Elevating women to leadership positions

by | 30 Apr 2021 | Gender Equality

On Wednesday 28 April, a few of the Novigi team were lucky enough to attend the annual Illawarra First Women in Executive Leadership Forum luncheon held by Business Illawarra and proudly sponsored by Mercer.

We heard from two inspiring women, who have been successful in their careers and excellent mentors for women who hold, or aspire to hold, executive leadership positions. Marne Fechner, the inaugural Chief Executive of AusCycling and outgoing Chief Executive at Netball Australia, has first class credentials in sports management and is the first-ever female to run the sport of cycling in Australia. Jo-Anne Bloch is a Senior Partner and Head of Superannuation Services at Mercer, one of Novgi’s valued clients, and she is an influential voice in  the superannuation industry. Jo-Anne worked with Mentor Walks to introduce the program to the Illawarra in 2019 and since then, many mentors and mentees have benefited.

The conversation posed by these two amazing women examined the elevation of women to leadership positions and how aspiring women can succeed in rising to executive leadership roles within the sporting industry and beyond. At Novigi, we concur with Business Illawarra’s commonly held view that there are strong economic reasons to recognise the achievements of women, promote female leadership and ultimately support greater workforce participation. For this reason, we are grateful that we were given the opportunity to attend such a great event local to our Wollongong office. Below we have summarised some key takeaways from the event.

Marne shared six key insights of concepts that have helped her to navigate her career and enjoy many successes along the way.

Follow your passion

As the old adage goes “if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life”. Marne  suggested that a primary driver for her success in an executive position was the passion behind everything that she does. Passion helps to drive the shift into new roles, places and opportunities. At Novigi, we all collectively share passion in driving the innovation agenda, digitally transforming organisations to enable new opportunities and better outcomes and, internally, inspiring and encouraging our team – both males and females – to strive for greatness.

Clarity of purpose

This sense of passion leads to having clarity of purpose and ensuring that it underpins every action that you take. What makes you tick? What energises you? Having this clarity of purpose allows you to surround yourself with a community committed to the same goals. For Marne, her clarity of purpose was fueling female opportunities, encouraging healthy outcomes and ensuring that those around her were given what they needed to excel. Part of this clarity of purpose includes a curiosity and willingness to change. At Novigi, our purpose is to use our skills, expertise and experience to empower our clients to change the world in a lasting and positive way.


Mentors are a guiding light for those in, or aspiring to be in, executive roles. Mentors can be a source from which to garner additional support and guidance and they can fuel passions and be truth tellers. In an executive position, you are given the opportunity to impact and build confidence in others. At Novigi, our younger females are lucky enough to have passionate mentors that are dedicated to supporting and building their careers – these mentors are both senior females and males within the organisation. There are also some amazing mentors and role models that our executives can look to outside our immediate organisation. Particularly in the financial services sector, we have begun to see a number of powerful female leaders enjoy success across the superannuation industry.  A common theme is for these women to “give back” and support up and coming females – one such female mentor in the industry is Jo-Anne Bloch.

The power of great teams

Both Marne and Jo-Anne agreed that one of the most important aspects of being in a leadership position is having a great team behind you. Building a powerful team that understands and uses the skills, strengths and attributes of its individual members is important for both men and women in executive positions. Excellent communication, strong relationships and good understanding are important in being able to work together just as a flock of birds or a school of fish. Marne mentioned that as CEO of Netball Australia she aimed not only to have a high performing team on the court but also off the court. At Novigi, we have an amazing group of talented individuals with diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences, however the real strength lies in how fortunate we are to work with people we actually like and can enjoy spending time with when we aren’t busy delivering solutions to our clients’ problems.

Enjoying the experiences

In any industry, whether it is financial services or sport, there will always be highs and lows. As a leader it is integral that you never lose the joy and wonder of what you do. Marne offered the room insight into her personal leadership style of attempting to keep the magic in the workplace, even in times of high intensity. Her method of donning a unicorn headband and spreading team spirit may sound unconventional, but research conducted by Gallup tells us that people look to their leaders to set the tone, with employees working for engaged leaders being 59% more likely to be engaged themselves. If the leaders of industries and organisations are engaged and enjoying the work that they do, it is more likely that they will attract others who follow suit. Enjoying the experiences of the work that you do undeniably correlates with Marne’s messages of following your passion and having clarity of purpose.

Ability to be bold and back yourself

Despite an increased awareness of the importance of  gender equality, change is not happening as fast as we would like. Marne revealed that only 9% of sporting CEOs and 9% of elite level coaches are female, despite 50% of Olympic athletes being women. The average salary for a male AFL player is $350,000 compared to only $20,000 for AFLW players, $65,000 for netballers and $58,000 for WNBL. Shockingly, with a 40% female sports participation rate, only 4% of media coverage is female. Marne’s advice to overcome these challenges as a woman is to roll your sleeves up, be bold, back yourself and deliver. It is important that female leaders choose their own path, even if it means that they do things differently. It is all part of the adventure. In a recent interview for Time100 Most Influential Companies,  Reese Witherspoon spoke of her time in Hollywood and how it led her to create her company, Hello Sunshine, a media company that focuses on female-driven stories.

“I never thought anybody would think my ideas were important or meaningful. Representation matters, seeing women in leadership positions matters. It just matters.” Reese Witherspoon

It is important that female leaders choose their own path, even if it means that they do things differently. It is all part of the adventure.

What can males do to help achieve gender equality?

Men need to be contributors to achieving  gender equality. Our Managing Partner, Ash Priest, asked the speakers at the event what he can do to help and support gender equality in business and beyond. Jo-Anne Bloch responded that “awareness, education and inclusion” are critical  to achieving gender equality. The reality is that despite women having fought for decades to be in positions of power, males are still at the helm in many organisations.  If we want to change the system then the key is engaging with men in leadership positions and getting them to commit to supporting and agitating for change.  An example of this is the Champions of Change Coalition, founded by Elizabeth Broderick AO.  The members of the Coalition are male leaders from every major sector of the economy who are committed to increasing the representation of women in organisations and developing conditions and cultures that allow them to thrive.

Our organisations must embody the change that we want to see in society, actively driving initiatives to enable equal opportunity. Events such as the one we were fortunate to attend this week, allow successful women to tell their stories and share powerful knowledge with other women and men alike, will continue to serve as a positive platform for bolstering active support for change.

At Novigi, our vision is to empower our clients to change the world in a lasting and positive way and we commit ourselves to leading by example throughout all aspects of our business, including equal opportunity for women. Whether that is through commitment to equal pay for graduates regardless of gender, anonymising areas of recruitment to avoid unconscious bias or ensuring equal career path opportunities. While there is a lot more to be done, we will continue to listen, learn and support the movement towards equality for women, just as we hope all organisations will.

Melissa Fuller is a Partner and Head of Corporate Services at Novigi




Sian Wright is the Community Manager (Superannuation & Wealth) at Novigi.

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