4 Female Leaders Reflect on the Concept of ‘Work-life Balance’

Female Leaders Reflect on the Concept of Work-life Balance

Work-life balance is predicated on the idea that for women to be happy, they must “have it all.” The unfair notion that is being sold to women is that – if only you can find a way to organise your work better, you can have a more fulfilling personal life. There are lots of women who spend most of their time at work but don’t necessarily trade off the quality of their home lifeand there are just as many women who could use some balance by working out of the home. 

The very idea of balance implies that a well-lived life must allocate equal time and energy between work and home. Work-life balance then is another impossible ideal for women to aspire to.   

The women leaders we talked to are successful at all fronts, and they unanimously agree that this notion of work-life balance does not apply to them. Here’s what they have to say — 


I take time where I can get it, but it’s not balanced in the way the lifestyle gurus try to sell you.”

“This whole idea of balance makes me laugh, and have you noticed how hard people work to sell you the idea it can be achieved! It’s the golden carrot hung in front of you to supposedly keep you motivated. I live in the real world; all I want is a happy productive life.” 

“Human life is a messy, crazy, happy, terrifying ride. You will have moments where you hit the sweet spot and sometimes those moments can last longer than expected, enjoy them. As they say, the only constant in life is change.” 


“‘Balance’ is an unhelpful word.”

“It conjures up life and work as two separate things we have placed on a set of scales that we’re constantly trying to keep in equilibrium. It doesn’t work like that. A more useful question is, are you being nourished as a person, not just as a worker, on a regular, long-term basis? If you are, then it’s possible to do anything.”


“There’s always more you can be doing or that seems to need your attention. 

“It is so easy to lose yourself and your connection to family and friends because often the loudest voice in the room is work. As a new CEO I don’t think I’ve struck that balance yet, but I am very aware of the mental health toll that sacrificing your relationships can have on you, your loved ones, and your work environment. So I’m working on it.”


“The fact is, we can’t have it all. It is an unfair expectation that is placed on women.”

“In the early years of my career, I was told that women could have it all, a successful and rewarding career, a loving marriage/partnership and family, and a working environment that encouraged this balance. This perception was accentuated by women who as leaders would portray themselves as being able to achieve this balance.” 

Like most things in life, it is about decisions we make, compromises and trade-offs, and as individuals, only we know what the right ones for us are. I have learnt that as women we place higher expectations on ourselves than our employers, colleagues or families do and just being more kind to ourselves means we are better employees, leaders, and family members. That said, giving yourself permission to dedicate attention to what’s important to you and your personal life is very important.” 

It’s never too early to start planning how to achieve your goals. If you want to learn from inspiring women on how you can create greater impact in your organisation through leadership, register for The Empowered Woman 2020. 

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The 9 Skills Women Need To Advance Into Leadership

All of our 35 inspiring speakers at the Women In Leadership Summit last October, have one thing in common — they all have, at some point, gone through challenging setbacks. What pushed them to succeed is the confidence that comes from the mastery of a set of skills.

In this article, we have rounded up some of their best advice on the skills, capabilities and tools to help you advance in your own leadership journey.


Gabby Costigan


1. Self-belief and Courage

“You must trust in your capabilities and be willing to take a chance in the pursuit of leadership. A fear of failure means at times women tend to wait until they feel completely ready before making this leap. I’ve learned that if you feel 100 per cent ready for your next step the challenge is already too small for you.”


2. Adaptability

“Organisations today need to continually evolve in order to not merely survive, but to thrive and become enduring organisations that have a lasting legacy. As a leader, being able to flex and respond as needed and inspire this agility in your teams is a core skill. I have experienced my share of obstacles and setbacks, but it is my natural optimism, the passion for the Defence industry and the people we support that inspire me to continue to reach for new goals.”


3. Decisiveness

You need to be able to gather and take on the viewpoints of the people around you, but when it is time to make a decision it is you as a leader who needs to make the call. You must be prepared to do this even in the most difficult of circumstances.  This brings me back to having belief in yourself and courage in your convictions.”


Marnie Baker


4. Vulnerability

While many may see it as a weakness, in reality vulnerability is a strength because vulnerable leaders tend to inspire, are more authentic, and they build bonds that lead to increased performance overall. Embracing vulnerability means having the courage to face our fears. A vulnerable leader is willing to experience all the ups and downs that come with it and they know they can confront the brutal realities while maintaining faith they will ultimately prevail and also learn.”


Chelsea Bonner

5. Flexible Thinking

“There is a way ‘life’ looks like on paper and then a thousand small adjustments you may need to make to achieve your end goal. Don’t get yourself stuck working point A to point B. There are swings and roundabouts in every plan, it’s not a straight paved road to success.”


