Empowering ambitious women
Episode 33 - Empowering women to achieve, with Founder of Lean In Melbourne, Sonali Shah
In this podcast, I interviewed Sonali Shah, the founder of Melbourne Lean In network, a thriving community helping women achieve their ambitions. As a Lean In Circles Regional Leader, Sonali supports a large network of women and men dedicated to gender equality. Leading a team of 17 volunteers and working alongside the Foundation and movement put in place by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Sonali organizes events, holds training and networking sessions, and works with the LeanIn.Org team to grow and engage the Lean In the community in Melbourne.
Sonali starts by sharing her career progression and story and the path that led her to be so passionate about supporting other women in their careers. She candidly shares her conservative upbringing and the challenges she faced to pursue her university education, move to Australia, and have a corporate career. Sonali also reflects on her personal brand of feminism and how she has embraced new values and learnings along the way and educated others to embrace diversity, women, and mothers in the workforce. Finally, we reflect on the effect of lockdown on women in the workforce and seek the silver linings. You will notice that Sonali is always looking for positive paths to change and ways to better structure work and life to support women and families.
It is a delight to hear her story and learn from her experiences, cheer when she achieved her goals, and empathize with the roadblocks she experienced. It's an inspiring story that led her to found the Lean In network in Melbourne and her long-term passion for supporting women here and in India.
2020 is proving to be such a challenging year. Every day so much is changing, disrupting, and developing. It's tough for those whose jobs and livelihoods have been substantially affected by the pandemic and most recently by the protests happening worldwide. Job hunters are in danger of feeling isolated in their struggles and issues. I hope this podcast, and this episode, in particular, can support you in your job hunting and offer inspiration as you take the following steps in your career.
Here's to all the silver linings in life!
Resources mentioned in this episode
Transcript of this episode
Renata: Hello everyone. And welcome back to the job hunting podcast. It is a very cold Sunday afternoon in Melbourne. And this morning at 8:30 AM. I interviewed my guest Sonali Shah. Sonali and I had booked this interview months ago when COVID was starting and I cancelled at the last minute, because back then, I didn't know how to approach the interview. I told Sonali, I think we need time to understand what's going on in the world before we embark in this end. You know, what's really hard yet. Again, I have found myself and Sonali in this situation where as content creator, I have to say it has to be just in time content creation these days, you can't really batch content anymore. Every week the world seems to be taking a turn to something quite unexpected, and I don't want to ever make you feel like I'm not paying attention to what's going on because of course I am.
Renata: And I think on the day to day basis, if you follow me on Instagram, and if you follow me on Facebook, I am constantly posting and quite alert about what's going on in the world with black lives matter with COVID with job losses, with redundancies, with, anxiety and the sense of, you know, uncertainty and complexity and real chaos that we're feeling around the world. My commitment is to support the job hunters out there. The people that have lost their jobs doing COVID or beforehand, the people that are on the brink of losing their jobs and in the midst of everything that's going on. I want to be that sounding board, that podcast, that live coaching session every Thursday that is always there for you that you can rely upon. And that's why we keep ongoing and I keep on posting. This week, many people have cancelled content.
Renata: I received two cancellations. So I do a lot of personal development training all the time. And two things that I had, I was looking forward to doing have been cancelled quite rightly so, quite frankly, they are not essential in my view, job hunting in my view is essential and it's, people's livelihoods at stake and people need salaries to pay the mortgages and bills. And I am going to continue producing content as long as people need jobs. And if you have any questions for me, and if you want to address this with me, you can always get in touch. I'd love to hear your feedback, your comments, and opinions. If there are better ways for me to be doing this, I'd love to be in touch. Now, let's go back to the topic of today, which is this conversation with Sonali Shah, which is long overdue and bless her, you know, on a Sunday morning, a woman that has a full time job, a small child, you won't believe, you know, her work ethic, her commitment, and the amount of volunteering that she does is unbelievable.
Renata: And when I met Sonali, I was introduced by two lean in org and Sonali by Div Pilay. If you look at my LinkedIn, you will see that I wear many hats. One of them is that I work with diversity and inclusion as head of market strategy for an organisation in Australia called mine tribes. And if Paula is the co-founder, it's an amazing organisation. And if recommended me as a speaker for a final end of year event, that leaning Melbourne was organising. Now, Lean In is a non-profit organisation that was founded by the Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. And let me get up because I put the book away because I want to show the book. So this is the Lean In book that came out seven years ago, eight years ago, I read this book. It was a tipping point book for many women back then it was read right across the board.
