Brookwater business woman Sirle Adamson is leading a new way of thinking about women in business and work.
Brookwater business woman Sirle Adamson is leading a new way of thinking about women in business and work. Inga Williams

Australian-first study giving power to the ladies

WHEN this girl group gets together, they're not having a coffee and chat, but systematically changing the way women are represented in the workforce.

The ladies, new business women, community leaders, students and all-round go getters that are Upower are part of an Australia-first study by Brookwater business woman Sirle Adamson who is leading a new way of thinking about women in business and work.

While a coffee and chat is an important tactic behind Upower, the organisation is ultimately preparing women for challenges exclusive to them.

They include soft skills like self-confidence, decision making and presentation but also invaluable skills like computer programs and mastering an interview.

Ms Adamson studied and entered the work force at home in Estonia, a European country not touched by the glass ceiling in the same way Australian women are.

The working mum re-located to Australia less than a decade ago and almost immediately set to work investigating the challenges Australian women have in the workforce.

Her PHD is driven by sobering statistics about womens' patterns in going back to work after having children, entering the workforce for the first time and excelling in the careers.

Her research looks into the barriers for females in Australia which mean they are not staring their own small business or entering the work force

"The idea of Upower started three years ago when I was working with large teams in large corporations and really struck me that we have a little bit of a problem in Australia," she said.

"Being an outsider from Europe we don't really have gender problem or that gender or salary gap in Europe. I was working as a lawyer for the European Union and I never felt that I had the glass ceiling. We don't have that gap at all.

"In a large scale we want to reduce the gender gap which means we have more confident trained females back in the workforce.

"I say it's incomparable data (between Australia and Estonia), I feel we have some sort of epidemic here that females are not welcome in higher jobs, we are in very dark ages.

She said she started looking into what problems Australian women had that women from other countries did not. According to 2011 census data 435,638 males did not work compared to 643,664 females.

"I was really struggling as well finding talent for these companies and why weren't females applying at the same rate males were. There are one million females who should be in work related activates and they are not," she said.

"These are females who literally could go to work tomorrow if they didn't have these barriers.

"Policy makers and companies are creating lots of jobs and saying they want 50% females but they are not getting that 50% however hard they are trying. They think females don't want it and want to stay home with kids rather than looking into why females don't apply."

She said a major setback women had was a lack of support systems.

"In helping females start their own small business, they literally only need a lap top and an idea that will work. Females start with passion instead of what they think will sell well," Ms Adamson said.

  • For details visit http://www.upowerprogram.


Going back to work

A DECADE raising children should not be a disadvantage when mums choose to re-enter the workforce, Ms Adamson says.

Coordinating schedules, disciplining children and managing a household budget are all skills women should be using in work environments.

"In doing this research and finding the barriers we came to another big fund which is why aren't these females going into the work force. If they do want to work, why aren't they," she said.

"If you run your household and discipline your kids you have very good management skills so rather than seeing that as a gap, if these skills are recognised, they can transition back to work much more easily.

"They also need training in confidence, decision making and personal image because they have to totally reinvent themselves, they've been a mum for so long, now she has to walk into an office. We are creating a whole series of workshops and within them the topics will al go towards different certificates.

"We have lots of skills in Australia that are still not recognised and we have so many skills that are totally redundant but they are still recognised."

Ms Adamson said the fact that it was cheaper to stay at home than to go to work and put two children in childcare meant families were faced with roadblocks before they even set their foot in an interview.

"When you have two kids in Australia it's cheaper to stay at home than to go to work. How are we helping these women achieve their goals, we are almost forcing them to stay home because it's too expensive to go to work," Ms Adamson said.

"That creates something we are going to feel in 20 years when 80% of females won't have enough superannuation to retire. So that's billions of dollars that need to be spent on supporting these women who have been at home and raised the next generation of tax payers."

Ipswich resident Christine Mudavanhu was part of the Upower Women's Leadership pilot program.
Ipswich resident Christine Mudavanhu was part of the Upower Women's Leadership pilot program.

Christine Mudavanhu

Ipswich, 41, PickUp Australia founder

A transport service for disabled or elderly might not seem like the business of choice for someone in public policy, but after attending the Upower Women's Leadership Program, Christine Mudavanhu knew she was on to a winner.

Pick Up Australia is a new independent transport service offering disabled, elderly and non-urgent hospital transfer patients the opportunity to get around more easily and effectively.

Ms Mudavanhu said while she wasn't quite yet ready to launch the service, the Upower program gave her the opportunity to test her idea and it became apparent it would be a game changer for many Australians.

"I was interested in doing the Upower program as I am an entrepreneur and wanted to develop the right skills to learn how to build the business properly and to also network and make new contacts," Ms Mudavanhu said.

