You know that moment when you meet someone who inspires you, and you think how amazing it would be to share those stories with more people? This was my experience when meeting Maria Farmer last year.
Maria Farmer is one of the most formidable women in PR with a client list that includes Australian film director Baz Luhrmann, four-time Oscar winning costume designer Catherine Martin, fashion designers Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning from P.E. Nation, and international restaurateur Bill Granger. Previous clients include actors Toni Collette and Cate Blanchett. We had a great talk over lunch — sushi in Melbourne’s CBD, just off Collins Street.
What intrigued me about Maria was that she claimed her highest earning word was “no.” Saying no is not something communication professionals are well known for. She had boldly taken ownership of her career and future. This led me to ask these two important questions: What if stories like Maria’s could be shared so others were inspired to step up and take what was offered to them? What if others felt they had the strength and support behind them so they could succeed?
It got me thinking about how many of the people I had mentored, coached and managed over the years globally, who felt like they didn’t belong or were not worthy of the promotion or opportunity at hand. Most of these people, I realized, were women.
After thinking about these questions on my way home, I excitedly spoke with a professional colleague, Ross Monaghan, a communications lecturer at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, and IABC Asia Pacific (APAC) board member. He said this issue was something that also frustrated him, as so many of his students were offered great opportunities but didn’t believe they could do the job, even though they were well qualified for it. We briefly mulled over this issue and agreed to take action. We wanted to open the discussion and inspire people to make change.
We brainstormed a list of inspiring female speakers for a panel discussion, Ross booked the venue and Maria agreed to fly from Sydney to share her stories to inspire women in the workplace.
Moderated by former A Current Affair senior reporter Tineka Everaardt, the panel included Maria Farmer; Natalie Collard, former CEO of Australian Dairy Farmers, who also addressed the United Nations in Geneva on biological weapons for the Australian Government; and Sally Goldner, founding member of Transgender Victoria and diversity expert.
The room was full of all genders and all ages, from communications students to senior leaders. Held on 9 February at Deakin University, this event was a huge success.
Why did I do this event? For me, giving back to your team, your organization and your community is so important. It’s these things that help us feel supported in our personal journey. Supporting IABC is something I’ve chosen to do to give back to our communication profession. During the opening speech, as I shared my personal Acknowledgment of Country, I choked up as I looked across the room full of people who were about to be part of the experience with me. I have run many events and spoken at conferences, but when it’s something personal that you choose to do, there’s something very special about it.
Tineka was a great moderator and there were some poignant moments — Natalie’s story of a mistake an apology to the Ambassador she was supporting at a high-end diplomatic event and Sally’s dislike of hypocrisy and how she maintains her mental health, for example. But the biggest advice I took away was the need to understand yourself, celebrate who you are as a leader and focus on your strengths. Maria’s no B.S. “Just be you,” is it most simply said. Know who you are, then dial it up to Spinal Tap “11,” as Sally would say.
You can listen to the panel discussion as a part of our IABC EMENA Region podcast; the episode is titled “Leadership: Stories and Strategies to Empower Women in the Workplace” and can be found on Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
The podcast features IABC EMENA board members, Karen Matthews (chair) and Catalina Gardescu (vice chair) who share their personal stories. We also hear from Christine Elmer, SCMP, MAICD, and Robert Andersson.
If you’re interested in communications related podcasts, don't forget to subscribe to the IABC EMENA podcast with your favourite podcast catcher. Thank you to IABC EMENA for sponsoring the production of the podcast, IABC APAC for their support and to Michael Kümritz, our podcast editor who has been a dream to work with.
Feeling inspired? Share your thoughts on social media to help spread the word. Feel free to connect with both Ross and myself by tagging us in your posts. Let the speakers know you listened and what inspired you and please let us know if we can support you in any way on your journey.
Photo credit in this article goes to Tea Van De Burgt. She is one of Ross's students and would also love to hear from you.
Monique Zytnik with Ross Monaghan
Monique Zytnik is the global employee communication SME at Open Communication. She serves as a board member for the IABC EMENA Region. Specialized in internal communications, Monique has worked in communications and marketing for organizations as diverse as Special Broadcasting Services Australia, ANZ Bank, the Australian Taxation Office, Adjust GmbH and Open Communication Group. She is a board member of the IABC EMENA Region and business mentor at the Mentoring Club.
Ross is an award-winning academic, author and communication expert. He started his working life as a reporter in regional Victoria before working in senior communication roles at BHP and Optus. He is a former CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association. Now an academic at Deakin University, Ross teaches, researches and consults in the fields of communication, social media and emergency communication. He has worked with a range of commercial and government organizations including Victorian, NSW and Queensland Government Departments, and the Australia Defence Force.