6. Conviction

“When you know you have a great idea it doesn’t mean that everyone will believe in it. You need to be able to back yourself 100% and keep finding new ways to express your ideas to a multitude of different people, in a broad range of circumstances, to be able to cut through with it. If you don’t have that conviction you will never be able to get others to back it.”


7. Resilience

“As women in business we are up against it all the way, from business loans and capital raising, to the hours we spend away from family and friends driving toward our goals. We are judged on a very different level than our male counterparts. Often, we end up feeling like we have to justify ourselves to everyone for wanting success in all areas of our lives. This is something unique to being female. You will be tested and will need resilience to keep going through the emotional blackmail you will be confronted with daily.”


8. Negotiation

“Vital for growth of any business. You need to be able to go into every situation with the ability to negotiate the outcome and close the deal. If you don’t learn how to push for sign off on any idea, contract or collaboration, you can waste months of time in meeting after meeting with no end in sight and going around and around in circles. The deal is never done until the paperwork is signed.”


9. Collaboration

“Reach out to every person in likeminded business you think of who can give you ideas or help to refine your own. Word of mouth is the most underrated tool for all businesses. Also sharing your thoughts and ideas in the spirit of collaborating and lifting each other up creates a village of likeminded mentors and peers that will be invaluable over the life of your career.”


If you want to learn from inspiring women on how you can create greater impact in your organization through leadership, register for The Empowered Woman 2020.

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NETWORKING – Actionable Strategies from Women in Leadership

What Women Want From Employers

Earlier this year we partnered up with Women’s Agenda to survey over 800 women to find out what they really want from employers. The results are not surprising to me, but yet another reminder that although the discussion of equality and flexibility in the workplace has increased in popularity, there is still a long way to go.

Before we go into the results however I do want to congratulate Soccer Australia for this week announcing that both the men and women will receive equal pay moving forward, let’s hope other industries follow suit!

The key findings of the study concluded that genuinely flexible working opportunities trump pay when it comes to what women want most from an employer. When asked which would be the most beneficial to each respondent in terms of pursuing further leadership opportunities in their industry, flexibility was once again the top of the list followed by a mentor, a sponsor and leadership training.

On other interesting findings, nine in ten stated ‘bad management’ was the leading barrier preventing women from succeeding in a job or progressing their career, followed by organisational bureaucracy and sadly, workplace bullying.

When asked which company they would most want to work for with the top three responses included; Google, Atlassian and Qantas.

So, how do you get genuine flexibility in the workplace?

At Konnect Learning we have an open work-from-home policy where any employee, male or female, can work from home. My belief is that as long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when, or where, it is done. We have also recently announced a paid paternity program for our employees.

If you’re looking for ways to lead the change in your organisation and create a genuinely flexible workplace, I recommend you attend our Authentic Leadership Summit in March 2020. Early bird tickets are on sale now here.

NETWORKING – Actionable Strategies from Women in Leadership

Last September, over 35 female leaders took to the stage to inspire hundreds of women in attendance for our Women in Leadership Summit 2019. Each one of our speakers shared not only success stories but fully revealed how they struggled and failed in their journey. Overall, the event was a success because women, and a few good men, came together for the same purpose – to lift each other by bringing their most generous and authentic selves to the summit. 


We had a post-event chat with some of our speakers and asked if they have any reaction to the so-called “boys club mentality” in business. The way they responded to this loaded and controversial question was brilliant!  


Instead of jumping on the issue of gender bias, they gave fantastic and actionable advice on networking and collaborating. And if there is one thing that you can take away from the Women In Leadership Summit or any professional gathering for women going forward is, and we could not stress this enough — start to cultivate strong female networks at these events.  


Here are some great networking strategies from two of our 2019 Women In Leadership Summit speakers. 



Create your own club! I have no time for that (boys club) nonsense.

Create your own culture and surround yourself with people who don’t play in the closed ranks.  


Reach out to every person in like-minded businesses.

Think of who can give you ideas or help to refine your own. Word of mouth is the most underrated tool for all businesses.  


Share your thoughts and ideas in the spirit of collaborating.

Lifting each other up creates a village of like-minded mentors and peers that will be invaluable over the life of your career. 



Know yourself, what you offer and where your strengths and weaknesses are. And get wise to what makes people tick.  

There will always be some people who fail to recognise the value that women bring to an organisation. You’re not going to change them, that’s decades of privilege that is difficult to unwind, but you should work out how to work with them. Once you’re doing that, it’s your responsibility to turn around and bring more women up with you. It’s time to refresh the club membership!  


