Celebrating International Women’s Day at the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network

Be daring. Be brave. Find your passion.

There is no shortage of inspirational women at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead or Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. Women in senior leadership roles is the norm at the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network and many credit their success to the support they have received from others who have tread that path before her, or who support and challenge them in their day to day roles.

In celebration of International Women’s Day we spoke with a number of women from across the Network and asked them about their roles, the impact mentors have had on them and how taking on unexpected challenges and opportunities can lead to amazing outcomes.

Dr Nadia Badawi is the medical director and co-head of the Grace Centre for Newborn Care at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. She is an advocate for women supporting women, and credits a great deal of her success to female mentors who have helped light the path for her, supported her while she was juggling young children and her PhD, and those who continue to push her to the next level in developing fundraising and business aspirations for Grace.

“The number one thing we all need to realise is, there is no superwoman out there. There is no one doing it all right, all the time. And saying that you are, is selling a false story that is unfair to other women,” said Nadia.

She goes on to say that yes you can have it all but maybe not at the same time, “I don’t accept that women can’t have it all. You don’t have to rush and cram it all in now. There is time to develop different aspects of your life. Look to those influential women around you and ask them for their advice, their help.”

The resounding theme from all of these women is that having female mentors changed their careers.

Associate Professor Karen Zwi has a varied role at the Network. She is the Clinical Director, Priority Populations, Acting Clinical Lead, Refugee Children’s Service and a Conjoint Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales. In her day to day work life, she finds the most inspiring women around her are her colleagues who both support and challenge her. Her most important career decision however, to become a community paediatrician, is down to a female community paediatrician in South Africa, Professor Lucy Wagstaff

“[Lucy] devoted her life to improving the lives of poor children [in South Africa]. She imparted true humility, a sense of social justice, an understanding of children’s needs in the context of the broader issues facing society, such as poverty and discrimination, and how the health system creates barriers of its own in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable children and their communities,” said Karen.

These accomplished women have advice worth its weight in gold. They talk about supporting each other at work, in life, about reaching out and taking opportunities by both hands even when you’re scared or you think you might not be up to it.

Cathy Lovell, Clinical Program Director, Medical and Diagnostics at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick encourages women to be brave and step outside their comfort zone.

“Take on new roles and challenges even if they seem a bit daunting. If positions don’t exactly match your skillset, look at how you may be successful in the role. What support, education, training do you need to undertake the role. Be daring,” she said.

Dr Alison Loughran Fowlds, Staff Specialist at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, echoes Cathy’s thoughts. She talks about how having a strong head of department who recognises her skills and abilities, and has looked out for career opportunities, has furthered her career in ways she never would have expected.

“Sponsors are people who can advocate for you in the workplace and look out for career opportunities for you. A mentor is a source of guidance and advice, either formal or informal. Both can help you maximise your career potential. Develop your career goals in consultation with your mentor or sponsor, and then seek ways to further these goals,” said Alison.

They are in agreement that courage and passion work hand in hand.

Halina Nagiello, Senior Health Planner for the Network said, “The most important thing is to find your soul and passion. There are too many people in jobs these days that they don’t like. Look within yourself and see where your passion lies. When the universe sends you opportunities, instead of thinking that you couldn’t possibly do it, trust yourself; positivity is paramount.”

Sally Whalen, Director of Nursing at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick agrees that you should enjoy what you do and remember who we are doing it all for.

“Put patients at the centre of everything you do and always accept a challenge or opportunity when it is given to you as you never know where it will lead you.”

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2015 Scorecard, women in Australia hold only 23.6 per cent of directorship roles. At the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, 50 per cent of our Executive Team are female. Dr Emma McCahon, Director of Clinical Operations (DCO) for the Network is one of those women. With more than 15 years as a paediatrician and eight years in senior leadership roles, she has been the DCO at the Network for two years now.

“I have tried many different roles in health both clinically and from a leadership or management perspective. Not all of them have been a great fit for me and some I didn’t enjoy or I was just not good at. But in each one I learnt about myself, learnt from others and grew from the experience.

“It can be tough to maintain balance, but that is ok […].The female leaders who I look up to are the ones that carry themselves as if they are proud of being female and not apologetic for the juggle of family and work but rather see that as a strength, as an advantage. My advice is to try new things, always keep learning and reach out to the women around you. We have a lot to learn from each other and can support and encourage each other,” said Emma.

This International Women’s Day’s theme is #beboldforchange. An opportunity to live by some of the advice our experts have for us. Have the courage to find your passion. Take the opportunities presented to you and support each other.

Nadia’s final piece of advice is to reach out to people who you would like to receive guidance from.

“Most people want to help other people. [In my experience, when] I asked them, they said yes,” said Nadia. A lesson for all of us to take the leap, learn from the people around us and the amazing pool of experience we share within our own organisation.

Happy International Women’s Day.