2018 She Leads College – 5 Quick Questions with Joanna Richards

5 March 2018

Jessica Abramovic

Jessica is the Communications and Events Coordinator at YWCA Canberra.

The She Leads College Conference, taking place on Thursday 22 March, is a one-day event for girls in years 11 and 12, equipping participants with the practical skills and knowledge they need to become confident leaders. This year, we have an amazing line-up of inspiring young women who will discuss their pathways as trailblazers. Today, we chat to Joanna Richards, one of our incredible speed-networkers.

Joanna Richards is a PhD Candidate and gender consultant. She has worked on projects related to gender equality and representation for a number of clients including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Office of the Honourable Andrew Leigh MP, the Australian Services Union to name a few. Joanna’s experiences have been rich and varied. While completing her degree in International Relations at the ANU, she spent a semester at the University of Nizwa in Oman, where she researched the complex experience of modern Middle Eastern women. This was followed by a scholarship to Harvard University to attend a fine arts conservatory, where she first discovered the power of discourse, and the value of the speech floor. In 2015, Joanna was the winner of the ACT Telstra’s Young Business Woman of the Year for her work in an Australian startup company. Her treatment as a woman in the male dominated startup world heightened her interest in feminist research. After receiving First Class Honours for her thesis, she was awarded a scholarship to broaden her research into female leadership and corruption at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. She is the first PhD candidate to be accepted into Virginia Haussenger’s 50/50 by 2030 Foundation.

Describe your leadership journey in 30 words or less.

I have had success in the start-up, acting, and research fields. Currently a PhD student with the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at IGPA, researching women in political leadership.

What was (or is) your biggest leadership challenge?

The biggest challenge has been to maintain my own vision, especially given the strong and stringent definitions society has for success, leadership, and what constitutes a career. When I relay what I do for a living, sometimes people find it difficult to understand, and they struggle to marry together the different elements of my career. Persevering in the face of this concern and scrutiny has often been difficult. Trusting in myself to make the right decisions, and learning that not everyone has to understand what I do has been difficult, and it is something I still struggle with at times. I certainly don’t have a conventional career, but I think the world is changing, and the rules that applied to generations before are no longer relevant. Career paths are becoming more and more unique and individual. A big part of this challenge has also been saying no to opportunities that distract me off my path, no matter how attractive they are. The only way to overcome this is to know who you are and what you want extremely well.

Instead of compromising what you want to fit the expectations of others, stay strong and wait until life brings you to the people who get it. If I had taken some of the opportunities I was offered, I know I would regret them today. Looking back, I am so glad that I made the decisions that I did.

Why do we need more women leaders, and what difference can women in leadership make in terms of gender equality?

As we have more and more women in leadership positions, our idea of what a woman in public life is changes. At present, there is a limited number of women for people to base their understanding of what a woman in a leadership looks like. Each new woman in leadership diversifies the expectation. Moreover, if we want to transform traditional power structures we need women in leadership. Women around the world know what it means to be mistreated, disrespected, and unacknowledged at work. Putting women into positions of power allows this knowledge to operationalised and considered as we work toward a better, fairer world.

What book should every aspiring woman leader read?

I think it really depends on what industry you are set on changing. For me, The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf was a really important read. When I read it, I felt as though I was being let in on some really important secret, and it lit a fire in me. I’ve read it about six times, because there was so much valuable information in there and I had to accept and digest what I was reading in my own time.

Share with us the best piece of advice you’ve been given.

Everyone in this room is talented, so be kind. Kindness is rare in the working world, and it honestly has the ability to change someone’s world. And also, my personal work mantra is to be open to everything, attached to nothing.

To hear more from Joanna Richards, register to attend the She Leads College Conference now. Make sure to also follow She Leads on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

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