"I wasn't at the stage to start a formal Master in Business Administration, I just needed the basic skills to get started and Upower offered me that.

"I have an accounting background and semi-business background, so the thing I found most useful about the program was the discussions around business processes and to have access to mentors who worked with me to establish my business."

Ms Mudavanhu came up with the idea for Pick Up Australia after attending an NDIS workshop where one of the speakers explained how access to transport, housing and employment were three big issues people with a disability struggled with.

She also found transport services to be very limited in terms of what people needed or just not appropriate and often defaulted to family members and volunteers.

"People don't even have a simple way of comparing services and people without a disability often take for granted their options," she said.

"There's a massive need amongst people with disabilities, the elderly, non-urgent hospital transfer patients who are often overlooked in terms of transport needs.

"Lack of transport also limits their housing and employment options, so I thought if I can make this available, it will open up where people can work or live because they'll be mobile."

Pick Up Australia is set to officially launch at the end of this year.

To find out more about the service email:

Springfield resident Linda Thompson was part of the Upower Women's Leadership pilot program and now works as the Events and Fundraising manager for the program.
Springfield resident Linda Thompson was part of the Upower Women's Leadership pilot program and now works as the Events and Fundraising manager for the program. Roderick Noendeng

Linda Thompson

Augustine Heights, 56, Upower events and fundraising manager

Like many women around her age, Linda Thompson felt stuck in a job that was changing faster than she could keep up with.

The 56 year-old mother of two worked most of her life in various administrative roles and felt her lack of technical skills contributed to often feeling inadequate and uninspired.

She said it was a common experience for many people she knew who were finding it difficult to maintain or get back into workforce due to a lack of training in areas like web design and other web-based programs.

"I'd worked at schools for around eight years and 10 years at a chiropractor prior to that, so I've always been in the administration environment," Mrs Thompson said.

"A friend recently left her job at a school and has been looking for full-time work and it's quite common for employers to look for skills that people our age never learned.

"In the work I was doing they wanted more skills from me too but I'd never learned those things before, yet they just expected you to do it.

"It was stuff like website management which I didn't know how to do.

"Even though they never said anything, if I do a job I want to do it well and I really didn't feel I was doing a good job."

It was earlier this year that Mrs Thompson came across the Upower course and discovered her confidence to leave her job and pursue other interests.

"I was involved in the pilot course where every week we learned something new and learned about things like looking after yourself when you start a new business, how to dress correctly, etc.

"The group of ladies we had were from 17 to myself and another lady as the oldest, so we all came from different backgrounds."

Mrs Thompson who in addition to her job ran her own small newborn hamper business for around two years said despite not going ahead with her business, the course led her to another exciting opportunity.

"I decided not to continue with my business and recently finished up my full-time job, so now I work as the Upower Events and Fundraising Manager," she said.

"I wasn't 100% happy in my job and things were changing, so the course gave me enough confidence to take the next step.

"I learned if you're not happy in your job or life, then it's ultimately going to do damage to your well-being.

"When I left my job I was a bit scared, but now I'm busy with Upower and as long as I'm busy, I'm quite happy."

Regina Balachandran
Regina Balachandran Contributed

Regina Balachandran

Brookwater, 64, Greater Springfield Rotary president

OPENING a small business was the last thing on Regina Balachandran's mind when she joined the Upower pilot program.

After 12 weeks of intensive mentoring, the retired physiotherapist still wasn't interested in small business had gained a plethora of skills to use in her new community role.

Ms Balachandran was elected the Greater Springfield Rotary president this month, a role which demands problem solving, management and leadership skills.

"It came in handy because I found out all about how to be more confident and I'm looking forward to learning things like leadership, management, how to set goals. I finding I'm using those things a lot in my role as president," she said.

"I needed something to do to keep my brain active so I thought I might enjoy Rotary.

"It gave me social interaction and the chance to do things for the community in more of a volunteer role rather than a paid role.

"That was the main reason, to give back to the community that has given me a lot over the years."

She said Upower had enabled her to connect with like minded women as well as broaden her soft skills base.

"The great thing about Upower is it's for all women regardless of who they are or where they are in life. It will help any women out there looking to better themselves," Ms Balachandran said.

Unemployment rates

  • There are 44,4000 young 15 to 24 year-old job seekers living in Ipswich
  • The growth has been 4,550 within the last five years.
  • In Queensland there are 613,00 15 to 24 year-old job seekers, with 25,200 growth in the last five years.
  • That means every sixth person in Queensland is a young job seeker.
  • Unemployment rate in Ipswich is 7.7%, youth unemployment in Ipswich is 12.7%, Queensland average is 13.6%

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