Renata: A lot of women related to it a lot, and it was very inspirational. Sheryl then founded Lean In chapters all over the world. I'll put the link in the show notes so that you can find a lean in chapter close to you. Lean in Melbourne is a great chapter led by Sonali and a team of 17 volunteers its growing and growing. Now that many of, I mean, all of their events are online. She was telling me, and you will hear this on the podcast that they have people participating from all over the world. Really. So, you know, it's based here, but you can participate if you want to. And I would recommend it's really quite an impressive group. Sonali was an impressive host, and her team is very professional. It's run by up and coming rising stars, females that are young and really ambitious for their careers, that they have felt a strong connection with, the book and, and Cheryl's learnings.
Renata: But also one thing that Sonali explained to me when I first engaged with her is that the lean in concept has evolved because the ideas have aged, you know, and the book is now seven years old, as I said before. And things have kind of progressed a lot since then, but also as you will see, , and one of the reasons why I wanted to bring Sonali as a guest was that we are both called women so gnarly. And I, so , cowed are culturally and linguistically diverse women. That's the acronym. And we're so different. You know, we come from very different coaches. We have different , bringing and different expectations that were put upon us. And we reacted differently. , to Australia. We're both migrant women. We probably arrived in Australia, right. About the same age. I'm assuming I didn't ask, but I'm assuming. So then you go, like women are not all the same.
Renata: But her insight into her intelligence because of the volunteering work that she does above and beyond her corporate career is what I find really interesting for me professionally. I'm always interested to hear what she has to say, and I wanted to ask her, but instead of asking, calling her and asking her for me, you know, I'm sharing it on this podcast, you know, how are women feeling? How are they dealing with lockdown? How are they, how are you coping? You know, because she is the, the best person to ask. She has a young child who is, you know, not going to childcare at the moment. They're both her husband and Sonali are working from home. And not only she has her personal lived experience, but she's constantly hosting all of these, you know, catch ups and webinars. And, and she has, you know, a very big social media following with leaning a chapter in Melbourne.
Renata: And I wanted to ask her about how women are coping from her membership. And it was really also very interesting and wonderful to hear about her personal story per personal career story and her ambitions, and ideas and inspirations for a better structured future for women in the workforce. So I'd love for you to listen to what's. Anally has to say she's a real feminist with very interesting ideas like myself on constantly learning as we go. And I love for you to learn and educate yourself, but also hopefully see some commonalities there about what she has experienced in her career and what you are going through as well as always, when I do a podcast, that's all about women. I ask the men to keep on listening, because if you are a father of girls, if you are a husband, if you are a manager or a colleague of women, I think it's really important for men to educate themselves and understand how we see the world and how we see our careers and the experiences that we have in the workforce.
Renata: And, you know, how it translates to us and Lean in Melbourne really encourages men to attend their events. And I saw that first hand when I was a speaker and of last year, some wonderful guys came along. So that's, you know, one more reason for you to listen to, one more thing. Last time I said I was going to be doing all these sort of solo episodes, but because Sonali was keen to be interviewed on a Sunday. And like I said, I don't, I didn't want the interview to age, and I think that as a content creator, I have to be careful with that these days I decided to post it straight away. So next week I will be boasting the solo episode that I promise, which is another episode that has a companion life coaching session and a companion workbook. And it will be all about LinkedIn. So keep an eye open for that one, have a look at the episode, show notes, find links to my website, links to sign up to my newsletter and my community to get access to my bonus documents and guidelines and tools that I offer job hunters. And without further ado here is my chat with Sonali chat. Bye.
Renata: So let's start by talking about your career and how did you end up being where you are in Australia having your corporate job in Melbourne and working, volunteering with Lean In at the same time? It sounds like such a great combination. Always wanted to ask you that.
Sonali: Yes, so career...so I was actually, I come from the technology background, so I was a developer and that was like an accident. So I didn't have a good marketing HSC. So we were looking for, okay, what feels like engaging to me to be still useful. And at that time, so this will tell you my age in India, computer science was basically women. So it had a lot of demands and I come from a small town. , and we had only one college where they were giving the schools. And I had never seen a computer before that. , but then my brothers professor, we went to him to ask for that advice, what I should be doing. Then he said, I should have ended up for computer science. And then I enrolled for computer science. So that's how I got into technology. But then, you know, studying at that time, we had like some courses.
Sonali: So in India it was really in demand. And for that they required some courses to do. And what I did is by doing computer science on site, I did those courses. And then I fell in love with programming and technology. And when I came here, I was still a software engineer. And then I moved to a technical lead role at that time. And I worked with the business a lot. And that basically gave me interest, because technology is kind of application of everyday life, right? , otherwise technology is not useful. So I really loved about because I worked in the pricing area. So a lot of data thinking about, you know, customer demographic, and also literally would with the contact centre. So how, you know, when people call you what are their problems and I was really interested in it. So then I moved from technology to the business side as a project manager, logically like it was a really junior role at that time.
