How my life has transformed because of the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship

By Anmol Saini, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient

4702 UN WOMEN SCHOLARSHIP AMNOL SAINIIn October 2014, a 12 minute video changed my life: UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, delivered a powerful speech on the newest UN Women campaign, HeForShe.

“If not me, who? If not now, when?” Her words inspired me to do more for gender equality and women’s empowerment. I found myself on the website of the Australian National Committee for UN Women, searching for a project I could genuinely connect with – what I found was an MBA Scholarship offered through the University of Sydney Business School.

When I researched this particular MBA, I felt as though the program was designed just for me: a newly created MBA focused on personal transformation, self-awareness and self-management, together with the opportunity to support the Australian National Committee for UN Women. Perfect!

Despite this, I put away the thought of applying for weeks, letting self-doubt get in the way. Eventually, with the encouragement of my sister, mum and best friend, with only 2 weeks remaining to the application due date, I finally took a leap of faith and gave it a go.

15 months on, I am now reflecting on the single most transformational year of my life, a third of my way through one of the most progressive MBA programs in the country, and the only one to have achieved gender parity in 2015. A better manager, a more confident leader, an ever widening professional and social network, increased business knowledge, and career prospects that have tripled – the MBA program has done all of this for me and more. Let me give you a snap shot of why 2015 was not just the start of an MBA for me, but a life changing experience.

I kick started the year with Leadership Practice and Development (LP&D), taught by an incredibly passionate team dedicated to making me the best leader I could possibly be. I was led on an unexpected quest to discover the authentic me, not just professionally, but holistically. In my eyes, LP&D dismantled and then rebuilt me into a stronger version of myself (Anmol 2.0).

In March, I had the opportunity to attend a number of International Women’s Day (IWD) events and hear inspirational individuals discuss initiatives created in their organisations and communities. While I have always been an advocate for women in leadership, this Scholarship has given me a new found voice and confidence to discuss diversity, inclusion and equality in a way I previously couldn’t. I have been provided various opportunities to discuss what gender equality means to me through blog posts and discussion panels over the year. This, together with the tools I’ve acquired through the MBA, has given me the ability to persistently and persuasively communicate my thoughts on this topic, rather than being disheartened by the contention or disinterest I am often met with. I even went on to have my article on IWD published by Women’s Agenda, an Australian online publication focussed on the empowerment of professional women.

August saw me exploring the historical wonders of Beijing with a few MBA colleagues before making my way to Shanghai to study the International Business Project. As our team took on the role of independent management consultants for one of the world’s leading headwear manufacturers, we were able to experience Chinese business culture firsthand and walk away with some incredible insights into the fastest growing economy of our time.

I completed my MBA studies for the year with a leadership philosophy subject that challenged my worldview and interactions with others. I was encouraged to express my thoughts through non-standard means and re-invent the ways in which I chose to persuade my audience.

I finished 2015 on an absolute high, travelling to Sri Lanka for my best friend’s wedding, where I decided to climb Adam’s Peak, a 5,831 step journey that I wouldn’t have even considered attempting a year ago. Today I know I am capable of anything I put my mind to.

This MBA scholarship is more than just an academic qualification to me, it is an opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to question, challenge and re-define who I am and who I want to be, as a woman, a professional and a member of society.

If you are still deliberating whether this scholarship and an MBA is within your reach, trust me, trust yourself and take that leap of faith – it’s worth it!

Applications close soon – 17 January – for the $60,000 UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship for 2016. Learn more and apply now.

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UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship – What An Opportunity

By Dr Kim Johnstone, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student in The University of Sydney Business School MBA

5124 MBA StudentsIt’s the end of 2016 and I’ve just finished the second unit of an MBA. I’m exhausted from  the intensive learning, which has challenged how I manage and work with others, but also thrilled to have finished 1/6 of the MBA and excited to be putting new ideas into practice. I have new opportunities in front of me that come from being a part of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program, and from being the recipient of the UN Women NC Australia MBA scholarship.