Seek out mentors and sponsors, surround yourself with people whose advice you trust.  

Often the belief someone shows in you to succeed is enough of a motivator to do so. There’s a saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, the same goes in business. We are nothing without those who believe in us and help us along the way.  


Rely on the people you know have your best interest at heart. 

You don’t need many, but you need to be open to feedback and accept they are coming from a good place. I have a number of these confidants who I can tap into depending on the situation. They mentor me, and I mentor them. It’s informal but very powerful.  



There’s plenty of opportunity to be gained from attending our events aside from the lessons that you can apply in your professional life. And the best one of all is building a solid network of awesome and inspirational women.

Attend our next event and meet Australia’s most inspiring businesswomen at The Empowered Woman 2020! 

Check out the exceptional speaker lineup of disruptive women entrepreneurs and high-level executives.  

The Empowered Woman 2020

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ELIZA BROWN – The CEO Made of Pretty Tough Stuff

Eliza Brown - The CEO made of pretty tough stuff

Eliza Brown is not your typical CEO. For a start she’s winemaking royalty; she’s a Brown of the Brown Brothers, and she’s the fourth generation of the Brown winemaking legacy. She also didn’t want to be a CEO.


Starting on “the bossy suit side” of advertising, as she puts it, rather than the creative side, she worked for top advertising agencies before her dad called her out of the blue and asked if she wanted to join his stand-alone business venture, All Saints Wines.


Her father, an artful winemaker, bought All Saints off the Brown Brothers suite to go it alone. Wine he could do, marketing he could not. Eliza covered “a maternity leave” position that ended in her staying for four years.


She may have been happy working alongside her dad in marketing at All Saints, but an accident changed the course of her life forever. On an ordinary Sunday afternoon, her father was knocked from his motorcycle by a car and killed.


Her world was shattered. One minute she was working in the business, expecting her first child, her life is moving along smoothly, and the next she has lost her mentor, her father and the business she helped build was without its leader.


Her brother was studying winemaking in Adelaide, her sister running a graphic design business in Melbourne, living their lives unaware that tragedy was about to hit.


Eliza recounts, “That was a Sunday, and then we have to take over the business on Monday. I didn’t really have any experience in running a business, even though I had been working with dad for four years, he didn’t give me any insight into financials or anything like that.”


She pauses and continues, “When the bank manager turned up the next day asking me to sign personal guarantees that I didn’t understand anything about, and I did just that (signed the papers). There were so many little things. And then we had a court case at the same time, and it was messy. I look back on it now, and I think that how I got through it, but women don’t just end up just doing it. I didn’t ask enough questions when dad was alive.”


I became CEO the next day. I didn’t have much of a choice. 


Fortitude, I feel is an understatement when describing Eliza Brown. She shrugs off this enormous tragedy as if surviving of a loss of this magnitude personally and professionally was not an amazing feat.


“I remember someone saying to me, ‘this possibly won’t be the worst thing that will ever happen to you…’ and you have to put things into perspective, and I had my brother and sister, my mum as support. I’d find her to have a bit of a cry with and I had them as backup. I think that trying to do something like that by yourself is bloody difficult.”


Grieving and stunned by the sudden loss, Eliza and her siblings had to make a choice. “There were three options. Sell up. Get someone in to manage it for us. Or do it ourselves.”


With her sibling’s support, Eliza took the helm of All Saints as it’s CEO. Today, her sister Angela runs their marketing, and her brother Nicholas is the winemaker. When they sat down to discuss what to do with the business, they made a pact, “we sat down the day after and said, what should we do? Should we sell, we get a manager in, or we do it ourselves. And we all decided that we do it ourselves. But we also decided that when we started to hate each other, we sell because our relationship is more important than a business.”


Despite her siblings backing, Eliza felt hideously under prepared and uninformed about the financial and strategic side of the business. “I didn’t really have any experience in running a business even though I had been working with dad for four years, but he didn’t give me any insight into financials or anything like that.” I wonder how long it took her to overcome that feeling, to start feeling empowered and capable in her role.


It was a massive learning curve. A lot of people left. They really didn’t know whether I was up to the job. 


“I think at that stage I didn’t feel very empowered because I didn’t have the knowledge that I do now… when you’ve got the knowledge and a confidence in your decisions, that’s when you feel empowered. It made me work really hard to build my knowledge around every part of the business and ask questions.”