Sonali: And I was really interested in that business side and the customer side. But because I come from technology background, I could always apply my technology knowledge show all the time, a project manager, I give solutions. It's not like I just said that managing shoes and the gang charts, I love to get involved in details, understand customers, and also bring the technology aspect. So now what I do is, so I did, when my previous role was customer experience delivery manager is looking at, you know, end to end customer experience, , and providing inputs to how we can streamline all that experience. Yes. So I now practise human centred design thinking. , and that's really interesting. And having the technology background is my leverage. , so yeah, that's how I am kind of like, good for project manager feed because I'm like always to do, or I need to have a plan. I think that project management field really suits me. I really like that, but also understanding that business. It gives me a whole view. I'm not saying to, you know, or I'm just a product person when I'm just a technology person. So I get that overall view, which I really love.
Renata: Yeah. And it seems like, with the human centred design thinking and the customer experience, thinking, in addition to your background in computer science and development and technology, you have an, an interest in an appetite for, , I would say, , the human side of business, you know, because your involvement with Lean in, I can see that, but you know, there's, , from the speakers that you invite, there's a lot of, you know, positive psychology and a lot of Brene Brown and, and Thrive and all of that, that I see in the speakers and the resilience building and confidence building that I see in the development that you do with the women here in Melbourne, how did you get involved with Linnaean when did that happen?
Sonali: So I read a book a long time ago, because you know, it was there and actually my brothers asked me to read it. So I knew a book was then yes, thank you. And I hadn't read it. And I was in the U.S. for my brother's graduation ceremony. And they're like, have you read it? And I'm like, now it might be just a regular, you know, feminism thing.
Renata: I was a late reader. I was a late reader as well. I think.
Sonali: Yeah, I didn't add, yeah. I left the book and immediately I started on Lean in group, but I didn't do anything with it because I wanted to do it in a certain way. And I didn't know how to go about it. And then I think it took me one or two years. So I created this group, didn't do anything. And one, one and a half year I went back and there were already 200 members joined. And then we started discussing how we can start it. , and the reason I wanted to do it was because I come from a really , conservative, socially background because I come from a small town in India and I wasn't allowed to talk to men like, you know, so I was in like the only women's college women's school, good school. , so I always, I was always told that there are certain things women should do.
Sonali: So if we are at the dinner table, I was told that I had to sell my brother. So I have two brothers. And if I'm telling, because you know, when you're younger, like why are you going to take it by yourself? Yeah. You will ask that to your brother. But I was told, no, you need to do that. I have to make bed for everybody. , I was basically forced into, so adding, you know, you've added to British people come and see you. And I remember in the last year of my graduation, I came back from my college. I see like all houses, tidy and all that. My mommy's ready and I'm like, what's happening? And she's like, well, people are coming to see you. I don't like no way, because it was like my preliminary exam for my last year. And I took a key off my motorbike and I just left.
Sonali: And I went to my friend. So these people came and I think they lived. So I like people used to think that me being ambitious is not being a good woman. Right. , and it basically, I had to fight for my education. And even my dad cooked me for computer science. Fees were more than your bachelor of commerce, you know, or other courses. So people, elderly, people of my family, they got together with my dad in the Lake why you are teaching your girl, because she's going to get married, so she doesn't need to study. So I had to fight a lot. And when I came here, there was a gender gap, like gender pay gap or, you know, inequality, but not as much as what I have seen. So I always wanted to do something for women.
Sonali: And , I, I have been, I want to talk, it allows you. I do it that in my fifties or, I mean, I'm 50. I won't just stop my corporate job and, you know, do something for women. So it might be charity or it might be not for profit, but I wanted to do something for women back in India from it. I actually. Yeah, because they don't have exposure. They don't know what, you know, life you can have. When I came here, I realised like work life I can have. , so I, I actually, although I was feminist, I was scared to use that word, feminist feminism. , and now when I look back, my values were conservative as well, because from there I came, yes. So although I wanted to be ambitious, I had these things, Oh, women have to do these things because that's how I was raised.
Sonali: And then I realised like, you need to change the thinking. It's not, the people are bad because it's not that I was better than my parents so bad that, you know, they were imposing those values on me, but it's just the awareness. , and I used to ask questions and you wouldn't believe when I was a technical leader, you know, in a circle, I was working with one Asian girl. So she was born in Rosedale, but still her family was very conservative. And we always used to talk about, you know, Indian, Asian families and feminism. And at that time I asked her, I said, you know, I see women in our office. They work from home so much, you know, they take leaves because of kids, you know, kids are sick and still we say that we want the same payment or, you know, as men, how companies can afford that.