The opportunities started when a friend encouraged me to apply for the scholarship. The application process meant I had to think about my eclectic career and what I could offer by leveraging my skills alongside new potential learnings from the MBA. Participating in a facilitated discussion with other applicants, and writing a reflective essay about what I had learned, was the prompt for reasserting a long-term commitment to feminism and women in leadership. The scholarship process made me sit down and think about my career, what I wanted to achieve, and what actions I wanted to take next. I also met an amazing group of women with whom I feel incredibly proud to be associated with.

Being a better leader
The University of Sydney markets its MBA as being practical and hands on.  The first unit, ‘Leadership Development and Practice’, delivered! This course was my introduction to the MBA and was an opportunity I feel very lucky to have had. I learned and practiced how to listen better, give feedback, take responsibility for my own future, and got the most practical demonstration of how different work styles manifest themselves that I’ve ever seen.

The best thing was taking what I learnt back to work and putting it in place immediately. A professional relationship that I used to describe as dysfunctional is now productive. The way I manage up, down and horizontally has changed, because I make sure I set agreed expectations with others. I’ve become a better mentor because I listen better, and I ask questions rather than try to solve people’s problems.

Practical tools to lead change
As a long-term feminist I have had many conversations about gender inequity between men and women. Often I get disinterested nods, or hostility to the idea that women are discriminated against (I’m not going to repeat the evidence here, but if you need convincing look at occupation and employment differences by gender). Using the techniques I have learned in the MBA mean I am now more likely to engage people in conversation that prompts consideration of the many facets of diversity (women included). I have noticed that I am less likely to be dismissed and at the very least have people say that my ideas sound interesting.

I have just finished ‘Managing People and Organisations’, a unit focused on diversity and the future of work. Applying change management principles and processes to improving women’s representation among senior leadership roles was the most useful take away. In leadership roles, we always have to implement new organisational structure, or introduce new products and services. Of course, it makes sense that we use the same processes to improve diversity in our workplaces.

A voice for women
The thing I value most about being part of the Business School’s MBA and being the 2015 recipient of the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship is that it has given me a voice. I have always been vocal about women’s rights, and my paid and volunteer work reflect a long-term commitment to supporting gender equity. The process of applying for the scholarship made me realise that my voice had become a whisper. Receiving a scholarship in which the sole purpose is to put more women in leadership turned up the volume.

Since  the award of the scholarship, I’ve made the front cover of the Australian Financial Review, said yes to my first panel appearance and wrote my first blog. Now I have a schedule to write more blogs and have opportunities to contribute my opinion to other publications. The whisper is certainly getting louder!

Receiving a scholarship that was only available to women means I have had lots of conversations about merit and it’s given me the entry point to talking about affirmative action. I often ask people to consider, do I deserve to be in the MBA program since men couldn’t apply? Frankly, I don’t care. I have the requisite management experience to be accepted into the program, I was successful against a talented pool of women, and I’m becoming a better leader and manager because of it.

So I finish 2015 grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been given: a scholarship that lets me do a degree I couldn’t have done otherwise; the breadth of learning on offer; the high calibre of my MBA peers; and the platform to speak up about women in leadership. The University of Sydney Business School achieved 50 per cent gender equity for the MBA program with my cohort. Not only will maintaining this diversity make the Business School MBA a role model for gender equality around the world, it will ensure many more women can exploit the opportunities available.

Applications are open for the $60,000 UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship for 2016. Learn more and apply now.

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MBA Experience To Date

By Nancy Nguyen, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

2014_06_06-3 MBA Nancy Anita Omar (0486) 100%Being awarded the UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship has empowered me to be part of a movement shaping the next generation of female leaders, particularly in the field of Science Technology Engineering Mathematic (STEM).

Why? Because women in STEM roles can help close the gender gap through innovation, share their talent through increased representation, and be heard in formal decision making processes whilst increasing their earnings by 33%, a move critical for closing the gender pay gap.

