To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down with some of our amazing UNSW Canberra alumni, staff and students and asked them to answer your #WomenLead questions.

Penelope Twemlow, a UNSW alumna with more than 20 years’ experience in the Royal Australian Navy, is the Co-Founder and Chairperson of Women in Power – a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to promote and empower women, which in turn benefits industry.  

Penelope shares her advice on balancing priorities, succeeding in a male-dominated field and being an effective leader.  

How do you juggle full time work, extracurricular activities and family life? You seem to be able to do it all and I’m exhausted just thinking about it! 

Juggle is definitely the right word!  

For me, prioritisation and time management are key! I prioritise my health, my family and my education.  

To put it simply, I love what I do. I am a Director with KPMG and a Naval Reservist with the Royal Australian Navy. I am also the Chair of Women in Power and on a few boards. I am passionate about the work that I do and the communities and people that I reach - if you are going to spend a minimum of eight hours a day at work, you must love what you do.  

Living an unhealthy lifestyle will end up affecting your performance so prioritise your health and create good habits. I stay heathy and fit through marathon, triathlon, and muay thai training, and I try to get enough sleep each day. It’s not until you lose your health that you may realise how important it is.  

Last, but certainly not least, I surround myself with my ‘tribe’. My tribe is made up of personal and professional people who keep me grounded, who provided me sage advice and who lift me up when I am down. If you think it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a tribe to raise a successful woman. So, find your tribe, and keep them close. 

Can you share some of your habits that help you to promote yourself at work? 

Like it or not, promoting yourself at work is a necessary part of your career. Sometimes you have to toot your own horn. 

If you are serious about building your career, use professional media sites like LinkedIn and take the time to do more than just create a profile. Post blogs about your profession and share your insights. Welcome connections from others in your field. If you consistently pop up on other people's screens as a resource of information in your field, you'll quickly brand yourself as an industry expert.  

If you find yourself with a little downtime, even if it's in the break room, talk with the people in your company who work in other departments. Try to get a feel for what they do well and where they may need a helping hand. If you can provide that help, you'll quickly become a resource for that department and build a name for yourself outside of your own team. 

Don't miss this opportunity to discuss a project that you are working on and how it will impact the company. Make sure to focus on the project and the team, not yourself. These little conversations serve to build a positive reputation for you throughout the office. 

Can you share some advice for climbing the ladder in a male-dominated field? 

Leadership is a fluid, nuanced process; we need to be adept at switching our style and be culturally adaptive as needed. Perhaps because women need to fight harder against ingrained bias and the status quo, we need to be more tenacious and determined to work our way up the leadership pipeline. Yet we are inclusive by nature; we try to bring people along with us. As such, women are setting a new standard of modern leadership. 

An important way to challenge norms is for the small but significant number of women in top senior roles to help other women up the ladder. Provision of career advice and mentoring, and advocacy for the increased participation of women in business is vital.  

It is also critical that women leaders have real visibility as role models. We need to “walk the talk” by being on stage, sharing our stories and encouraging others to step out in front. We need to help one another. 

From a personal perspective, women are their own worst enemies. We need to learn to speak up in meetings and recognise the value of our opinions. We need to use direct communication and to stop second guessing our abilities.  

Do you have any advice for changing the culture of an organisation to facilitate women in leadership positions? 

Recognising and preventing bias or male-dominated cultures moves beyond the traditional HR process and starts with senior leadership. Leaders need to demonstrate their dedication to nurturing women through the talent pipeline.  

Businesses must make an ongoing commitment to breaking down gendered career paths that have traditionally left women stuck in supportive roles and unable to break through the glass ceiling. Attracting, retaining and developing women in leadership positions demands a company-wide approach that is driven from the top. Accelerating women into leadership means to walk the walk, with diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives backed and supported at the executive level.  

A few ideas to help businesses to foster a consciously inclusive culture:  

  • Educate employees about D&I, positive conflict and bias  

  • Actively listen to the needs and concerns of your team 

  • Mentor and sponsorship programs 

  • Implement and measure D&I goals 

  • Articulate the need for change 

  • Offer flexible working arrangements  

  • Create a safe space for open dialogue 

Do you have any advice for starting a business in a male-dominated field? 

All it takes is a confident woman to take the leap. 

Know your stuff: to get taken seriously, you’ll need to know what you are talking about. Knowing that you can answer questions and talk about your business with authority will help your confidence, and help others respect you. 

Commit to learning: Commit to lifelong learning, and you’ll always be top of your game. 

Build a support network: surround yourself with people that believe in you, and that are quick to give you a boost if you need it. Build a support network of people that will always be there for you when you need them and will stick with you when times are tough. 

Look at the positives: when you are having a bad day, stop for a second. Take a step back. Forget your to-do lists and your emails and look at the positives. Look at everything that’s great in your life, all of your skills, everything that you can do well, and everything that you have achieved so far. It might also help you to write them down so that you’ve got something easy to look back on the next time that you need a boost. 

You can find more of Penelope’s advice on what makes a good mentor, seeking out a mentorcracking the glass ceiling, and much more on her LinkedIn. 

Read more International Women’s Day Q&As: 

Dr Bianca Capra

Professor Helen Dickinson

Ana Duncan

Tara Elizabeth Jeyasingh

Wing Commander Angeline Lewis

Kate Munari