By Emma Sartori

The F word was used at the Inspiring Women Reflect event on Friday night. And not the first or second one most of you are probably guessing was used right now.

The word was formula.

‘There’s no one formula’ that can be used to succeed in a chosen career, host the Hon. Ros Kelly, AO, told the predictably mostly female audience. The panel, made up of artistic director Robyn Archer AO, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum Diane Lees CBE, ANZ CEO Diana Brightmore-Armour MC, MCCA and renowned journalist Geraldine Doogue AO, all agreed.

The panel navigated the well-worn terrain of women in the workforce with warmth, humour and a level of insight that can only be achieved from experience.

From vastly different sectors – business, media, government and the arts – the panel members all had one thing in common other than their gender. Each was able to tell a story about a time in their career when they were blindsided by criticism, by an attitude or by reactions that forced them to question, and sometimes alter, their working strategy. They were also all examples that many in the audience could identify with.

Then, the questions flew thick and fast; What is it that hold women back? Why do women think they’re not good enough to even apply for a senior position in a company when it becomes available? Are women their own unconscious roadblock on the path to career success? How important are quotas really to a workforce, to the equality cause? How can we change the culture, the outdated attitudes and the mindsets that may stop women in their tracks? How can women use their differences to men to their advantage? How can women make sure they are not only heard but understood?

Broad strategies were offered to help deal with some of those scenarios, from reading body language, particularly of male counterparts, and finding not only a mentor but a sponsor (a champion of your talents essentially) to not taking criticism personally, believing in yourself and grabbing opportunities as they arise and, preparing and practicing for the big moments.

As the discussion grew from various questions, theories and thoughts, a sense of affirmation began to settle over the room. And indeed within me.

I’ve not experienced overt sexism in a workplace. I’ve not been put in a situation where I’m pitted against another woman and the claws have come out. I’ve also never had someone tell me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. Perhaps I’m just lucky, or maybe I’m just too stubborn and refuse to hear that if it’s being said. In fact, I had no personal questions to ask the panel on how to handle certain situations.

I did, however, nod along with some of the views expressed by the panel. In particular, I suffer from inner demons telling me I’m not good enough to apply for this job or to write that article, I’ve been stung too personally by criticism before and in previous jobs I have found myself mentors instead of sponsors.

And here is where something serendipitous, and downright inspiring, happens.

In the time it took for the session to end and the networking drinks to begin I found myself with a sponsor of sorts. And by the end of the drinks I found myself with the chance to write this blog.

I had seen the advert on Facebook for bloggers and, after reading the description, had written off being able to do it despite my writing experience; I would not know a Sidney Nolan if I fell over one, I could not sing the lyrics to The Waifs ‘London still’ to save my life and I’m sorry, UK culture, I landed here a week ago, I’m still trying to figure out the right train to get home.

But, here we are.

There really is no one formula that can be used to get ahead in your career. There are no magic words to change ingrained attitudes and culture. There is just repeatedly putting yourself out there, forgiving yourself if you fail and giving yourself the chance to succeed through self-belief and grabbing opportunities as they arise.

Emma Sartori is an Australian writer continually beating away inner demons with a pen. Follow her on twitter on @EmzSartori. There is a much more informative article by Alex Ivett on this session she would like you to read here.

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