As part of a new initiative to empower and connect females all over Melbourne, we’ll be interviewing a series of our Melbourne Lean In members to hear their views and unique stories.
Our first interview is with Pauline Ellis, one of our panel members at our very first Lean In event in 2017. Pauline is a mother of two and an Associate Director and Talent Ambassador at EY – one of the largest professional services firms globally.
Pauline has always been an advocate for gender equity in the workplace. Here she shares insight in to her journey towards success.
Following are the excerpts from the interview by Nikita Naik.
Associate Director and EY Talent Ambassador at EY; Lean In Melbourne member
Q. As a parent, how do you maximize your time to achieve the coveted ‘work/life balance’ ?
A. It is a hard question. What is work/life balance? I believe that maintaining balance in all parts of life is important – for both body and mind. In the past I’ve been the first to say “women can have it all” but over the years there are times where I’ve thought this to be the greatest lie ever told. There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “being a working mum is the ultimate challenge – one must work as if there are no children but also give commitment to children as if there were no work at all”. It’s something I think every working mum struggles with and so how do we find a balance between the two? For me I feel it’s more about flexing – it’s about everything that I do in a 24 hour cycle. I am very fortunate that having come from a technology background I have always been afforded flexibility and of course EY promotes a flexible workplace. So, whether I get up at 6am and get an hour of work done before the children get up or whether I work after 8pm because I’ve taken time out to attend a milestone event for one of my children throughout the day I schedule my day in a way that everything gets done – work, life, extracurricular activities. And I schedule my entire life into one diary and run everything as if it’s a meeting – if it’s not in my diary it doesn’t exist. On saying that of course not everything gets done all the time. One of the lessons I learned years ago is that it is very hard to aim for perfection. I used to think that I could run a spectacular household (perfectly clean and organised), excel in my career, get the ultimate amount of exercise in for my wellbeing, commit valuable time to my children, mentor and coach, paint a little, the list goes on….but sometimes, something has to give and you need to learn to say ‘no’ when it matters. The bottom line here is ‘having it all’ is a bit of a muddle. Now I prefer to focus on quality rather than quantity and there is no one size fits all.
Q. What does success mean for you?
A. I had to dig deep to understand what success means for me to clear my path forward. What I realised is that success for me isn’t necessarily the road most travelled and it certainly isn’t the same for everyone. I think a lot of females feel pressure to do what everyone else is doing or what is expected of them and that society puts a tag of ‘success’ on these goals when we reach them but that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes when we reach those goals we realise it’s not what we wanted after all – is that really success? And is reaching a certain pinnacle the success point? The answer is different for everyone.
I think I can some up success for me as the following:
1. Maintaining a fulfilling career that challenges me every day and where I feel I have made a positive impact
2. Being involved in initiatives outside of my career which have a positive impact on others
3. Maintaining a quality level of life to support my own wellbeing.
Q. What are the key values you’ve always attributed to your success?
A. My parents instilled my core values of honesty, respect, integrity and building trust by doing what I say I will do. I live by these values everyday but also believe it’s not just about what you do and how you do it – it’s about how you make people feel along the way. You’ll always be remembered for that. I am always kind, compassionate and respectful to people inside and outside of the workplace and I believe this resonates.
Q. According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, 34 female CEOs out of 51 said they didn’t realise they could be CEOs until someone told them. Why do you think we wait for validation to gain the confidence that men inherently possess?
A. I think women create their own barriers. We are quick to realise our weaknesses far more than our strengths. We often wait until we have 100% of the attributes needed to do the job, run the project, whatever it is – men I can assure you just put their hand up knowing full well that they’ll muddle their way through if they have to – we need to have the confidence to do that more. Sometimes it’s about finding the confidence within ourselves by looking for it in other areas of our lives – if you can lead a successful life outside of work you can be successful in the workplace too.
Q. Have you had a mentor in your career and what value does having a mentor bring to your career when you’re starting out? Has it helped your career progress in any way?
A. When I started my career I was a young female in a male dominated industry. A lack of female mentors meant I ended up with a male mentor and he remained my voice of reason and objectivity for a solid 15 years. For many females I understand how this could seem intimidating (having a male mentor, particularly in your early career) but I was fortunate to have grown up in a very gender neutral household where both my mum and dad shared responsibilities which instilled in me a gender neutral outlook – having a male mentor was quite natural. When you admire someone you don’t admire their gender, you admire the person and the aligned values you share. Having the right mentor is absolutely critical to your career – they should not only support you but really challenge you to ask yourself the hard questions. I think that’s an important aspect of the mentoring relationship – your mentor shouldn’t give you the answers but ask the right questions for you to be able to explore the right answers yourself.
Most importantly, it’s likely you’ll need different mentors for different stages in your career – even most recently for myself I have been at a major crossroads in my career where I needed my mentor to challenge my thinking – thankfully helping me to clear the path in front of me.
Q. Advice for other females?
A. First, be intelligent and be credible – everything else will come from there and you can create your own opportunities. Be confident and always be true to yourself. Don’t follow the path most taken just because everyone else is doing that – follow your own path and success will come to you. And finally, a few mistakes along the way won’t define you or your path as long as you learn from them; tomorrow is always another day for new opportunities.
Q. What’s your favorite book?
A. One of my all-time favourites is Shantaram by Gregory David. It completely immerses you in the colourful, vibrant city of Mumbai and takes you on a journey that you can never forgot.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. My first role model was my mum. In an era where not many women worked after having children, she not only worked but ran a business with my dad, working 7 days a week and still managing to bring up 3 children. She was strong, intelligent but always warm and loving and she seemed to do this with such ease.
My dad is the person who I aspired to be. He has always had the attitude that anyone is capable of doing and being whatever they want to be, regardless of gender. I think it’s that attitude that largely shaped my opinions and why I have so easily fit into often an all-male working environment.
Q. Your favorite movie?
A. Gone with the Wind. I was Scarlet O’Hara – strong, independent and no one was getting in her way!
Q.How can members get in touch with you?
A. Linkedin – Pauline’s profile on Linkedin
Interviewed by Nikita Naik