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Leadership and women

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On being a duck


As a kid I was given the nickname ‘Duck’ by my mum. I was her little duck.

the young familyThat’s me, in my mum’s arms, with my sisters Judy and Barbara and Granny!

The name caught on in primary school, and with a surname like McDonald morphed into “Donald Duck” then over time back to  “Duck”.  Duck stuck till I left high school and Wangaratta, at 18.  If anyone calls me “Duck” I know they’re from Wang!

This week a friend gifted me the realisation that Duck was actually a very apt nickname. For like a duck I can seem calm on the surface when underneath I’m paddling madly!  I may be a more composed duck now I’m older, but I’m still a duck. No doubt about it! Once a duck, always a duck!

Now I’m a Mumma Duck, and today with my two little ducks, Zac and Bianca, we will swim in our fourth annual YMCA Swimathon, along with around 1,500 swimmers across Australia, in an event I have worked on in various leadership roles in this time.

It might be Zac’s last year though – he’s almost 13 now and rebelling like any good teenager! I confess – I incentivise him with $10 out of my pocket for every $100 he raises. He’s heading for $40 this year!  And he’s still saying he might get in the pool “but I can’t make him swim”.  We’ll see…I can be a tough Mumma Duck!

All Swimathon swimmers are not just swimming but also actively raising funds to support people with disabilities in their local communities.   I am a proud Mumma Duck thinking about everyone we  already support, can potentially support, and everyone across Australia swimming their laps, shaking their tins, all working towards the same goal, on the same day.  Finally, I also am thinking of everyone I have worked on this event with – many have now moved on, but I hope they’re a feeling proud, today, too. Big proud quacks and thanks to all!

Each year  as a family we have steadily grown our funds raised, from $725 in 2012, to $1305 in 2014 and $2,200 in 2014.   As a family this year we have raised almost $3,000! Thanks to support from lots of wonderful individual donors, and in the last two years with the added fun of an annual fundraising event with girl friends.

Just as each year the event overall has steadily grown from raising $110,000 in year one, $210,000 in year two, $230,000 in year three… this year we are steadily heading towards our national goal of $250,000, to support at least 1600 people with disabilities.

By 2017 we want to double that and raise $500,000.  I’m confident we’ll get there, and that in 10 years’ time, we’ll be a high profile event on every swimmer’s calendar, with several key sponsors, supporting thousands of Australians. And our event will be a true partnership with those we seek to benefit.

Swimathon 2014 thank you from Zac, Di and Bianca For the last two years we have swum at Aquarena, YMCA Manningham. Here we are after last year’s event, thanking all our wonderful supporters! Zac in his own t-shirt design.

My parents, and Mum in particular, were heavily engaged in their local community, helping build the Killawarra Tennis Club and courts (no longer there) and the Wangaratta Hard Courts (still there!), through fundraising, organising and connecting people together around a shared cause.

And this year as I reflect on this event, and my role in it, and having lost Dad recently and Mum 13 years ago, I realise how much I have absorbed of my parents’ values.   It makes me happy that I too have been actively helping create opportunities for people to participate in sporting activities.  Outside of work, I’m also on our community’s inaugural netball club committee.

This year I also miss both my mum and my dad deeply and profoundly.  On the surface,  I’m functioning, I’m doing well, nothing to complain about really, but underneath runs a river of sadness.  Once a duck, always a duck.

However, on the brighter side – ducks can swim! And lucky duck I was, I had the chance to learn as a kid (a pool at my public primary school!) and friends with pools (Thanks Kenzos!), as well as rivers and public pools to swim in.  I am a lucky duck in so many ways.  Too many kids today don’t get this chance, and if you have a disability, it can be even harder to get a fair go.  At the Y we want everyone to have the opportunity to be healthy, happy and connected – and the YMCA Swimathon is one way we seek to achieve our vision.

