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Women need to change mindset at early age when it comes to careers

After 10 years as a warfare officer and police investigator in the navy, Penelope Twemlow decided to leave the Australian Defence Force and join a consultancy firm. However, it didn’t take long for her to decide that she would be better off starting her own business.
General Manager is her company, which specialises in helping with management consulting services to the mining, gas, oil and construction industries.

Due to the success of the company, she soon got the tap on the shoulder from Energy Skills Queensland where she was, up until the end of 2017, the CEO. Still working in the energy sector, Twemlow is also a co-founder and chairperson for not-for-profit organisation Women in Power, so it’s of little surprise that she won Mentor of the Year at the 2017 Women in Industry Awards. With a keen interest in how women can get more of a foothold in what is traditionally a male domain, Twemlow has firm ideas on how to make sure it starts happening sooner rather than later.

“One of the key problems I’m seeing at the moment with regards to a lack of women in heavy industry is that it needs to start at an early age,” she said. “There needs to be more education done around what these industries are and how they are applicable to both men and women.”

Not only does there need to be an earlier start but teachers, mentors, parents and all those who have influence within a young woman’s life, need to lay out all the options when it comes to choosing a career path.

“A lot of people see university as the only avenue to gain employment in a number of industries,” said Twemlow. “They don’t see, or don’t know, of the opportunities available to them through a trade or apprenticeship. The university pathway is well known but the training and vocational sector isn’t. There needs to be more of a push towards the vocational arena and training because those trades need more workers.”

Twemlow is seeing a gradual change for the good, with employers starting to come to the party with regard to what some believe to be traditional stumbling blocks for women working in industry.

“There are a lot of organisations out there who are working diligently to make work practices a little more flexible because of the family and child raising issues,” she said. “There are a number of initiatives that are happening that are doing well at the moment but we probably need to do a little bit more in the education as well as the training arenas. They need to have the work practices available  to have the ability to change rosters and work practices as required. We’re also the only gender that can become pregnant and have a certain amount of time out of work in order to be pregnant and raise a child. I need the flexibility afforded to me so I can do that.”

Winning the Mentor of the Year award was a nice touch for Twemlow as mentoring is something that she takes very seriously and believes is often underutilised. It can have a huge effect on a person’s career and their development in their chosen vocation. It is especially important for women in industries where woman are under-represented such as manufacturing and engineering.

“Mentoring is absolutely vital,” she said. “Many people disregard the role that mentoring can play in workplace success but success in any role is a combination of many factors – from your skill-set, through to your knowledge and how you engage and build a rapport with stakeholders. A great quote that resonates with me is by baseball barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson who said ‘Our lives are not important, except for the influence we have on others’.”

Whether it’s teaching and coaching, one of the greatest achievements is actually the ability to enrich and make a difference to people’s lives. Twemlow said mentoring and giving people feedback is one of the best things you can give a person. She knows from personal experience because she had great mentors, and she is now giving back. She cites a current example.

“There is a young lady working in the energy sector who I’m currently assisting in a number of ways,” Twemlow said. “One is professional development, which is how to navigate her own course through the energy sector, particularly because it is male dominated. The second part of that is I’m assisting her in working through a number of workplace issues including things like conflict management, how to prioritise tasks, understanding herself, how she works as an individual, as well as how she works in a team context. That’s using things like management profiling, behaviour profiling and things like that. This is so she can start understanding things such as how much she can communicate back and get the best from others as well.”

The good news is, because she has been a mentor for women, and has had a good lie of the land over the past decade, when Twemlow says she has noticed changes, then you can believe they have occurred.

“I think it is definitely getting better and that is particularly because of the amount of work and amount of coverage that these types of positions are getting these days,” she said. “I definitely think the conversation has started. It is making a change. From personal experience, I have been treated differently to other colleagues who were men. I remember at one point when I was an appointed CEO at Energy Skills Australia, a lot of people thought I was the new marketing girl. The minute I was announced as the CEO and walked up on stage, a large number of people in the audience jaws dropped and I know it’s because they didn’t believe that a female could be in charge of an energy organisation.”
Does Twemlow think that the reason for a lack of females in industrial-type jobs is a lack of interest? Maybe they don’t want to work in an industrial environment?

“Absolutely women are interested in industrial-type roles,” she said. “I have spoken to a large number of women throughout my career who are plumbers, electricians, carpenters, engineers – the conversation needs to continue though. Parents need to start discussing with their young girls that they have the opportunity to do anything, not just things like nursing, hairdressing or becoming a stay-at-home mum.

“There is an appetite from women out there for it, but the appetite isn’t matched with the opportunities being provided.”

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