What Does It Really Mean to Be A Woman of Influence?

This article has been almost a year in the writing, but a lifetime in the making.

Almost a year ago, in September 2018, I was named as one of the AFR Qantas 100 Women of Influence in recognition of my work in diversity and inclusion. Was I shocked? Yes. Was I pleased? Yes!  Was I proud of myself? Hell yes!

Since receiving this honour, I have had lots of questions about what it really takes to become a woman of influence. I don’t believe there is one, single formula. However, there are some common traits that women of influence exhibit. And here is a tip, not all women of influence win awards, even though they should!

I’ve reflected on what it means to be a woman of influence.  I believe that the influence I have is the result of being relentlessly determined to make a difference and have an impact, for women and girls. But that didn’t happen overnight.

This is (part of) my story about what it really takes to be a woman of influence.

Disillusioned and Determined  

My story of influence accelerated later in my life, when I decided to change the world.  I was a 50-year-old, 30+ year veteran of the Australian corporate world. I was outraged and completely disillusioned.

I was outraged and disillusioned that as I hit my late forties, some 30 years since entering the workforce as a 15-year-old, that I was STILL one of the few women in the room and at the top table.

Having spent a significant proportion of my career working hard in organisations to create equal opportunities, respect and inclusion for people who didn’t identify as Anglo-Celtic, male, able-bodied and heterosexual (which have been the prevailing characteristics of the majority of the workplace leaders during my career) I was becoming more dissatisfied with the glacial pace of change for women. Put simply, women were still being treated as second class citizens in workplaces. And that sucked.

At that time, I was an Executive in an Australian bank, and I had enthusiastically involved myself in lots of extra-curricular inclusion work. I was a member of various workplace councils and on committees for diversity and I was an outspoken advocate for women in the workplace.  I was a board member, volunteer in sport and mentoring as many women as I could. All whilst holding down a demanding day job. I thought I would make a difference with this activity. But it wasn’t enough.

Going Next Level

I knew I was influencing some positive outcomes by public speaking, building awareness and agitating for policy and culture change along with developing solutions that would create more inclusive organisations. But it was all a bit part-time, because I still had a day job.

This was work I wanted to do every day. Not just part of the day, week or month. I wanted my impact to be on a larger scale than just my current employer, netball or footy club. I wanted to impact society.

Being the determined person that I am meant that I wanted make this happen straight away. However, I am also a pragmatic businesswoman. I spent a year planning how I would make this happen, and started a business and a social enterprise as a side-hustle so that I could spend more time involved in activities that had meaning to me. After a year of ‘test and learn’ with my side-hustle and social enterprise, plus quite a lot of tears (of impatient frustration), consideration of the financial impact and planning, I made the decision to ‘go next level’.

When I announced I was leaving the corporate world behind, I had made what some people thought as a risky, courageous move. The truth was that many of the mechanisms were already in place to enable me and my business to be successful, and influential.

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On Being Influential

Influence, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary is:

‘the power to have an effect on people or things, or a person or thing that is able to do this’

I believe many of us have some level of influence. It simply takes the right moment, guide, mentor or situation to unlock that influence in order to create outcomes for what we care about. In my case, it was an outrage and disillusionment which spurred me on.

So, what does it really mean to (me) to be a woman of influence? It means, amongst other things:

  • Being clear about what I stand for and being able to eloquently articulate why;
  • Consistently and tenaciously advocating for the equal rights of women and girls;
  • Using every and all opportunities and platforms to advocate for women and girls;
  • Consistently evaluating and measuring the impact I have;
  • Being a vocal and visible role model.

The Potential of Women

I want more women to harness their potential and influence to better advocate for themselves, their careers or their business and what they care about.

With that in mind, I’m teaming up with two other Women of Influence, Div Pillay and Mim Bartlett, to host an evening about how to have greater influence and impact. Div, Mim and I will be in conversation about how women can understand and use their influence to create greater impact for themselves and society.

Come along and discover what it really means, and what it takes, to be a woman of influence.

Michelle Redfern Advancing Women

Michelle Redfern 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 Women).

Michelle is determined to contribute to achieving global gender equality in her life time, especially through her research and advocacy in the sporting industry.

Talk to Michelle about how to move gender diversity from conversation to action in your organisation.

About Michelle Redfern

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