So heartfelt thanks from this little duck to everyone who has supported our YMCA Swimathon journey, this year, or in previous years.  I’ll be thinking of you all, as I paddle along happily, with my little ducks, and all the other ducks in the pool at YMCA Derrimut or any one of the other 65 pools splashing out for this great cause. maddy kayla and di

Maddy and Kayla Parker are two little ducks who will also be swimming at YMCA Derrimut today.  In fact, they’re the reason why I’m swimming here.  Two amazing girls who have much to overcome just to swim, who have already learned that giving back where you can, is good. And look how our event branding has changed this year! More color and fun to convey the contagious happiness experience we want everyone to have!  You can sponsor Maddy and Kayla here.

You can still sponsor me here

Sponsor Zac here

Sponsor Bianca here

Quack, quack!

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A new career chapter with a ‘young at heart’ organisation


Tomorrow I embark on the next chapter of my career.

I take up my first executive management role – in my mid 40s. Exciting!

I did run my own small business for 11 years, so in some ways I’ve been ‘at the table’ (sometimes quite literally the kitchen table!) before.

And I like to think I’ve ‘been the table’ on many critical occasions – both professionally and personally – using the wisdom and experience accumulated along life’s crooked path to provide insight and advice.

However, this is definitely a step up and I’m both excited and a little nervous – mostly excited.

Since I ran my own business I’ve grown personally – getting married, losing my mum, having a family, navigating kids through early years of pre-school and interventions and successfully off to school, enduring an agonizing ‘builder going broke’ renovation: the whole wild, mad, crazy juggle of it all.

And I’ve grown professionally: learning how to be effective and have impact inside a complex, growing, dynamic, not for profit.

From a relatively junior part-time two day a week ‘toe back in the water’ role with YMCA Victoria post parenthood when my confidence and ambitions were small (the shock of parenthood can do that to some), over time I was able to gradually navigate a path to management as my children grew, I grew and the YMCA grew.

Not surprisingly to anyone who’s followed my blog or regular tweets, I haven’t flown far.

I’m still with the YMCA, only with the national office at YMCA Australia.

My career journey with the Y strikes me as the essence of what the YMCA stands for.

In my time with the Y, I’ve been empowered to grow, to lead, to shine – and along the way I’ve tried to light the leadership fire in others, both young and young at heart.

Globally, ‘the Y’ may be over 160 years old, but it’s definitely young at heart, constantly evolving with the times to remains relevant to local communities and having social impact in 119 countries.

This Saturday the YMCA is aiming to create a world record, aiming to have 5 million people taking part in the YMCA World Challenge – a basketball activity event.

I’ll be at one of the 30 YMCA managed centres hosting an event in Melbourne, throwing a few hoops at a ring, enjoying being part of something inspiring taking part right across the globe from Africa and Asia to Europe and the United States.

Think I’m going to enjoy the new gig!

Follow me @DiFromTheY and @YMCAAustralia

My daughter Bianca and her friends Samson and Daniel, getting ready for the YMCA World Challenge on Saturday 13 October.

From Psychologist to CEO


As the eldest of five, Mandy Burns is quite possibly a ‘natural born’ leader, used to responsibility, authority and taking charge of groups.  

At just 37, Mandy was promoted to the position of Chief Executive Officer with the Ardoch Youth Foundation, to lead this not-for-profit committed to changing the odds for disadvantaged children by removing barriers to education that poverty and disadvantage create. 

 She reckons she naturally does better and prefers working in groups – and she should   know: Mandy’s first career was as a psychologist, counselling people injured at work.

“In broad terms I was interested in working as a psychologist to help people and really liked understanding the link between people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours,” she says of her first career.

But it was volunteering in the community sector while at university – working first with young people, then later on the not for profit boards that ran the programs – that really inspired Mandy’s vision for her future.

So after three years as a psychologist she quit to seek work with children and young people that aligned with her strong social justice values. 

Engage in a conversation with Mandy about working with schools to support all of their children, especially those experiencing disadvantage, and you’ll be left in no doubt whatsoever about these values.

In 1997 she took on her first role with the Ardoch Foundation as a volunteer, steadily progressing her way through the organisation to the role of CEO in 2008.  

“Becoming CEO was exhilarating, inspiring and terrifying. I was proud to be the CEO of Ardoch and to be leading our work in removing the barriers to education for vulnerable children- I also never felt so much weight and desire make a difference.”