Sonali: I said, look at this view, right. I call myself feminism. I call it that time. But I asked this question and she said to me that, because she had learned social science, she said that, plus the question we need to ask is why women are working from home more, why women are taking more leave because men are not pitching in. Yeah. If they may not be reaching women, they don't need to do that. So there goes your inequality. Yeah. And then because women work from home more and they don't want to go for leadership rules because of that, they don't get paid as much as men. So anytime you have basically this imbalance and one part of the society has more money, power goes into their hand. So that's why then the women are basically a little bit, you know, suppressed or they don't have a voice in the society to base something.
Sonali: And that changed my thinking. , when I started lean in because, you know, I'm like all women need to get into work more, that's women's responsibility. Yes, it is women's responsibility. But if you look at, the problem is society needs to support them. So it's not a women's issue. It's a societal issue. And my thinking changed a lot. I mean, I started leaning as well, but that was the thing why I started leaning because I'm like,, , I have faced, you know, , this issue, , at back home, but here is the way women take it. I was in technology. So when you talk to some technology people in infrastructure, they assume that you don't know what you're talking about in technology. , and I'm sure like we have like, you know, a lot of data about surgeons and, you know, in medical science, it's a similar situation, so that's not, I started it. So that's why my group is not about women in tech or women in finance or women in construction. What we do is we talk about issues related to women or gender equality, and we'll be doing white men as well to participate in it because otherwise you can't complete the cycle. You need to have their view as well. So, yeah, that's why I started Lean in.
Renata: That's great. I like what you said about the issues in society. It's one of the things that I read about the most personally, I'm really, I'm fascinated by hate how we live in a society. That's structured for men at work, not men and women at work. , and lean in is one of the books I read as part of this, you know, interest of mine. But one that I really like as well is, from a UK consultant called Christina Armstrong. I don't know if you're familiar with this book, it's called the mother of all jobs. She has a wonderful book about how we've structured society for men to work, but not for women to work and how this misalignment of, you know, the times we need to take kids to school against the times need to be at work. Just never align, never support women and summer holidays or school, holidays, and annual leave.
Renata: And all of that is never really aligned. It makes our life a living hell maternity leave instead of parental leave. And all of that is really interesting, but what has happened to COVID is that it has allowed everyone to work from home. But I, in my newsletter a couple of weeks ago, or maybe it was last week, I can't remember, I've been sending. So I send the newsletter every week to people that are interested in career and job hunting and, , a very, , recent study done in the U S and the UK has shown that women have, , published less papers than men over the past few months, whilst at home with their husbands. So these are academic women, right? So we're all at home, but women are still having the wrong end of the stick because men continue to publish their academic papers, but women have held back because the kids are at home. There's, you know, homeschooling kids taking care of the house. And they have been unable to keep up with the academic work that they would often do. So they have these,, , graphs and charts showing women's academic publications going like steep down during the lockdown and depending on, , and I wonder a few, you know, because you're in touch with so many women here in Melbourne with lean in, what have you noticed? How are they coping with the lockdown, staying at home, working from home with little kids, how is it going even for you personally?
Sonali: Yeah. See, the thing is, I mean, everybody knows the statistics, right? That women contribute to 76.2% off and better work. And that was pretty covered without homeschooling, without, you know, childcare closing. So that tells me that how this caregiving work has increased right now on women. So if you start with 76.2%, which is literally three years out of, for us, you know, on bed work , and now it must be more than for us now. So you are basically doing 200%, you know, are off work. So, I think luckily with the group I'm involved in, we do what makes you happier. We had a couple of workshops and I haven't heard about the main saying it has been like as what they did to me, you know, they say that they're balancing it well, that enjoying this flexibility and more than enjoying, because it's a flexibility they can, if your work allows you work flexibility, you can get up in the morning and work even after 5:00 PM.
Sonali: And I'm doing the same thing. I literally get up like me and my husband, we get a bit full clock. , and then , you have to write because I have 20, when Solana stopped her childcare, when she was like, in March 1st week of March, we literally stopped up from child care. So we get up at four o'clock. And then I start my work at that time. , and everybody in my team is saying that we clean our involved in the night, but when we come back in the morning, we have emails from Sonali. So I used to feel initially like, man, I don't want people to think I'm crazy. So I used to in outlook, it lets you initiate your labour. So I used to say, okay, this is similar, we go out at eight o'clock. Then I just gave up. I'm like, whatever, I don't care.
Sonali: So I do some work in the morning and it's good to, because nobody interrupts me at that time during work hours, people message you and call you. , so now I have like at least two hours in the morning uninterrupted, I cook at that time. So basically my morning routine is clear. Then my doctor gets up at seven, seven 30. So depending on our workload, even my husband would take care of or before nine o'clock or it could have, or before nine o'clock. And then we just schedule our work. Like we have now our calendar sync with each other. And if meeting is really important, we send, you know, I'd like that they are important meetings. So basically you have to take care of her. Otherwise I keep her next to me. , and you know, she either watch here. So I just being heard in my lab and you know, she's in front of the video looking at everybody.