“One of the biggest hurdles was to trust my own decisions. I think that’s been the biggest hurdle because you constantly doubt yourself. Then I realised after I spend a lot of time with men on boards that they don’t doubt themselves at all. They look in the mirror completely convinced of their decision-making process, even if they hadn’t done the background work, and I thought, well, I’m still doing all the background work, and I’m still feeling nervous about my decision, and I shouldn’t just trust what I know and what I’ve learnt? And that’s taken quite a long time. But I think that’s better than being arrogant about your decisions in the early days.”


Echoing the sentiments of other CEOs I have interviewed throughout the year, Eliza believes that a little bit of fear, a little lack of confidence can help you stay motivated and pressed to do even better, “I don’t ever feel completely competent, and I think that if you do, that’s when things start to fall away. You’ve always got to be a little bit scared or a little bit hungry.”


With her surprising and refreshing frankness, Eliza is open about her awareness that others in the tight-knit wine-growing community may have viewed her stewardship of the vineyard as an inheritance rather than something she either earned and deserved to take. She also felt that most people backed her to fail and some, more selfishly, worried about what her failure would mean for the wider community.


The biggest hurdle is to trust your own decisions because you’re constantly doubting yourself. 


To prove them wrong she knew she would have to work harder than she knew she was capable of, “people have an expectation of you because of your last name and if I worked harder and did put my hand up for a lot of… I would be seen as somebody that is going to give 150%. If I sat back and didn’t put my hand up for a lot of those things, I don’t think I would be as respected.”


But Brown didn’t do it alone; she is the first to admit she got help and got it fast. She was out of her depth with the financial side of the business, and she needed strategic advice. So, she got it. She set up a board to help govern the winery and provide advice on the broader market. She had some young people that she trusted but also knew she needed experience, “a bit of grey hair” to ensure she had the right advice.


“You won’t have to do it all yourself, that’s why you need good people around you to help.”  


She recounts her lack of financial acumen as her biggest weakness and the area she needed the most support, “I remember Dom (the accountant) coming to see us when dad died on the Sunday, he came and sat with us on that on Monday says, “Look, you’ve got a big leaky bucket, you’ve got eight holes just leaking money and you need to work out how you’re going to plug all those holes and I’m going to come back next week and you’ll give me a solution.”


Financial acumen, she now believes, is the number one skill we should be teaching young women. “it’s just so important to have those financial skills. And I wish I had done accounting at school now. Even though it’s possibly the most boring thing in the world. I was told from an early age that I was terrible at maths and that I wouldn’t need it and I think this is why I struggled. Now I love financials, and I love seeing how we are going each month.”


She also believes we should be filling girls with self-confidence is first and foremost skill we should be instilling in girls. “I remember someone saying to me, “Get up in the morning and look in the mirror and be happy with who you see in the mirror every day.” And I think that’s important. Oh and financial skills.”


Despite all the pressure and the trauma of those first few years, Brown has definitely proven everyone wrong. Her winery has a five-star Halliday rating, and the winery’s restaurant has held the “one chef hat” rating consistently for the last six years. Added to this list of achievements (which she quietly did not mention) is the Future Leader of the Australian Wine Industry award from the Winemakers Federation of Australia and her participation as the sole Victorian representative on a 10-member agricultural advisory committee, set up by then Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.


As a side project, because there wasn’t already enough on her plate, she and her two siblings =have recently completed a renovation of a nearby property they purchased to produce a niche boutique accommodation space and together they purchased and made profitable a second vineyard, St Leonards Vineyard.


She had offers to make this project into a reality TV series which they did not take up because as Eliza says, “we were too nice to each other, there was not enough drama.” But the financial pressure of these ventures was both overwhelming and motivating.


What drives us is having that little bit of pressure. Being a little bit scared all the time. 


“I quite like the feeling of having a bank manager behind me because that drives me. When you see his number coming up on the phone and feeling the fear. But it’s having that accountability and making sure that things work and working hard to the end. Yeah and I think that’s what drives us. Having that little bit of pressure. Be a little bit scared all the time.”


I am astounded she can stand up to that pressure and has the time and inclination to maintain the various business and the same time as raising two children. She says she is able to balance both by tying to be organised.


At the same time as telling me this sincerely, she laughingly tells me she sent her daughter to school with two pairs of underpants. She does, however, cite choosing the wrong partner early in life one of her greatest mistakes and maintaining her current partnership with her husband one of the biggest success factors in keeping her life running smoothly.


The teamwork involved in the domestic side is vital to achieving and maintaining success. “I’ve had a home life that’s not supportive, and that’s an absolute disaster. Not being supported was what I experienced when my dad died, and we parted ways. That was a disaster. Absolute disaster. I said to myself that if I’ve ever met another person that we need to work together as a team.”


