In line with this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign theme #EachforEqual, we took the time to speak with the women at Credabl and some of our female clients about their career journeys and the lessons that have enabled them to be successful.
In the corporate sector, it wasn’t so long ago that women did not have seats at the table. A conundrum that many industries have tried to address with solutions ranging from target numbers of female candidates for leadership positions to investing in development programs for high-potential females. And the list goes on.
In the medical sector, there has been a big shift in the number of women enrolled to study medicine and dentistry. According to a recent Bite magazine article, women graduates in dentistry now outnumber men. Figures from the Department of Health show that in the 20-34 year age group, 55 per cent of dental practitioners are now female. And in 2017, for the first time, more women than men were working within general practice, according to Medical Board figures. So unlike the corporate sector in which there is an underlying assumption that there is a pipeline shortage, that is not the case in the medical sector.
In fact, the state of finance for women in medicine has also come along way. In the early years when a male dentist borrowed, the banks never asked for his wife’s guarantee. But when a female dentist needed finance, they required the husband’s signature. It took quite a fight to get that changed!
While as a global economy we are a long way from gender parity, in recognition of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2020, it is remarkable to share the success of women in medicine.
Carving out a career path
Inspired by the liver, and what a wonderful organ it is, Dr Edwina Toulmin was inspired to learn more about the amazing human body. After studying Medical Science, followed by Dentistry, Edwina combined the demands of the course with part-time work which was quite a challenge. After graduation she “cut her teeth” (we love a good pun) at a corporate for a few years before opening her own general practice in Sydney. The practice turned five this year, but Edwina reflects that setting up her own clinic from scratch was the most difficult and stressful aspect of her career to date.
And while gender didn’t stand in her way, Edwina recalls the odd patient asking if she’s strong enough to pull their tooth out, or talking to her younger male dental assistant about their toothache because they assumed she was the assistant!
Edwina shares: “I’d love to say that I’ve been pounding the pavement holding a placard, but my “fight” is my presence in the industry as a practitioner and a business owner. This slowly normalises the concept of women in positions of authority and respect.”
Growing up on a dairy farm in Northern Victoria, Dr Stephanie Mulcahy (featured to the left), Principal Dentist and Director of Broome Dental Clinic, witnessed first-hand what hard work looked like. One of five sisters, she saw her family’s business succeed in a male-dominated industry, with two of her sisters now managing the farm, a role previously held by men. Fast forward to 2019 and Stephanie still lives remotely but on the opposite side of the country to her family. Following her interest in health and science at school, she sought a career that was hands-on and during her time at Monash University studying a Bachler of Science, she decided to study dentistry.
“I have had to overcome some difficulties in the past such as cultural differences within the workplace. It is often not expected within some cultures for women to hold a professional career. I think I have broken that mould by not only becoming a dentist, but by purchasing my own practice. I am lucky I have such supportive men and women in my life that have encouraged and helped me succeed with anything I have set out to achieve,” shared Stephanie.
For Dr Sigal Jacobson (featured to the right), a love of creativity and doing this with her hands, coupled with family lineage in medicine led her to dentistry however, practicing dentistry was just the beginning. Today Sigal is a well-known inventor and dental lecturer around the world. She has observed that a female dentist is the queen of her practice, however a gender divide is more evident in teaching. When she started lecturing, she found herself in the minority as most lecturers were men. Initially, it was hard to get a spot on panels but the perception of her as an inventor gave her credibility which superseded any gender perceptions.
Credabl was delighted to welcome Katie Kahler to our Queensland team in the second half of 2019. This was a significant move for Katie who had spent 15 years with a previous employer where she had started in admin and worked her way through various support roles to becoming a relationship manager.
Katie shares: “As a young female I was fearful to speak up about my career aspirations. But, I quickly learnt that opportunities won’t always come to you, you need to be clear about what you want and ask for them. If I could go back to my 20-year-old self, I would have spoken up earlier and asked for the promotions when they arose instead of waiting for them to come to me. It’s that old motto – ‘you don’t ask, you don’t get’.”
Striking a balance
One of the reasons that Sigal chose dentistry over medicine was that it does make a balanced life with family and work easier to achieve. As a Mother of three she was able to base her practice at her residential address for many years, a big benefit while her kids were growing up.
“We aren’t superwomen. We can’t do it all. We need to compromise on the way, following our hearts and not just doing what is expected of us,” comments Sigal.
Credabl’s own Ali Joyce (left), Perth-based Finance Specialist, reflects on the return to full-time work after having a child as one of the most challenging aspects in her career. The transition and the juggle are both something that many professionals struggle with.
Ali shares: “Work life balance is so important. Especially if you have children, you need to switch off and enjoy them whilst they are young.”
But the balance is not just about the flexibility afforded to a female in the workplace. Stephanie shares: “Often women are given flexibility to allow them to work around their children’s timetables, however, men often aren’t given this same opportunity. This can make it very difficult for women to be able to focus on their career if their partners aren’t offered the same workplace flexibility they are.”
Unconscious bias is one of the biggest challenges impeding gender equality across a range of industries. “Simply telling people that women can also be dentists is unlikely to create change because people already accept that. The more often people encounter female dentists, the more normal it feels,” comments Edwina.
“I think we should continue to encourage female dentists to be confident in sharing their perspectives on dentistry with the winder industry. There are a lot of very loud male voices out there and it can be intimidating to “put yourself out there” so to speak,” continued Edwina.
Developing a support network
Aided by technology and a supportive partner, Stephanie travels from her remote base to Perth once a month for a Family Business forum group and dental professional development. It can be a challenge to make time for this leave, but it’s an important part of her personal and professional life.
Likeminded and experienced practitioners can be an invaluable resource for any young professional. Sigal agrees it’s important to have a mentor. To look up to them and learn from their successes and mistakes. “You can learn a lot. It’s important not to be too shy to ask. People love to share and love to teach,” she says.
The prevalence of successful women who are confident and focused is increasing, in turn, having a strong impact on the support we feel throughout our careers. Teresa Nguyen, Finance Specialist with Credabl comments: “We are each other’s best support network and as young women in this era, have been empowered to have a voice, to strive and be independent.”
Chasing a career that interests you can be quite a hard decision. But as Stephanie reflects it’s important not to allow stereotypes to influence your decisions or deter you. “Everyone, both male and female, should have an equal opportunity to compete for a workplace role.”
There is a recurrent theme when successful women share their stories. Hard work. And hard work comes with rewards. “Reward comes from knowing your worth and fighting for what you believe in. Continue to have your voice, don’t feel you will be judged, be authentic and keep focused on your goal,” advises Teresa.
Whether you’re attending an IWD event, toasting the fabulous women that enrich your life with a glass of bubbles or carving out the time to call amazing women role-models to tell them how great they are and how much they mean to you, this IWD remember to strike the #EachforEqual pose, like many of our clients and team have.