Sonali: That's how we are managing. And then in the night is the same thing. I could go to sleep and then I go back to work again. But then what happens is that sort of women are saying that we don't switch off from work because during that first seven to eight hours, nine to five, you might not be able to work full time. And you do feel obliged then all the you're working in the morning at night, like, Oh my God, I should maybe do a little bit more. , and maybe that's the expectation. I'm not sure. , so I have been lucky that my workplace is really good. They support me very well because I do remember a couple of times my CIO called me and my doctor was like crying in the background. And I was feeling like initially, you know, when all these things started, you feel like, and I was new at this job place.
Sonali: So I'm like, Oh, I'm so sorry. And he's like, no, we all have kids. Don't worry about it. And now he's in the meetings sometimes if she's sleeping asleep just behind me, her room, so you get here into Excel and then people are like, oh, whose kid is that? Not even a battery, but they just ask you. Right. And I'm like, yeah, it's my daughter. And then they're like, yeah, that's fine. And they find it cute. So I think this is a new norm, right? Only thing is I think if you're more pressured, if your husband is not supporting you, that's a problem. So my husband supports me. , although we were not meeting my parents in those, like, you know, because of social distancing, they used to come and drop off the, so once a week they would give me food for two days that helped me.
Sonali: And now last week, they can, two days and they took care of her for three hours. So that was really good. So I didn't need to work in the night then, you know, after work, because I could just finish it before, play your club. Do you think that's what I'm hearing? Yeah. Do you think that that's sustainable? DOE is because it sounds exhausting to me, it sounds like you're not sleeping much. And how long can you do this for, or are you doing this now? Because you know, it's short term. Yes. That's a really good question. Right. So I am really bad at managing my time. So I always do all the time. , and when I went back from my maternity leave, that's what I did. I didn't have the line. I felt that I needed to prove myself because I had come back from maternity leave.
Sonali: I didn't want people to say well, because she has a kid, you know, she's doing that. So I was literally working 11 to 12 hours and I wasn't burnt out. So I had to quit my job, initially as well. But also I could, I just wouldn't bake it. You know, I work long hours. So that's my problem. I shouldn't be doing that. , but I think what I did is meanwhile, I w this social distancing, not meeting people, was getting to me. , so what I did is I organised literally zoom calls with my friends during workouts, because I'm like, I need to talk to somebody because they have kids as well. I started going for a walk. , I used to block my calendar and I told my manager a couple of times I need to go because, you know, it's a good group leader.
Sonali: And if you don't get in Melbourne, good weather all the time. So here's a good way that I take her to the ground and she keeps running and for me as well, it's good to just go out. So I think as long as you manage that balance, it's always good. Right? So I know now, I'm going to get burned out when I feel down, I tell my husband and I take a break. , I make sure that on Saturday, most of the time I get takeaways, I don't cook. , my husband takes care of a couple of us and I just do whatever I want to do. You know, it can be just watching TV or Netflix or reading or going for a walk or just zooming in with my friends. So I think that's why it's okay. As long as you know how to manage it.
Renata: Yeah. , otherwise it is difficult. Yeah. If you don't have support and you continuously keep doing it because it is difficult, because in addition to work and family life, you still have the lean in group to manage as well. And tell me a little bit about how they are coping. Are you getting feedback? Cause I've noticed you do, drinks hour on a Friday. Do you do that? Yeah. So what's the feedback that you're getting for the women here in Melbourne about COVID and have they lost their jobs? Are they still at work what's going on?
Sonali: Yeah. So when we had happy hour, since we started checking, people have lost their jobs. , and, but they found a silver lining. So it was really interesting to see because when I did happy hours, I'm like, Oh my God, people will be anxious. And you know, we need to have light topics to talk about.
Sonali: And we started like that, but we actually wanted to talk about real problems. , and then we met on the call, said that two women actually said that they had lost jobs. , but they started practising literally, you know, textbook method kind of, if you don't have socialist sensing, what you will do is meet people for coffee. And, you know, they say that just have a basically routine that every week you're meeting, when you person, they said that because they'll all show up, they started doing that, like reaching out to at least five people in a week and having virtual coffee with them. , and, one actually goes, started her leading circle in her office. And she said that when they did it, they said that we should have it more often because I think she was planning to do it every month.