Like most of us who work for not for profits, Mandy wants to “change the world”.  And the world she is hoping to create is one in which “poverty is not a determinant in Australian children’s educational opportunities and outcomes”.

It’s a role that’s both hugely rewarding and hugely challenging in a public climate where there is really no such thing, Mandy points out, as “free education”.

Raising a daughter, Maddy, seven, in a community with a huge disparity between those well off and those struggling, heightens her awareness need for organisations like Ardoch to be part of the “village that helps to raise a child”.

“I love seeing the great generosity and compassion that exists in our community when people commit to helping kids, volunteering to help them to read, caring and being a role model, donating food or toiletries, excursions and books to lessen the impact of poverty,“ she says, adding that it’s a pleasure to work with people who share her passion and the challenge of inspiring more people to make a difference.

Mandy’s advice to anyone looking to a career-change is to “make choices based on what makes you happy and be true to your values”.

“If you do this you will find alignment between where you work and what you believe is important.

“Hold this vision even if you do not know how you are going to get there or what the job is because over time you will find yourself doing more of what is important to you.”

  • Find out more about Ardoch’s work in the community at www.ardoch.asn.au and support Ardoch’s current Literacy Campaign to improve children’s reading and writing in disadvantaged communities – in the National Year of Reading 2012, there has never been a more relevant time to support this important work. You can help to remove the barriers to education that poverty and disadvantage create to learning and literacy, by donating to Ardoch Youth Foundation today Contact 9537 2414 for further details on donating or volunteering.

From playground to social media guru


From primary school teacher to social media guru may seem a long stretch – but to Annette Maloney the leap was not so great.  Read on to find out why in this second profile in a series on some great women who have dared to change career paths.

Annette Maloney, Director of social media firm AM to PM Consulting, says she was always an early adopter of technology. In the classroom she had her primary school charges using computers, PowerPoint and editing videos as soon as the technology would become available. 

Now in her early 40s she certainly runs rings around many technically savvy Gen Ys with her profuse use and knowledge of social media, and is considered by Klout media, the industry’s  benchmark for influence, among the world’s social media “elite”.

Like many go-getters she’s also an early riser and first thing (along with coffee!)  every day she shares the day’s industry news on behalf of her clients – medium to large businesses from a diverse range of industries – and for her own business via multiple social media accounts.

Of course, she knows all the short-cuts and software to save time and money – and is passionate about teaching others how to access this powerful marketing and communications tool.

Fifteen years in the classroom in front of some of the harshest critics you can have make her an excellent communicator of new and complex concepts – and has completely conquered any fears of public speaking or presenting.

“I really don’t mind standing up in front of hundreds of people and I rarely get nervous,” she says. “I realise a lot of people don’t enjoy this!” 

She has an enviable 100% strike rate from presentation pitches to potential clients, doing fastidious research before presenting them with a clear picture of where they are right now in the social media landscape, where their competitors are – and where they could be.

“I love seeing the light-bulb switch on and seeing people become excited when they ’get’ how social media can change the way they promote their brand and how much fun they can have getting to know their customer base,” she says.

In the school playground (our kids attend the same primary school) Annette’s a natural and inclusive facilitator – for example she brought the school community together to successfully organise our first ever school fete in 2010, a fantastic community event.  

She’s a bit shocked that some people find her intimidating (by reputation), but spend any time at all with her and you soon learn how completely warm, engaging and genuine she is – the opposite of intimidating.  Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself! Or hook up with her via social media…

Annette left teaching in 2001 after hitting the inevitable ‘glass ceiling’ of teaching – not seeing her future in education administration.  An opportunity to buy into the 3AW Dine Out Guide arose, and within one year Annette was both editor and publisher – nicely combining  her passion for both food and wine – and her talents for organising and communicating.

She published the guide for seven years until 2008 when News Limited purchased the content for their TrueLocal.com.au site and wisely kept Annette on to populate the restaurant content for Victoria, NSW and Queensland. This evolved into a Community Manager role across Victoria with responsibility for implementation of the site’s social media strategy. 