I currently work in the male dominated Oil and Gas industry, where unconscious biases which limit roles and opportunity provided to women still exist. Women comprise half the population, however in Australia only 28% of STEM type roles are occupied by women. This is further exacerbated by lack of representation in undergraduate degrees, where women hold a relatively low share of STEM undergraduate degrees (33%). In addition, further attrition is observed as a result of women leaving the profession, and cultural and occupational segregation, limiting women in leadership and senior executive roles.

On reflection, even for me in my early career I denied that there was ever a gender issue, as I thought I was “making it” by working on drill rigs with the boys. Yet looking back, I realised that I was the only female working on the drill rig, and my company only had one female executive, in an organisation of over 3000 people.

The UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship has provided me with the exposure and confidence to empower others to have open and honest discussions on issues regarding gender, such as stereotypes about what roles women should hold, perceptions regarding likeability and success and myths surrounding professional career and family. For me, raising awareness about the benefits of STEM roles and representing women in leadership STEM positions by keeping the door open has been a truly rewarding part of building this legacy.

Being part of the University of Sydney Business School’s MBA program and connecting with the UN Women NC Australia network has provided me with the privilege to learn from strong successful women such as Senator Michaelia Cash, Catherine Livingston, Julie McKay and Elizabeth Broderick to name a few. I hope to continue building on these extraordinary relationships to further grow my leadership skills.

I am proud to be part of the collaborative efforts between the Australian National Committee for UN Women and the University of Sydney Business School to shape a future for our next generation of strong successful women, as I firmly believe this central to building a prosperous sustainable future – this is my “Future Anything”!

If you are considering apply for the scholarship, my advice to applicants is to have a clear conviction of what you want to achieve as a change agent representing the needs of women globally. Be honest, be authentic and don’t be afraid to share your vulnerabilities in the journey you have experienced to date.

After all, the trials and tribulations we experience as individuals is what makes us unique and resilient.

Applications are open for the $60,000 UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship for 2016. Learn more and apply now.

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Courage and conviction in decision making and the correlation with empowerment

By Natalie Cope, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship Recipient

150226_SydneyUni_SH03_11200

During the 2013 election campaign, former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke was heavily criticised for his statement that The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP could not step up to lead the Labor party due to her role as mum to a three year old. The comments went viral with action groups and other advocates swiftly stepping in to beat the drum on the issue of gender diversity and the status of female representation (or rather under representation) in Australian Parliament and the constant double standards applied to women in the Australian workplace.

The conversation shone a spotlight on the ongoing pervasiveness of glass ceilings (and walls), sticky floors and the unequal treatment of women in the Australian workplace. And why would the issue not peak interest and attention? Despite our advancements, the structural, attitudinal and behavioural inequalities in Australia remain entrenched.

While I don’t disagree with the lamentations of the critics at the time, and or the conversation that roars on, I do believe an important dimension of the matter was ignored, at the expense of a lesson in good leadership.

As truth would have it, Bob Hawke strongly encouraged Tanya to ‘step-up’ and take the leadership role. It was Tanya who made an active choice not to, not for a lack of belief in her ability to do so, but rather because at that moment ‘stepping-up’ was not the choice she wished to make. She owned that choice and was comfortable in doing so.

As we are routinely reminded, good decision-making is one of the most essential skills that a leader must possess. However in a world of increasing complexity and ambiguity finding clarity of judgment amongst the many and often competing priorities and conflicting considerations is becoming ever more problematic and difficult.

Tanya’s act not to step-up was evidently done so with clear rationale and premises for doing so. In the face of much contention, and in an environment where everyone ‘has an opinion’, it was clear she was able to block out the periphery and inconsequential to make a decision with unwavering conviction. When one meets Tanya Plibersek, it is immediately obvious that there is a certain enviable empowerment by owning your decisions – with such coming from a clear belief in the premises that underpin them.

The world is increasingly complex with right or wrong being increasingly coloured by shades of grey. To make a decision takes strength, and conviction, and as a leader, decisions will need to be made day-to-day. Having the skills to critically analyse and engage in rational decision marking will be critical for leaders to arrive at conclusions, and ones they can comfortably own.