Sonali: And they said we should have fortnightly. So I think, all people have lost their jobs. It has put more pressure as long as your work supports you. I think you're okay. And if you have lost a job and you have this support circle, which lean in is, become on that and they just chat about their problems. We did one workshop, which is called remarkable and everybody was so open about, how, you know, they sometimes get treated differently, their problems, not as a woman, but as you know, regular corporate, life issues, politics. And, you know, if you want to get leadership, what problems you face. So I think we are talking more about these problems openly. Now. That's what I have noticed before this, because we were meeting in person. I think it's a little bit intimidating when you have, you know, a group of 90 people, you go and meet everybody individually and you're not going to meet data people, but because it's online, what I'm seeing is more people are joining.
Sonali: It's easy for them, although they live far away. If they work at home. Interestingly, in the last workshop, we did resilience. We had women from all over the world. So we had people from Spain, South Africa, UK, Canada, India, and that was wonderful. So this is kind of a silver lining, right? Yes, there are issues. But if you have this support circle, , you can get through it because nobody can help you financially, but they can tell you how you can get help or how you can be optimistic and act list is, you know, somebody else like you and you don't feel like you're the only one, which usually you feel right? Thinking like if you can meet people, you're sitting at home, you're like, I'm the only one like this. No, you're not, there are so many people and it's not your fault, right? Your job is not your fault. And surprisingly, I know two to four people who lost their job because of COVID, they have already got their jobs. So they applied for jobs and they already starting, you know, already started or they're starting next week.
Renata: That sounds wonderful. What do you think, would be with the group of women that you're involved with, you know, your friends and the leaning, what would be their biggest aspiration, you know, looking into the future, you know, there's so much uncertainty now, you know, from what you can sense from these stocks and these chats, what is it that they want out of this new, normal that we're leaving? What is their biggest ambition?
Sonali: I think that, so looking at demographics, it's like two parts to it. One is women without kids and then women with kids. Right? So if I talk about the most common topic, talk about the most common topic, which is women with kids or parents, not just women. , I think, they think that this new norm will accept children as part of their work in a way that, you know, how, breastfeeding at work was a big thing. Getting kids at the parliament was the big thing. I don't think that will be the case anymore. Right? So that's what they expect that this shouldn't be like this lockdown has enabled us to understand these problems, empathise with the people who are parents, all single parents and leadership I think has changed as well. , so if that continues, I think that's a great to win- win situation for everybody, right?
Sonali: So women who want to work from home, but also have aspirations of leadership roles or manager roles, and also maybe pitching in more so, because I wasn't much in Italy. My daughter was of course bonded to me more. But during this log down, she's bonded with my husband's. So, well, I don't need to worry about her now. , and it's not like she would always come up to me because first one mental is difficult. So I think that, you know, dynamics have changed. And if that continues, I think that would be a really good outcome for women. But then women who are either single or don't have kids yet for them, it's a good, you know, setting still, right? Because we are basically clearing their path and they don't need to fight about all this working from home and, you know, equality at home as well, because it will be a non, so then they get married or even have kids.
Sonali: It's nothing new for them. They don't need to fight. So one less thing to fight or battle for us. So I think that's a good thing because you asked about the experiences from, you know, this group. I was really, so my work place really supported us very well. So they literally sent, if we wanted our desks, chairs, screens, they sent it all. So I got mine two weeks ago. I didn't know they were doing it. And some people went and they picked it up. My manager asked me when, and how, how are you handling it so long? I hope you went out and enjoyed the sunshine. So during work hours, that's, that's a tall, but one, , one of my team members said that her workplace manager was organising a meeting literally at four o'clock just to see people are working at lunchtime. , but then, or the period, I think that style has changed because from the top down they have, , got instructions that you can't do that you need to trust people.
Sonali: Right. So I think she's not even, she doesn't even have kids, but if she's single doesn't mean she doesn't have her own issues right. Sitting at home alone, especially just think if you're a migrant, you don't have a really big social life. It's really difficult. I think people will show this empathy because it's going to be completely, you know, switch in everybody's mentality and thinking. I think if we live with this learning and don't change it immediately, like now everything is back to normal, I think it's a good outcome for everybody. Yes. And the other thing to do, somebody says that because it's now social distancing and anyway, companies are closed. You're more open for global opportunities because a lot of companies will be like, you know what? I can now hire talent from , internationally, , market. That's the one thing they're looking at because now you can sit in Australia and get the international experience then, right?
Renata: Yes. I really I'm looking for an example of that. So if you know someone that I can interview, wait to see that happening, that's definitely one really good example is, , so my mother-in-law is in her seventies and of course my father in law, , and they both had really good career and I was surprised my father didn't look told me that he had like a brunch happier, happier with his previous colleagues. , so they are enjoying this, , and my mother in law, they were in the UK before and she had, she's like an artist and dancer and choreographer. So she had a great career there. She had built an Academy there. , and she said that as part of that Academy, now they're hosting interviews with artists in the UK, but she's able to be part of it now because she can just, you know, join online. So, we changed like this. We will, they will not online that much. Right. So I do think that it would change the economy and industries and we bring the world closer. Actually.