She left News Limited in July last year and started up AM to PM as a Social Media consultant for medium to large companies.   After just six months she already employs several consultants to help her manage the fast growing workload and has plans for further growth this year.

As well as enjoying working for multiple brands, she also loves working from home, and being around more for her kids, Jordie, 8, and Tess, 3.

Annette offers some final words of wisdom for anyone considering a career-change.  “Whatever you choose to do you need to be passionate about it as that is what drives your success at the end of the day.  Do your homework, stay on top of your game and network as much as you can.”

Inevitably, some of this networking should be done on social media networks.  Don’t be afraid to ask Annette how.  You can follow her on Twitter @AnnetteMaloney or connect with her via AM to PM on Facebook.

This is the second part in a series of posts about inspiring women I know who have dared to change careers.  Follow me on Twitter @DiFromTheY

Inspiring career changes: would you dare?


It’s the time of year when many consider changing jobs and careers. I’m fortunate to know many interesting women – like Antipodean journalist turned historian, author and mother of three Dr Rachel Buchanan – who have successfully changed careers along the course of their working life.

This is the first blog post in a series I am writing on some of these great women, who continue to inspire me on my own career and life journey. I hope you will enjoy the series.
I’ve known Rachel (pictured) for more than 20 years. She began her career as a newspaper journalist in New Zealand: “It seemed like a glamorous and exciting thing to do” and was working for The Age in Melbourne when I first met her.

She’s still regularly published in this paper and other major media but sometimes now finds herself the subject of interviews, as in last Saturday’s Age Writer’s Craft is now a Ghost in the Machine. On this occasion she was interviewed about the rapidly changing world of the literary archivist, having written 10,000 words on the topic in the Australian Book Review as part of a Sidney Myer Fund fellowship.

Rachel began her move away from daily journalism in her late 20s. “I wanted to be better educated and also to have more time to think about things rather than the constant deadlines and rush of journalism. Sometime I felt the world was shallow.”

With a shared interest in looking beneath the surface, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about writing and how in the heck to manage a semblance of work life balance and still be a ‘good enough’ parent as well as an authentic friend.

Academia seemed to offer the depth Rachel was seeking, and after completing a BA (majoring in history) she went on to complete a PhD, which was published by a New Zealand publisher as The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget (Huia).

She went on to work as an Academic at a Melbourne university, lecturing in journalism, being published in academic publications and pursuing further research goals. Half way through this year, after five years as an academic – she quit – bravely, I might add, without any “next job” lined up.

“I wanted to rethink what I was doing with my working life,” says Rachel. “I was unsure whether a university was the right place for me and I wanted a lot more time with my kids.”

By now her oldest daughter Lily was 10, Nettie was seven, and her youngest, Frances, had just started school, and Rachel craved more freedom and flexibility to tailor her work around her children’s lives. Her partner Mike, a landscape gardener, had played the role of primary carer for their children in the shared juggle of parenting, and both were ready for a role reversal.

She’snow a freelance writer and independent scholar, and for the most part, loving the adventure of being more present to her children and partner and “putting them first”.

That’s not to say that at times her latest career incarnation hasn’t caused some sleepless nights.

“Sometimes I feel scared at stepping off a recognised career path and becoming invisible,” she admits.

For anyone who knows Rachel personally – fat chance!

Rachel has had time to think long and hard about work and its meaning and observes, “that overall women are too prepared to suffer too much for our work”. She thinks women need to “step back and not try so hard at work”.

She believes more of us need to recognise that our children need us and want us around and that this is very nurturing both for our kids – and for ourselves.

She also thinks that the older you get the more risks you should take. “The safe option is not always the best one,” she says.

And she practices what she preaches.

Next week Rachel begins a 12 month return to New Zealand with her family, to live there for the first time since she left as a 22-year-old. Whatever she does while she’s there and beyond she wants to “protect my time with the children while also doing work that I believe in, that matters, that might make a difference to people’s lives. I’m thinking about what that might be. Another change is probably ahead….”

You can follow Rachel on Twitter @BuchananRachel

You can follow me @DiFromTheY – and I’ll have another post on another great woman who’s dared to change careers, soon.

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