Sharon Warburton: turn your Glass Slippers into Steel Heels

 “I didn’t go off and do a Masters in Construction Management, yet I understand more than enough about how construction and mining works to be able to have leadership roles in those industries.” Interns Australia speaks with Sharon Warburton, founder of steelheels.com.au and Executive Director in Strategy & Finance at Brookfield Multiplex, on the future of work and workplace advocacy.

 

As the 2015 NAB Women's Agenda Mentor of the Year, you have been mentoring dozens of young people across various business sectors. What are some observations you have gathered from this experience?

In general, young people are enthusiastic about the world of work but are often quite conservative in their thinking about what they can do with their degrees and what they can learn on the job. Often, they feel that they have to go and do more study and get more degrees to help transition into a new industry sector when there are in fact many opportunities to learn on the job. 

As an accounting graduate, you made a successful transition from corporate accounting into executive leadership roles within the mining and construction sector.  Given that recently one in five accounting students are failing to secure work after four months of graduation, can accounting graduates still expect similar opportunities in their career trajectory?

Demand for accounting is cyclical and driven by the macroeconomic climate.

Students making decisions about their careers at a very young age can feel like they need to stick to that. However, there are different talent acquisition models and pathways that can lead to fulfilling careers.

For instance, when I worked in the UK, most of my colleagues, who were accountants, didn’t have accounting degrees. In Australia, the inverse is the norm whereby accounting students jump to the conclusion that the only thing they can do is to become an accountant and not realise the potential they have to change industry sectors.  I encourage all those accounting students to consider other career opportunities.

 

A symptom of youth unemployment is the rise of unpaid internships. A lack of understanding in the value of their work is also a contributing factor to this phenomenon. What tips would you offer young people to better position themselves before employers?

Whether you’re an intern or a graduate, an experienced manager or executive, you should never go into a discussion around remuneration without having done some serious homework. We are blessed in today’s digital society that if you invest the time, you can pretty much find everything you need on the internet. So I think the individuals could be doing a whole lot more research and investing more time in understanding their worth.

At steelheels.com.au, we have published an blog on strategies to address the gender pay gap. We are also shortly due to publish a Toolkit called Step Up your Pay Rise.  This Toolkit will provide step-by-step guidance on how to prepare for pay discussions.  Some of these strategies involve change at the organisational level, but individuals also play a large part in facilitating the change by the way in which they negotiate with employers.

Having interviewed many people over many years, my observation is that people don’t do as much research as they should do in understanding their worth.

Whether it’s an interview or a discussion around remuneration, is not something we just walk into.  These are significant events that require extensive investment and research.  If you’re at university doing an exam, most of us can’t walk into one without having studied and nail it. These discussions shouldn’t be seen as any different.

We don’t prepare, we need to over-prepare.

In the media industry, there has been tension around the fact that award wages are increasingly seen as unrealistic for an industry that is undergoing drastic transition and flooded with an oversupply for graduates.  How can a journalism student navigate this situation?

I am not familiar with the intricacies of the media industry however I believe across all industries we need to drive change at multiple levels: from individuals to employers to industries and industry bodies. 

At steelheels.com.au, we focus on providing tools to help individuals succeed in the workplace.  We have embraced the power of storytelling in striving to make workplaces better for women.  We are connecting women with role models through the internet.  We are also providing toolkits to help provide mentor support to those who do not have access to a mentor.  Our aim is to increase the self-confidence of women in the workplace.

In the end, one thing is clear: if we don’t tackle it at multiple layers then it is unlikely that employers will change when they are not challenged to do so. For me I aim to support individuals to help them develop the self-confidence needed to challenge the status quo.

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