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#LeadingLadies: Nicole McInnes

Nicole McInnes is a seasoned senior leader, with impressive big brand experience at Pandora, Adshel, American Express, Dell, eHarmony and most recently at WooliesX, the new digital arm of Woolworths.

Down-to-earth and insightful, #LeadingLadies sat down with Nicole to get her thoughts on female leadership, the hurdles that many women experience along the journey to becoming a senior leader and the importance of confidence, relationships and pragmatism for women when career building.

Prior to your current role heading up eCom Marketing at WooliesX, you were the Managing Director of eHarmony in Australia. Can you tell us about this career move from the world of e-love to e-commerce?

It was really hard to leave e-love because selling love is a great thing, and it’s one of the few industries where you can say that marketing truly changes lives. WooliesX is effectively a startup within a large organisation, so it had all those entrepreneurial qualities that I align with, and I was very interested in working for a large Australian organisation with a head office in Australia instead of in the Australian arm of a big American company like eHarmony or Pandora. It was a completely different proposition and an opportunity to be at the centre of changing the future of grocery retail.

How did you know you were making the “right” decision when making a career move, and did you have any moments of doubt along the way?

Early on in my career, my decisions were a bit more organic, but there were later points that I made conscious career decisions and I’m really glad I did. I’ve had many moments of doubt. It is completely normal, expected and human. The process of choosing a job and selecting a company is really flawed. You get to spend an hour, maybe two, with somebody that you may or may not be working with. It’s very hard to tell from both sides whether you will fit. There’s a lot of gut instinct involved – it has to feel right.

One thing I have learnt is that your instincts are there for a reason, and you shouldn’t suppress them. Your instincts will give you these red flags about a situation, and you overrule it with logic or with outside data. Your instincts are usually right, so follow your intuition. Don’t rationalise them away.

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You recently presented at the Women in Leadership Summit in Sydney on the topic of why so many women stumble on their way to leadership roles. You referenced a Bain study that found that whilst men and women begin their careers with the same confidence to become senior leaders, this confidence wanes for women in the very early years of their working life and only somewhat recovers later in their careers. Why is maintaining confidence such a continual battle for women?

That’s a really hard question as there are a number of different facets to what happens to women at work. Without knowing it, both men and women carry unconscious biases with them, and – I’m generalising – but what it sometimes means, is that women’s opinions, ideas and voices need to be much greater to cut through in the workplace and this has an affect on their confidence.

If they are looking around themselves seeing that they need to do twice as much to be heard, instead of thinking it is a cultural problem – which it actually is – they start to internalise it and think it’s them rather than the issue at large. A daily battle to be heard and for validity in the workplace will have a negative effect on anyone’s confidence. Until we make a cultural shift to remove unconscious bias in the workplace, crisis of confidence will still exist for women.

What advice to you have for women who are facing this crisis of confidence at work?

There are two key things that have made a material difference to my level of confidence at work. Firstly, to accept the worst side of yourself. Look at it, try and find the positives of why it exists and then own it. There is great freedom in taking responsibility for who you really are, so don’t tell yourself that you are innocent or the victim. Don’t give up your power.

Secondly, try to embrace the multiple facets of your life. This sounds easy but is incredibly difficult for a driven career-woman. I have been more emotionally invested in my work than my work was about having me there! It took stepping back and taking a broader view about what makes me thrive to put work in its rightful place, as just one facet of the many that make up my life.

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What are your thoughts on women exploring leadership roles, compared to men in the workplace?

Again it’s a generalisation, but I think women have had to work harder and get more runs on the board to even be in the game. Women focus on outcomes, metrics and delivery and what ends up happening in their quest to overperform and prove themselves, is that they forget that the workplace is also about relationships. Men seem to understand that a relationship will be as valuable to them as an outcome for their leadership aspirations. They will build their network, build their internal brand, build support around themselves and spend a lot of time developing their relationships, while women focus on their work and achievements to do the talking for them.

Unfortunately, in many cases men are still making decisions about leadership roles and they are used to the relationship style. It can put women at a disadvantage.

As a manager, how do you ensure that both sexes have equal opportunity to move into leadership roles?

I support my team by giving them the tools to make decisions, so they aren’t scared to use their own brains and take responsibility for their work, offering them accountability and autonomy that is appropriate to their level of experience.

There seems to be less self-sufficiency and more expectation that people should answer your questions and do the thinking for you. The best way to grow and learn is to try and figure things out yourself first because you’ll learn so much more through that process even if you come to the wrong outcome and still have to ask at the end.

Curiosity drives that self-sufficiency. If you don’t understand the why, you’re just going through the motions, and if you’re just going through the motions then your job will never be something you’re passionate about. It’s really important that you go deeper on a problem than just looking at the symptoms. Your curiosity will not only teach you more, you will actually solve a problem at its root cause.

Connect with Nicole McInnes.

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Photography by Hipster Mum.