BLOG IMAGE The only woman on the leadership team

The Only Woman on the Leadership Team

JFDI (just f**king do it) and GSD (get shit done) are phrases that characterise my approach to life, leadership and of course, gender equality. I’m going to tell you a true story about when JFDI and get shit done wasn’t necessarily going to be a winning strategy for me. Because I was working in an environment that was perceived as pale and male and stale.


Some of you may find this part of my story familiar. I was the only woman on a senior leadership team. My male colleagues, with one exception, all had male-dominated leadership teams. Women were significantly under-represented at all leadership levels in this workplace. My time in this workplace was threaded with conversations with women asking me for advice, for me to mentor them, asking how to diffuse the effects of poor leadership situations and expressing how pleased they were to finally have a woman at the top.

It was therefore irritating and concerning me that my middle-aged, Anglo-Celtic, heterosexual male colleagues had almost ZERO awareness that we had such gender imbalance in leadership. Or that we had a significant amount of disengaged women in the workforce. And that we had no systematic approach to gender equity, particularly in talent management. Another executive at this organisation told me that the reason for this was because my colleagues were pale and male and stale. Harsh! They were great blokes. I really enjoyed working with (the majority of) them.

Whether her assessment of my colleagues was fair or not is now consigned to history. But I can categorically state that my colleagues were pale, male and stale when it came to awareness about the importance of gender balance in leadership.

Pale Male Stale: Advancing Women in Business and Sport


Should I remain indignant and irritated? Hell no! It was time to get shit done for the women in my workplace. So I stopped admiring the problem and started doing something about it. After thinking and stewing a bit, I decided to speak out at a leadership meeting to point out the issue. But I wasn’t feeling confident about taking this stance for three key reasons:

  1. The burden of inclusion was being placed on the excluded. (Right)
  2. An all-male team may see this as me pushing the barrow for women only. (Wrong)
  3. My manager didn’t rate me and had already provided me feedback that he found me abrasive and emotional. So he was unlikely to be an ally or advocate. (Sort of right)

It was a really important moment for me. Stay stuck, frustrated and irritated? Or, take a leap of courageous faith and point out what was so glaringly wrong in our workplace? I cannot tell a fib. I was fearful for myself and my career. This could be a career-limiting move. But, my biggest fear was that I would get it wrong and make the workplace worse for my female colleagues, not better.


Why do you do when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place? You ask for help. Now, this is very sensible advice. However as a stubbornly independent and determined person (since birth; just ask my mother) I am not great at asking for help. This time, I chose to be strategic, shelve the JFDI, get shit done attitude for a little while, and seek the advice of some great women who had gone before me.

I decided to enlist the help of two powerhouse women that had significant runs on the board for gender equity already. Enlisting the help of these women who had already forged the way in another division with the same problem was a smooth move, even if I do say so myself. They had formed a high-profile, influential and successful program for female inclusion and advancement. The programs’ purpose was to address the under-representation of women in their division. Their opt-in program had achieved some terrific outcomes in just 2 years:

  • 700 members;
  • Fully funded program of activities that included an international study tour, regular ½ day networking forums & coaching circles;
  • Accelerated female representation in the division from 11% to 24%.

They were onto a winning formula! Why not leverage it. After all, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, do we? I learned what I needed to do differently.


Approaching things differently was a key strategy. The feedback I had received (yes from other pale and male folk) about my requests to level the playing field for women was:

  • You’re being too emotional;
  • You’re lacking the facts (and data);
  • This is a bit self-serving Michelle (no shit Sherlock!)

So I decided to approach an old problem in a different way. Instead of just declaring that we had a problem, I prepared by collating of a lot of data about the facts, the numbers and the experiences of women in our workplace. Collating the data, telling the story that the data supported, presenting the team with options for a solution, an action plan, and a supporting business case was more likely to set me (us) up for success. After all, I was pitching my solution to a bunch of businessmen who liked facts, numbers and outcomes. Add to that the success stories from colleagues in another division and I had a winning formula.

Yes, it was a winning formula. I got the support, funding and commitment to assist advancing women in our workplace. Fair to say I WAS emotional after that. But I reckon I deserved to be.


All of us in the team learned things during that time. We learned that:

I learned that whilst I have an enormous bias for action (JFDI/get shit done) sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. By stopping to think more strategically, asking for help and engaging the powerful stakeholders who can make a difference was totally worth it. For me and for the women and men that I worked with.

I also learned that even pale and male (they weren’t stale) humans have a great capacity to evolve and get shit done to create workplaces that work, for everyone.

This article was originally published by Advancing Women, and authored by Michelle Redfern

About Michelle Redfern

BLOG IMAGE Michelle RedfernMichelle is the founder of Advancing Women, an enterprise providing research and advisory services on equality, inclusion and gender diversity. She is also the founder professional women’s network Women Who Get It and co-founder of social enterprise CDW (Culturally Diverse Workforces). Michelle is determined to contribute to achieving global gender equality in her life time, especially through her research and advocacy in the sporting industry.

Michelle is a Non-executive director for Williamstown Football Club, an Ambassador for Honour a Woman, Respect Victoria and Flexible Working Day. She has held executive leadership roles ASX & FTSE listed companies NAB, Telstra and Serco during her 30-year career.

Michelle was named City of Melbourne B3000 Female Entrepreneur of the Year (2019), is a proud recipient of the AFR 100 Women of Influence Award (2018).


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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.