Previous Women of Influence award winners Kerry Prendergast and Jo-anne Wilkinson know the value of a helping hand.
Passing on experience to the next generation
For Kerry Prendergast it was Fran Wilde, also a previous Women of Influence winner, who became a mentor in the early days of her local government career.
“When I started in local government I was lucky enough for a few years to have Fran as the mayor.”
It’s a relationship that continues to this day, more than 20 years after Wilde became Wellington’s first woman mayor, with Prendergast following in her footsteps a decade later with a 3-term stint ending in 2010.
Dipping in to her leadership and governance experience – Prendergast’s board roles include the NZ International Festival of the Arts, chairing the Environmental Protection Authority and the New Zealand Tourism Board, Kirkaldie and Stains, and Wellington Phoenix Football Club – she is able to counsel women on establishing themselves on boards or managing workplace issues.
But unpicking the challenge of managing work and family pressures is a common – and perennial – theme, says Prendergast.
As a self-confessed workaholic, Prendergast says she never quite mastered work/life balance when her family were young, but credits a supportive partner, good childcare, and a succession of accomplished assistants for helping manage her busy life.
She says women still struggle today to advance in their chosen career with the added pressure of children.
“No amount of quality childcare takes away the concern you have if your child’s unwell.”
An unplanned path to leadership
Jo-anne Wilkinson, who co-founded Foundation for Youth Development (FYD) with husband Graeme Dingle, says she found her mentor, Lindsay Corban, sitting alongside her on 2 boards.
A former KPMG director, Corban’s long-term commitment to raising governance standards throughout the sporting and social sector has been significant, says Wilkinson.
Corban is always asking the hard questions in a gentle way which sets you thinking about what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it, she says.
Wilkinson says she is conscious she's a role model for up-and-coming leaders, even if that is to just provide a sounding board rather than a structured mentoring relationship.
“Sometimes that’s all you need and then you clarify your thoughts.”
Wilkinson says her own path into leadership was unplanned and not necessarily a career goal.
It was more a dawning realisation she'd transitioned from being a co-founder, originally supporting FYD while working as a lawyer, to being a chief executive as the organisation itself evolved.
“I didn't actually choose leadership; I was asked to step into a leadership role.”
Wilkinson says she realised as a leader it is never ok to have an “off” day, and as the boss it is imperative to leave personal issues at home.
“It just hit me one day that I was taking a bad mood to work and why should people around me have to suffer that – that’s not right.”
She says leadership is about having people around you flourish in their roles and to grow.
“If that means they grow and leave then I've done my job really.”
Good leadership means not doing it alone
Prendergast, with her portfolio of governance and advisory roles, says it’s important to realise as a leader you can't do it alone.
Know your own skill sets, she says, and surround yourself with people who can fill in the gaps.
And listen to their advice, she adds.
“I don't have all the answers so make sure that the values I think I have and I’ve been raised with are added to by the insights of others.”
Finally, when you've listened to that advice make sure you act on it in a decisive way, she says.
2015 WOI nominations now open
Are you, or someone you know, a bold, energetic woman who is helping shape New Zealand’s future? Westpac has partnered with Fairfax Media to bring you the 2015 Women of Influence awards, celebrating the contribution made by women at a local, regional and national level.
For more information and to nominate you or someone you know, head over to the Women of Influence page on the Westpac website.