WEL talks business, leadership and inspiration with Councillor Sue Heins.
Sue Heins is the Managing Director of Inspiring Women, a business network that supports women in business, creates opportunities for experienced operators and welcomes new owners. This network is over 12 years old.
She is a newly elected independent councillor of Northern Beaches Council, former Deputy Mayor of Warringah Council and winner of the Minister’s Award for Women in Local Government in 2015.
Sue is also a Director on the board of the Manly Warringah Women's Resource Centre which provides refuge for women and children escaping domestic violence via two refuges.
1. When starting out in your career what did you find was the biggest challenge to face as a woman?
My career has changed over the years as I didn’t think I had many career options when I was younger. There was a distinct lack of information, mentors or anyone to guide me as a young woman (this was before the internet). Coming from a migrant background, where sons were supposed to have careers and daughters were only going to get married, there was no understanding from my immediate family about opportunities for a career.
I wish the internet had been around as I would have been googling everything!
I was intensely curious and always asking questions and that way I found some great people who gave me a greater understanding of the business & corporate world.
My biggest hurdle was my age. I had an unusually deep understanding at a young age of the world but found it hard to be taken seriously and lacked confidence which was a challenge. I used humour to overcome my confidence issues which worked well in most cases.
2. You founded Inspiring Women, networking for business women. What do you value about bringing women together? Do you have any stories to tell about how you have fostered business/social relationships between women?
There is a special joy & pride that comes when people are drawn together and start supporting each other in business and in personal life.
Many times I have seen the members collaborate together and work on mutual business ventures which broadens the reach of each individual business and introduces each other’s businesses to their clients. Plus great friendships occur when you talk about the juggle of business & keeping the home fires burning.
We have many stories but one that springs to mind is an International Women’s Day event where the local women’s refuges needed a supply of linen for their clients.
They were very specific about what they needed. One of our members had a direct connection with a Manchester manufacturer and offered to get everything required at wholesale prices, another member hit the local Manchester businesses and asked for any of their end of line stock. The Council library also offered to be a drop off point for anyone in the public wishing to donate. We ended up with so much linen, pillows, towels and doonas that I was storing them in my garage for over a year until we got through them all. The power of many individuals created a great outcome for those who needed it.
3. What has your experience in business leadership taught you that you now use in your role as a local Councillor?
I realised quickly that just as with any organisation, you need to find people’s strengths and passions to keep people engaged and that you need to work collaboratively.
Unlike a business where you are the ultimate decision maker, you are more of a board director and often need a team approach to effectively bring about change.
It’s also important to recognise the hard work that the staff do behind the scenes.
As Councillors we are presented with many reports etc and the effort that has gone into the projects by staff can be easily overlooked. Acknowledging work that is well done is paramount to having a happy & motivated team and should be done immediately.
4. What would you say to young women/girls interested in leadership in their schools, communities and/or eventually in government?
Go for it!
Never believe that because someone is smarter or luckier than you that you cannot do any role you want. The people who actually make it are the ones who put in the effort and time to create and achieve their goal. They didn’t let excuses stop them. Everyone has challenges in their life, it’s the women who don’t let those challenges stop them (It’s ok to slow down but never stop) are the ones who make it.
5. How do you think women can work together to create a more equal and fair society?
I have so much to say about this topic!
But to keep it succinct the I would say:
1. Stop competing with each other and start supporting!
2. To women who have started to get traction in their careers: be gentle and encouraging to those women coming up the ranks. You don’t know their backstory so don’t be so quick to judge others.
3. Women bring a variety of different views to a topic, usually the solution is a combination of views. Rarely does one person have all the answers. Remember that!
4. Speak out & ask questions. There is no “silly questions”, the person who is brave enough to ask is usually asking what others are thinking & are grateful you asked it.
5. To women in a senior role - ask yourself “are you a bully”? How do you behave to get others to agree with you? Some women seem to believe the only way to get ahead is to be like “one of the boys”. Being passive/aggressive will not protect you in your role and causes more damage to women in the workplace than just about any other behaviour.