN position of Chief of Staff, one of the roles Penelope undertook was Police Investigator with the Australian Defence Force.

Penelope was recently announced as the Queensland winner of the Telstra Business Women’s For Purpose and Social Enterprise Award, and is an overall Australian Finalist for that category.

We wanted to share Penelope’s story on a few fronts. She is a Board Director. A CEO. Has a list of undergraduate and post graduate qualifications that won’t all fit on this page in IT, Economics, Health, Safety, Environment, MBA, Quality, Auditing, Training and Project Management. But there’s more…

Penelope, what advice would you give to women who want to work in Trades?

Being a woman in today’s competitive job market can be a challenge, particularly if you are hoping to start your career in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as a trade, or in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. First and foremost, find a mentor to guide your career. Many women have already navigated the typical male-dominated field and have learnt what works and what doesn’t work. Learn from successful women.

Choose a male role model in your trade and learn from them. Understand their approach to work and learn how they have achieved success in the trade you have chosen.

It is always important, no matter what industry or job you are doing, to be confident. You have to be different to the rest; you have to have something that everyone else doesn’t have. Once you have found what this ‘edge’ is, make sure you cultivate it and derive strength from it. Never succumb to people who say you need to change in order to conform. Make your mark on your field and be brilliant.

What do you think organisations need to do to encourage more female leadership?

For a long time now, there has been a strong case for enhancing the contribution of executive women to the achievement of organisational objectives. The term ‘glass ceiling’ was coined more than 30 years ago and yet, women still hold less than 20% of the seats on corporate boards at S&P 500 companies. Whether from an ethical, public good or humanitarian perspective, the case for participation of women at the executive level is rising.

In order to encourage more female leadership, we need significant change. Each and every industry, organisation and person must have a committed leadership focus on the economic and broader performance dividend that can be achieved by attracting and retaining quality women managers and optimising the contribution of women in management.

A major problem in encouraging more female leadership is when an organisation only pays lip service to their ‘diversity’ goals. Organisations must work diligently to weed out unconscious and subtle inhibitors that prohibit women in leadership roles, set clear, numerical goals or quotas and hold leaders accountable for meeting them. Men, women and organisations all need to step up and take decisive action to make it happen.

What do you love most about what you do?

A great man once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.” That man was Steve Jobs. I firmly believe that you should  love what you do. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.

I love what I do because it involves people and improving a process so that it’s more efficient and effective. An organisation is not successful without its people. I enjoy making sure that my team are consistently engaged and happy.

What has been the most significant step in your career?

In the last five years, my proudest achievement has been two-fold. The first was attaining my five-year goal of the CEO position. The second was graduating from the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) whilst being employed full-time as a CEO.

Along the pathway to the above two achievements, I learnt the following:

  • The pursuit of happiness is about finding meaning. Lifelong pursuit of happiness is elusive. It’s really about pursuing meaning and living a meaningful life.
  • Seeking validation from others invalidates you.  The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday. You don’t need other people to validate you, you are already valuable.
  • Regret hurts far worse than fear. It is only when we risk losing that we truly open the possibility to win.
  • Life is too unpredictable for rigid expectations. When you stop predicting and expecting things to be a certain way, you can appreciate them for what they are.
  • Unanticipated hardships are inevitable and helpful.

My recent Queensland Telstra Business Women’s Award has definitely left its mark on me and my family. I am honoured that my hard work and dedication over the last 16 years has been recognised.

Did anyone mentor you in your career and how important was this?

I see mentoring and networking as an essential leadership skill. In addition to managing and motivating people, it’s also important that we can help others learn, grow and become more effective in their jobs. Mentoring and networking opportunities allow access to an experienced source of advice and guidance, provides support with problem solving and handling difficult situations and delivers a non-judgemental and safe place to voice challenges and frustrations. Most importantly, it offers access to resources and networks that would have otherwise been unknown to individuals.

Throughout my career, I have had a number of mentors, each of whom have assisted in making me the person I am today. From a personal perspective, I cannot underestimate what I have learnt from my family.

Mentorship involves more than just giving career advice. To me, being a mentor is a project with tangible results: the success of your mentee.

What is your vision for Women in Power?

Women in Power is a Not-For-Profit organisation whose mission is to promote and improve the electrical and electrotechnology industry by the advancement of women within it. It provides a forum for its members to meet and exchange information, ideas and solutions. It offers individual members an opportunity to expand personal and business networks, maintain awareness of industry developments, improve skills and knowledge, and make a contribution to other women in the industry.

If there was one piece of advice you would give to a future female leader, what would it be?

Never compromise on your integrity.

Penelope Twemlow’s story will be continued on 25 November – White Ribbon Day

Penelope is a domestic violence survivor. As a result she is a passionate supporter of initiatives to stop domestic violence and a mental health ambassador.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Director

Jade Collins has 20 years’ global experience in corporate executive Human Resources and management consulting roles in the Mining, Energy and Aerospace industries, leading large scale, complex multi-million-dollar change management programs. Jade finds the combination of her HR, Psychology and MBA qualifications and her leadership experience is invaluable for increasing gender equality in leadership across industries. Jade was a member of the Queensland Government's Strategic Advisory Group for the Toward Gender Parity: Women on Boards Initiative and the 2019 CQU Alumni of the Year for Social Impact for her work with Femeconomy.