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Mind over data

By Belinda Coniglio, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Belinda - Blog Photo

Sunday 28 August 2015 6.15am, my flight landed from Europe – it had been whirlwind family reunion in Italy, business trip to Expo Milan 2015 and brief reprieve from study between completing Innovative Strategies for Marketing and commencing Data and Analytics.

Armed with a day cleanse from Pressed Juice on my cab ride from the airport to the Business School, I braced myself for what I anticipated would be the most difficult MBA subject. I had returned from Italy early to complete the course, tempting as it was to stay in Italy – the thought had actually crossed my mind in a coffee shop in Florence!

Surviving Financial Management earlier in the year gave me faith that I could surmount anything – even with jet lag, the first class didn’t seem that bad – economic drivers and learning how to graph series of data in Excel seemed easier than the caffeine and sugar withdrawals I was experiencing that afternoon (although I was feeling the impact from 3.30pm that afternoon and sneaked a sleep on the couch in the Business School’s foyer!)

That was until Professor Tony Webber started to talk formulas, regression and linear functions which brought back memories of year nine maths and failing microeconomics as an undergraduate: twice! The only lyrics running through my mind during the weekly data music quiz were Justin Bieber’s “what do you mean?”

I realised that my lesson was probably more one about mindset than the course content after Tony counselled that while he understood the complexity of the course (for me) and that the concepts take time to learn, when mastered, they are really valuable to know!

Tony is not only a data guru but an exceptional coach who spent additional time explaining concepts which had a direct correlation on my results – no wonder he is one of the University’s leading professors! Another correlation was the increased caffeine consumption and decline in green smoothies, juices and soups over the duration of the course and the exam approached, illustrated in the graph below, using the skills I learned in the course!

MBA-Blog-Chart

Interested in hearing about your lessons or insights that may go beyond the course content – have you had to shift your mindset?  What has helped you to achieve results in difficult circumstances?

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Leadership Re-Imagined with Catherine Livingstone

By Therese Juda, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

LinkedinPhoto ThereseIt’s what you think that counts.

This was the key insight I gained from the MBA Leadership Re-Imagined talk given by Telstra Chairman Catherine Livingstone.

Ms Livingstone has held key leadership positions in companies undergoing tectonic change, including Cochlear, CSIRO and now Telstra, sharing with the audience key enablers in the change programs she has led.

What you believe guides what you do.

Cochlear was transitioning from a ‘department within a department’ to a highly visible public entity when Ms Livingstone took the helm. Initially the organisation struggled to achieve their 20% per annum growth target, as it grappled with agency issues and ‘fiefdoms’ that had evolved under the previous department structure.

The key to changing what people were producing was to align what they believed, acknowledging that belief systems guide a persons’ actions, big or small.

By embedding a value system as an integral part of the operations, Ms Livingstone noted that this made breeches of the system easier to call out, as it depersonalised them. For example, if in a meeting a course of action was proposed that didn’t fit Cochlear’s mandate of ‘built to last’, it became common practise for other attendees to call this out and refer back to the Company’s agreed values.

Three little letters can cost millions.

Norms, such as the universal values Cochlear implemented, are powerful ‘reference points’ on which people base both conscious and unconscious decisions. The example Ms Livingstone gave of CSIRO’s change program hinging on the words ‘in’ versus ‘for’ illustrated this point.

The CSIRO was facing an uncertain future when Ms Livingstone arrived, with funding from the Federal Government substantially decreased. The problem seemed to be not what the CSIRO was producing, but how they were communicating it, culminating in a lack of advocacy for the organisation.

This lack of advocacy was found to boil down to a seemingly minute distinction. The scientists and technicians working within CSIRO saw themselves as working ‘in’ the organisation, rather than ‘for’ it.

Initially, I wondered if the organisation was getting bogged down in semantics at the expense of uncovering the real issues. On further reflection I saw how if a person saw themselves as being provided with equipment and labs by CSIRO, but no uniting mission, then their discussion and influence of their work could be limited to their particular discovery. In an organisation with high levels of specialisation and limited engagement, silos can emerge, fragmenting the organisation’s influence and effectiveness.

