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IWD: 3 female leaders battling bias in male-dominated industries

Three women share their experiences of navigating leadership in a male-dominated industry. (Sources: supplied)

This year, for International Women’s Day, Yahoo Finance wanted to shine a light on female leaders in male-dominated industries such as technology, telecommunications and fintech.

Australian workplaces have no doubt come a long way to improve gender parity but harmful cultural biases are hard to shake. A few myths about gender endure, such as that women have to choose between a career and a family (spoiler: they don’t).


That’s why we’ve asked a couple of female leaders to share their experiences of navigating leadership in male-dominated industries.

We also asked them what they were doing to forge a path for the next crop of women to follow.

Elena Chan, Beforepay, chief risk officer and general counsel

Elena Chan
Elena Chan

Field: Fintech

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced as a female leader in your line of work?

Probably the biggest challenge in my leadership journey I've encountered is my own self-belief.

When I was pregnant and about to go on maternity leave, I found the job of my dreams. I was about to not apply for the role as I believed no company would want to hire a pregnant woman going on leave.

My female mentor sat me down and made me address my self doubts and appreciate my experience and skills and importantly, not let doubts stop me from climbing the career ladder.

How are you helping other women succeed?

In lots of ways. Through formal and informal mentoring, by setting aspirational - but not impossible - diversity and inclusion targets at Beforepay so that we move the needle to increase female leadership.

Changing unconscious bias when I see it in the workplace is important. I'm also working on developing specific female leadership programs.

Jessica Box, Linktree, head of growth

Jessica Box
Jessica Box

Field: Technology

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced as a female leader in your line of work?

Having previously worked in quite male-dominated environments, it can feel difficult to operate from a place of empathy and vulnerability while at work. So, as a leader, I’ve been very conscious about nurturing and guiding from the back, raising others up wherever I can and supporting all voices within my teams.

I also created, and am still an active contributor of, a diversity and inclusion council at Linktree where we discuss how we can challenge the tech stereotype and establish initiatives that support different minority groups.

How are you helping other women succeed?

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by mentors throughout my career and think it’s crucial that female leaders empower up-and-coming women to be themselves and help them realise their potential.

I like to think of this as being a champion for others through informal mentorship, which is something I do in my role at Linktree and as managing director of Girls in Tech.

For me, mentorship isn’t about crystal balling the future but instead about shining a mirror up to what people already know.

I believe listening is absolutely the most underrated skill and can be so helpful for allowing intelligent, curious people to realise their potential and thrive in their chosen path.

Theresa Eyssens, Optus Enterprise, VP of customer solutions and cloud

Theresa Eyssens
Theresa Eyssens

Field: Telecommunications

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced as a female leader in your line of work?

It's really about speaking loud enough, so my message is heard and my perspective is listened to. Female leaders often have so many years of experience and that perspective is incredibly important, especially having the female perspective and voice in the room.

But as a female, I don't speak loudly, I don't yell. I want to speak in a whisper. So, people should listen. Listen, even when I whisper because people care enough about wanting to hear the female perspective because we have a different approach.

Often even my cloud team, which is full of really smart technical guys, they always say, “we love the fact that you nurture us” and they mean that in the nicest possible way.

It means I care and that's a female thing. But, when you're in my industry - especially in the cloud industry, which needs to be disrupted - it's sometimes very difficult. You're exhausted.

How are you helping other women succeed?

I think it's about just giving them confidence, to speak with that loud voice. And I often say it's important that we stop striving so we can thrive more. What I mean by striving is we always appear to be striving to be more, do more, have more.

I have a little mantra that says: “I am enough. I do enough. I have enough.” It means that, as a working mother, I'm constantly stressing about: “Am I doing enough for my kids? Have I got this done? If I got that done, do I do enough right at my job?”

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