Meet the Queensland organisation living the 2021 UN IWD theme “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”

2019-20 report from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency revealed only 32.5 per cent of all key management position are held by women. But there are some organisations across Australia that are challenging this, such as CPL – Choice, Passion, Life.


The largest integrated disability support provider in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, CPL has 75 per cent of its senior executive positions and 73 per cent of all positions within the business held by women.


CPL supports more than 10,000 clients, employs nearly 3000 people and has a yearly turnover of almost $200 million.


We spoke to two of CPL’s executive women and asked them about being a woman in leadership.


Julie Byth – CPL Chief Experience Officer


Julie Byth


Julie is a senior leader with over 20 years’ experience spanning the for-profit, not-for-profit and government sectors. As Chief Experience Officer, Julie leads CPL’s Strategic Marketing; Client Engagement and Insights; Fundraising and Development; Property; and Project Management teams. She also has executive oversight of Access Arts (CPL) Limited and sits on its Board. Prior to joining CPL in 2016, Julie held marketing and communications management roles in human services, consulting, public transport, the arts, and tourism and entertainment, with organisations including Queensland Rail, UnitingCare Queensland and Tourism Queensland.


What do you believe is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?

For me, it has always been the pressure we place on ourselves to be “everything” – especially if you are raising children while in a leadership role.  Though parenting responsibilities are increasingly shared, there remains an imbedded societal expectation about the role of mothers in raising children.   So, we face a constant battle between the pull of work and the pull of home.  I know this exists for men, but not to the same extent as it still does for women.  Mind you, I think women also excel at feeling guilty, which only serves to compound the issue!


How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

I made a rule very early on in my career to not bring work home with me.  Having practised this rule for so long, even when COVID sent us all home to work I felt I was really well equipped to maintain these boundaries.  Over the years I’ve had two jobs which were taking over my personal life and I couldn’t fix the problem, so in each instance I quit.  No amount of money can replace time lost with family or just tending to yourself.


Who inspired you and why?

So many people have inspired me throughout my career in different ways.  My very first manager was such a “girl boss” before that term became a thing.  At five foot nothing (only an inch shorter than me!) and the only female exec, she showed me how I could be strong and assertive without losing all the things I love about being a woman.  My current boss inspired me to explore leadership ambitions I didn’t even know I had.  He gently pushed me to take on more responsibility even though I kept turning it down.  He could sense that while my mouth may have been saying no, deep down my heart was saying “do it!”.  He was right.  I’m at my most creative, my most productive, my very best when I’m fully engaged and challenged.


What’s one piece of advice you would give to future female leaders?

I often find myself giving advice to women about to go on maternity leave, who are wondering about how they can possibly return to their job.  I always tell them to manage the expectations of their employers before they return, especially as it relates to hours of work.  If you are valued by your organisation, you will be valued for your output and your outcomes – not the hours you spend in the office.  A person who is well rested and who gets to spend time with their family, will not only be productive, but will repay their employer in spades with loyalty and commitment.  If you don’t work for that organisation or that manager, leave.


Kirsty Austin, General Manager, Services


Kirsty Austin


What do you believe is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?

Confidence and self-belief. The only barrier to women in leadership roles is their own mindset. People will always recognise strong leadership skills, knowledge and experience- you just have to be willing to share this with confidence. Sometimes you have to be brave to be heard – I love the expression – “feel the fear, but do it anyway!”


How do you balance work and life responsibilities?

Working full time, being a parent and balancing love of family and friends is always difficult regardless of who you are. Set yourself rules.  Be firm with yourself and defend your time with others. Make the most of every second of the day and commit your energy equally to your work, your family, your friends and yourself. My strongest motivation is that my family is everything and no-one ever regrets leaving work on time.


Who inspired you and why?

I come from a long line of Nurses and carers. Something I only found out about by returning to my parent’s home town in the UK. My maternal grandmother worked in a tuberculosis hospital, paternal grandmother worked with people with mental illness, my aunt was a support worker with people with disabilities and I was inspired when my sister trained as a nurse.


It seems that within my family there has always been a drive to serve, so I guess I have been inspired by my DNA.

I am also incredibly inspired by David Attenborough, who I have grown up with, watching him on TV.


What’s one piece of advice you would give to future female leaders?

There is a place for you at that table, and the table will be grateful for your presence.

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