Renata: I'd like to say something about that, because I was thinking about this yesterday. So now it's so interesting that you mentioned this. I was walking with a friend and she said, we've been, we've both been in Australia for over 20, well, close to 20 years now, both of us. And she said, Oh, I still don't understand. Oh, strategies.
Renata: And I do, you know, and I think what I know I came home and I was thinking about this. I am a third generation. Ex-pat, I'll get to the point where I want to talk about your in-laws. My grandparents lived overseas for 13 years in Washington, DC, then mom and dad and my sister and I lived in Silicon Valley, , when we were little. And then when I decided to move away from my home country in Brazil and moved to Australia, I had all that baggage and I knew what to expect. And even though my husband didn't, I could educate him. And I, I had very clear rules about, you know, what we could and couldn't do because I knew what would accelerate and what would allow us to quickly get used to this, to being in a new country and what would really not help us at all.
Renata: And he was all, you know, he was a great sort of follower. He was just like, okay, whatever you say. So he really was, he knew, I knew what I was talking about. , plus I was an educational agent and a migration agent in Brazil anyway. So I kind of knew what I was talking about. And he knew that, , what I also, when I read Lean in, it didn't touch me as much as I think it touched you because my mother worked. And my, even though my grandpa mothers didn't work, they were very strong feminists. And I also come from a country where women can speak up and a woman working in Brazil. I don't know how it is now because I've been away for so long. But at the time that I left like 60% of the house where holds were kept by women because women in Brazil, even because it's such a, you know, it still is a relatively poor country. It's easier for women to keep work than men. Men have odd jobs, you know, like in construction and women have more steady jobs. So when I came here, I actually had a different experience than you.
Renata: You know, I felt like, well, the women working, you know, I felt really alone in the work for us., so what I, what I liked about leaning of course is the fact that because we are women, we're not all the same exactly. Right? What people, some women decide to have kids, others don't, some women do, you know, decide to marry men or decide to marry women. We are all so different, but for me, it was like a case, the case study. And I also speak a lot. I'm super confident. So some of the examples that she showed about women sitting in the back, , in, in not sitting on the table for me, it was actually the opposite. I am a tall poppy. People had to kind of cut my wings a little bit to fit into Australia. Because here we have the tall poppy syndrome and I'm a Latina. So, you know, my culture is all about, you know, being flamboyant and standing up and all of that.
Renata: So , for me the book, some of the examples, I remember some of her examples in interviews I thought were so powerful when you couldn't ask a woman, if she wanted to have kids in an interview, remember those examples in the book, not those were great. And, , having those experiences of having moms and grandmothers that have worked that have, you know, that are pushing you forward that want you to be ambitious for your career. You know, probably I keep thinking that if my grandmother was alive, she would be flabbergasted by what I achieved. I think her ambition for me was for me to be a secretary. Like I really, you know, cause there was this lady called Renata and she was the secretary of the CEO of the aircraft factory. And she thought I could, because my name is Renata. She said, you could be just like her, you know,
Sonali: That's the thing that it's not about being in the workforce. Right. Because women have been in the workforce for a long time and they had to fight for that. Right. As well. Yeah. But things have changed. So we don't just want to be in the workplace. We want equal workplace. We want to be equal. Number in being CEOs are in, all the board of directors. I think that expectation has changed, but the awareness about it hasn't changed because it's kind of, you can do job, but if you can manage your household, that's a problem. That's expectation itself is a problem. Right. And I know we always talk about, you know, can women have it all it's not about, can women have it all it's basically can working parents have it all. Yeah. Because it impacts men as well as women, if you get equal society.
Renata: Yeah, you're right. But I'm very, I'm very interested in the learnings that you get as you grow up by watching family, by watching, you know, if you, from a blue collar background, you are already disadvantaged because you've never seen your parents put on a suit. So if you want a corporate job, it's harder for you to fit in, to interview well, to know what to do. And when I was working at the steward of chartered accountants, my job was Korea marketing. I was a career marketing , relationship manager for Victoria and Tasmania. And I was so passionate about helping those kids that come from regional areas. Now, the sons and daughters of farmers and they, they had, they really struggled, you know, to even decide what suit to it. This was 10 years ago. We don't have that problem anymore. We understand diversity, but it still affects you because it's the bias that we don't, you know, that we don't talk about as much. And we don't understand in ourselves when we're choosing who we want to work with. And I think that it also affects our confidence in moving forward in being ambitious and promoting ourselves. You know, if you have, you know, my, my childhood was all about me, my mother and my grandmothers telling me to be ambitious, to, to go for it, to study and to, you know, so I never doubted it, you know, it's so it's very powerful. And women have only seen that maybe for one generation.