Ms Livingstone noted that silo mentality was a significant issue at the beginning of the change program, but by engaging in continuous, multi-level conversations, a unified vision was established.

The emphasis of the change program on these multi-level conversations recognises the role of ‘co-authorship’ of change, seeing the role individuals must have in creating change if it is to endure.

The conversations had within the organisation need to be repeated, with Ms Livingstone mentioning an average of seven iterations required until the message is received by each person. The consistency of these messages are vital, as I imagine for an organisation filled with logic-driven scientists, any inconsistency would damage the credibility of the message of unity.

A person’s understanding of their workplace and their place within in it will guide their actions, therefore it is essential that leaders know what their staff believe, and honestly examine if it is conductive to the organisation’s success.

Successful evolution of these beliefs requires open and consistent communication that includes everyone in an organisation, and will take time.

It follows that the right behaviour will produce the right results, and leaders need to be prepared to ‘stay the course’ as is Ms Livingstone’s refrain, to allow time for individuals to hear, comprehend and embrace new norms and create better performance.

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China – from copy to create, learners to leaders and imitators to innovators

By Natalie Cope, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship Recipient

150226_SydneyUni_SH03_11200There can be no question that global, economic, strategic and political influence is shifting towards Asia. The meteoric return and economic re-emergence of China is unquestionably a defining feature of the increasing influence the region wields. In this rapidly changing world order, Australia’s future stability and economic prosperity will hinge on our ability to keep pace, be malleable and deepen our ties.

But when people speak of and consider China, it is often only in reference to the numbers, scale and the economic opportunity. That it is an Asian giant, a global powerhouse and an economic phenomenon. They highlight statistics and reference the population of 1.36 billion people as little more than a potential customer base (of which 300 million are now considered middle class).

While the scale, numbers and economic possibilities are not mistruths, to construe the opportunity purely in economics is to overlook important aspects of the “China opportunity” and what is a remarkable socio-cultural and intellectual metamorphosis. Without proper consideration, it will be the undoing of any business and their desire for success.

It is so important to stop and absorb the (often times intoxicating) energy, to appreciate and understand the history and character and strength of the people who are driving this story. To acknowledge that it is an atmosphere created as a result of a competitive environment of unimaginable proportions. Despite the incredible and increasing wealth in China, the reality for many remains challenging. China is still in the process of strengthening its social safety nets, and the population largely continues to exist in the absence of an institutionalized modern welfare state. The stakes of failure are therefore great. Livelihoods are defined by an ability to maintain pace, to keep pushing, to be innovative, and often times ruthless.

It is this environment that is driving an era of innovation and creation that is a defining feature of modern China and changing not only China’s but also the global playing field. The resilience, grit and determination of the people behind this story is seeing China quickly mature from a country of copy-cats to creators, from learners to leaders and from imitators to innovators. China is driving innovation across business models, product development and technology, examples of which were abundant and on display during our time in the country on the international business project. This constant evolution and adaptation is being propelled by the aptitude and willingness of Chinese companies and businesses to be the first, the fastest, and the best – to understand their customers and deliver not only on what those consumer preferences are, but by predicting, and informing the trends of what consumers don’t yet know they want and need.

If Australian and global businesses wish to include China in their global growth strategies, which is increasingly not an “if” but a “must” then they will need to pay heed to the above, and understand and be prepared for an increasingly sophisticated and competitive landscape. They will need to constantly reinvent themselves; to be nimble and move fluidly and adapt as the market shifts and changes at an often uncomfortably rapid pace.

It was apparent no more so than on this most recent visit, that to play in the China league will take dogged determination, work ethic and unrelenting patience and commitment. It will take considerable investment and smarts. Playing in China is not and never will be an away game. While a haven of opportunities, China is not for everyone; but it will reward the bold, the resilient, the prepared and the curious. An incredibly important step (amongst many) on this journey is to first stop, draw breath and take time to build relationships and better understand China’s history as well as its business, cultural, political, ethical and regulatory environment. Good luck!

 

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