A team seems to be what she has found with husband Dennis, a Melbourne restaurateur who provides support and advice behind the scenes and of course there’s her two siblings, with whom she is ridiculously close. “The three of us have a very, very similar sense of humour. I think that helps. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. And if we start taking ourselves too seriously one of us want to kill each other. But despite that, we enjoy our life together.”


While she is supported, both within her marriage and from her siblings, I have no doubts that Eliza Brown would have been a powerhouse with or without them. But this story of pain, triumph, support is atypical from many of the stories I hear in the female leadership space. Brown is not your typical story of knifing your way to the top, crashing through a glass ceiling and fighting to stay at the top.


Her leadership was thrust upon her, and she rose to the occasion. Her self-deprecation is more than just modesty; it’s an understanding that while her success is important, being happy and content with her life and celebrating each day is just as important and I hang up the phone not just wanting Eliza to be my friend but also wishing to be welcomed into her world.

Reserve your spot for The Empowered Woman 2020 and hear from inspiring business women like Eliza to ignite your passion and acquire the skills to achieve your dream career. 

What is the difference between a manager and a leader


Many of us think we are leaders but are we really just managers, juggling a million balls at once?


Managing a team, family or even your circle of friends can be a challenge in itself, however, leading them is a totally different story. A great leader is also a coach, a mentor and a sponsor, and as they say it doesn’t happen overnight, but with the right training and skills it will happen.


Ask yourself these questions…


Do you feel that you regularly share your knowledge and expertise with your staff and peers?

Do you think the people around you feel empowered by you?

Are you the go-to when there is a problem or tricky situation?


If you answered yes to all of the above, then I’m pretty sure you’re already leading your own tribe without knowing it. By taking your leadership qualities and approach from an informal relationship to a more formal approach, you will not only take your own career to the next level but will also inspire those around you to climb the corporate ladder with you.


So, what’s the difference between coaching, mentoring and sponsorship you ask?


Coaching is bespoke and generally a one-on-one tailored program developed for an individual for a defined period of time, with specific business goals in mind.


Mentoring can be both informal and formal. It’s flexible in the fact that as the needs of the mentee changes, so can the guidance and knowledge provided. In short, it’s a supportive relationship designed to develop the mentee to their fullest potential.


Sponsorship on the other hand, is using one’s power to influence others and in turn support the growth of the employee or individuals in situations where a little weight is needed.

  1. Create a space where ideas and input are valued; if you had all the answers to all the questions you would be god and not a good leader. Input is essential.
  2. Don’t tell. Ask questions, ask for input about why someone is executing a task a certain way and what they hope to achieve – most of the time they know the answer they just need confirmation;
  3. Be open about the vision and bring your team along with you; often I am surprised that they team are just as excited to reach goals as I am. There’s no I in team but there is in win.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your leadership journey and empower others to do the same, then join us in Sydney this month at the Women in Leadership Summit with Nell Wilson, from Nell Wilson Executive Coaching, for our workshop on Mentoring, Coaching and Sponsoring Women. Tickets available here.




What is gravitas and why do you need it in your life?


According to the Cambridge University, the definition of gravitas is seriousness and importance of manner, causing feelings of respect and trust in others.


So why is it so important in business today?


I believe as a leader, you need gravitas to make an impact and actually be heard. As a woman in this technology driven business world, today it’s not just the suits in the room we’re up against, but a combination of information overload and a time poor society. Whoever shouts louder or “fakes it till they make it” seem to win out.


Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we should fake our experience to win a battle or a seat on the board, for me it’s about having the quiet confidence to take you beyond your qualifications and expertise. By creating your own inner gravitas, it will take you further in the boardroom, attract a tribe to follow your lead and help form future leaders.


Think of gravitas as a mindset that gets you out of your comfort zone, but also out from behind that “invisible coat” we all like to hide under from time to time.


To change your mindset and move to the next stage of your career, I recommend you:

  1. Create your own personalised gravitas plan
  2. Undertake a speaking/presenting course to learn to project your authority
  3. Always act with integrity and know your boundaries
  4. Expand your circle of influence by supporting others to do the same
  5. Look the part – presentation is important no matter who the audience is!


“My number one thing to remember when you need to bring your gravitas to the table is that it’s not about being arrogant to get what you want. Use it to influence with intelligence and grace.”


If you need help with creating your personalised gravitas plan, join us for our ‘What Women Need to Know to Build their Gravitas’ workshop with Amanda MacLean from The Gravitas Project at the Women In Leadership Summit. The one-day workshop will be held on Tuesday, 24th September 2019 at Sydney’s Seymour Centre. Tickets available here.