Sonali: Yes. And they have seen that generation struggling and stressed out. Right. Which is not a good example.
Renata: Yeah. Yeah. Men have been having this for many men. They've been told that they need to work. They don't need to supply for their families and that they need to be ambitious and they need to be powerful for centuries. So it is a very big difference. It probably even affects your DNA.
Sonali: It's very interesting. You say that like how you have seen, like for you, it's not new to be ambitious from where I come. It's so difficult. Right. And not a whole of India is there because like that, because my mother in law, like older than me, but she had a good career. Her husband's supported, but she comes from Patriot or metric the system. So in her state it's a metrical system. , and what do you talk about, you know, what to wear for work? So when I came here, I remember, , recruiter told me, she's like, Oh, you should have been like this. You, you know, you should wear this dress and suit. It was really good help. But the good thing is at my workplace because I was in technology. It's diverse. Yeah. It's not just Australians. I had like group of like Bosnian friends and Asian Fiji Fijian, and again, so they helped me a lot.
Sonali: So I remember there was one Fijian Indian lady, and she was older than me. She used to tell me like, you know, mannerisms, how we talk here in Australia and simple things like I was ready to be in. I didn't, I don't even need egg. So if we are going out for team lunches, they used to make sure that they meet, tell the waiter all in my day, two things. And I get almost the same food as them just without meat or you know, egg. And this is so important to understand these issues. But I have worked at places where they didn't understand it. So if I'm asking somebody, Oh, does this have egg in it? People would just look at me like, what the hell? So then you do feel like out of place. Right? So it's very important to understand diversity and simple things, which you said, so really good example is that I come from a background.
Sonali: So my mom didn't work. , and my dad was in the construction business and in India, construction businesses very hard. So I was Naval dock to be diplomatic. , and no, basically nobody around me was in corporate life. They had on small businesses. , it's very common in India, but my husband, so my mother-in-law because she was in art, she had to work with the academia, but also with government to get the grants. Yeah. , so she was very diplomatic. She knows how to navigate systems. She knows how to talk. , and then my father in law, he was also with CSRO and he was the first, I think, non white president of the department. , so they both were really successful. So my husband and he's better than me. And I see them talking well, there is so easy, like, you know, navigating and seeing the same thing, which I want to say, but in a more diplomatic way, using the correct words.
Sonali: So I come from non-English background. So for me to think like them is very difficult and especially the choice of words. So at work, sometimes I do get into trouble because I say something and people are like, maybe I should have chosen different word. Yeah. But even the way I talk. Right. , so it does matter a lot. And that's why with in my main thing was, so when I started, I'm like, Oh, women need to build soft skills and they don't realise no women don't need to be soft skills. They need to just know that it's not just working hard and knowing technical technical part of your work is important, but all the other things, you know, negotiation, , and diplomatic, , , how do you basically be diplomatic to get what you want? All of those things matter in your career. It's not how smart you are and how hard you work.
Sonali: That only one part of, you know, success. And that's why all our events are around that. It's not about just giving technical knowledge to women, , and understanding diversity. That's the main part because if we create awareness of women, , I think we'll help each other. So lean in promotes that allowed. So they have like, , women with colour and especially with Latino men and black women, because in the U S it's a big deal. So they promote that a lot. They have also started a campaign for men. So leading men actually see, you know, how you can get mentorship from men because after me to, , main were a bit hesitant to give mentorship to women, only the imagery, the cafe is translate that. , so they have that campaign as well. So it gives like you tool to address all the issues and at every level, because you can't have one solution to fix the problem you need to look at, you know, everybody's problems are different.
Renata: Yes. Now we could go on and on couldn't we, okay. I really want to end by saying I'm so glad we met. I'm so glad that you invited me to speak in the last year. I've done so many events in my life. That one was so well done. And when I think it was a bunch of volunteers and of course, you know, the corporate partner, but it was like really lovely. And the women in attendance were all, so people just want, wanted to be there. Right. And they were not told to be there. They didn't have to come. It was, you know, evening they could be home with their families. And it just shows that you're doing you and your team. Cause I know you have a great team as well. You're doing such a great job. So I'm so glad that we finally caught up for this. Thank you so much for being such a great guest. And I hope that we can catch up again soon and have a proper coffee and a walk.
Sonali: Yes. Thanks. Thanks for having me, you know, as part of your podcast,
Renata: my pleasure. Yeah.
About the Host
Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach professionals (corporate, non-profit, and public) the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress.
If you are an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, if you are looking to find your next job or promotion, or if you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running, then this podcast is for you.
In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, , on my website, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients.
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