Tina Brunet is a social justice advocate, manages Customer Experience at AHM and sits on the board of Neami as an observer (Neami is a community-based organisation providing services to improve mental health and wellbeing in local communities). We recently caught up with Tina to chat about empowerment and confidence, stepping out of your comfort zone and what leaning in means to her.
What does Lean In mean to you? What are some of the actions/steps that you recommend that women can take to continuously feel inspired and motivated to keep moving forward?
Leaning in for me means vulnerability.
As women I feel that we want to be seen as fearless and capable. We want it all, to effortlessly juggle all balls up in the air. This creates an unrealistic standard which is impossible to achieve.
We put on our armour and we enter into battles to prove that we are worthy, but it seems that we are only fighting our own self-taught standards of perfection, which is an illusion and not the truth.
I think we need to take a step back, allow room for grace and realise that we cannot, in fact, have it all. We can, as a collective however, achieve outcomes by leaning into each other.
Sometimes that looks like me speaking to a trusted advisor for support when I am feeling particularly conflicted. Other times it may mean that they lean into me. We need to honor ourselves and make peace with our imperfections. I think liberation of perfection comes from seeing the greatness in each other and greatness in ourselves.
In a world where beauty is so stereotypical, largely defined by the photoshopped women on magazine covers / advertisements and promoted by brands and the societies we live in globally, how does a woman stay in tune with her natural state of being and still feel empowered to love herself for being who she is?
The key to unravelling this comes with wisdom and sometimes age. As I get older, I have realised that if I listen to the media, advertisements and even my own critical inner voice, I will always fall short. There is no way to get on top of all these expectations. Rather than be caged by them, we can step right out of the system. The door is wide open, all we need to do is notice that we are being trapped in that world, and step away.
Julia Gillard and Okonjo-Iweala’s book Women and Leadership, speaks about gendered sexism both implicit and explicit that we are subject to as women. Leaders such as Jacinda Arden can’t change her hairstyle without the media commenting on it. This takes people away from her core message and values she is presenting as a leader of her country.
It happens to the best of us, but we can choose how to respond to this. We can ignore it, walk away from it or conform to it. I choose to name it and ignore it.
Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany) was told by a photographer “I took a picture of you with that dress on about 10 years ago” to which she replied “I am here to serve the German people, not to be a model”.
Most times, we get complacent and comfortable doing what we are doing because it’s easy. Yet, do you challenge that we must make an attempt at breaking this cycle of monotony, and being open to trying something new, experiencing change and doing what we truly want to do?
Absolutely! I am a firm believer that unless you are uncomfortable, you are not growing. I found myself spending 10 years of my career in an organisation I adored and one which was a great value fit for me. I was very comfortable in my work, my relationships with my peers and the work itself. After ten years however, I realised that I had not attended a single networking session, I had not made an effort to learn anything outside my job description. I had not become uncomfortable.
4 years later, I find myself jumping from meetup to meetup, learning about leadership, personal development and recently even attended an information session about running for council (which I have no intention on doing). Why? Because it helps me step into a space I know nothing about and to challenge myself to think through it rather than around it.
My advice would be to constantly pull yourself out of the comfort zone, even if it’s baby steps. This could look like reaching out to someone you admire on LinkedIn asking them to have a virtual coffee to learn more about their leadership style or join a meetup group like Lean In Melbourne that features incredible speakers with whom you can engage with. You will be enriched along the way as you collect insights and wisdom you never knew existed.
Taking a career break to pursue one’s dreams is sometimes a very difficult decision to take owing to multiple factors such as a loss of steady income, fear of failing etc. How does one approach this and more importantly, how does one navigate their way through this transition?
Fear is a big detractor in many aspects of our lives. I recognise that not everyone has the privilege to make a choice about taking a career break, and in some cultural contexts such as Asian or Indian, it is not encouraged or normalised.
There are three paths available to you if you ever come to this crossroad – One is to stay comfortable, this may result in short iterative and accumulative growth but probably nothing too substantive. Second is to balance your needs with your wants. Perhaps you can work and pursue your dreams. This may look like studying part-time after work hours or asking your employer to scale back your hours so you can dedicate some time to other interests. Third option is to take a leap of faith. This is the scariest option, yields the biggest reward but also presents the biggest risk. In such situations, usually think about the worst case scenario, which may include taking a year off but not achieving the outcome you hope for.
Always remember that the time you invest would never be wasted, no matter what the outcome. The experiences and learnings you gain have incredible value and will shape you in ways that you never expected.
Women at workplaces are always told to strive for more confidence, and if they exude confidence, they are told that they are too bossy. So, what is the right amount of confidence that a woman needs to have?
This is a tough one. We are indeed subject to unfair sexist labelling when it comes to demonstrating leadership qualities. Men tend not to face such barriers.
I am a champion of authentic leadership. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not because sooner or later, people will see through this and you will lose credibility. We need to armour up as leaders and create a space where we can raise our defences when required, but also lower them with those we trust.
Confidence can be demonstrated in many ways. Ruth Bader Ginsburg who died recently was a petite woman who demonstrated quiet confidence through asking good questions and standing firm in what she believed in.
Confidence is not the same as competence. Confidence is not something you learn, it’s something you become. Being true to yourself and holding your truth in a deep way will exude confidence in a way that is organic and authentic.
If someone calls you bossy, thank them and walk away.
In a book based on your life, what would the title of the book be? What is the one book you recommend that is a must read?
Great question. I think the title of my book will be ‘Kaleidoscope: broken but whole’. There have been times in my life where I have felt that I have had to deconstruct myself before re-creating a tougher and stronger version. I love the analogy of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. I think that is an apt image that is representative of my life.
I absolutely loved the book “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle. Her writing spoke deeply to my soul. I could identify with so many aspects of trying (and failing) to fit into neat little boxes that society creates for women. My favourite quote from her is: “We keep building sandcastles and then we keep surrendering when the waves come. We are not the castle, we are the builders”.
If you had access to a time machine and were given an option to change your career path entirely, what would you choose to be?
Humanitarian worker. It’s my dream to be out in the field, supporting people who have found themselves oppressed, disadvantaged, and displaced.
However, saying that, I feel that there are ways we can live out the essence of our dreams no matter our age or circumstance. For me this looks like immersing myself into a world of social justice through online advocacy, volunteering with organisations that I feel aligned with and seeking opportunities to invest my skills through being on a Board or Committees.
I have a big audacious goal of providing access to education for girls in low caste systems in India. These girls are often inhibited through cultural norms, religion, gender and poverty. Knowledge once given, cannot be taken away and my hope is to use my privilege to enable outcomes for those who are not so fortunate.
My advice would be – don’t be immobilised by what could have been, you are the author of your life. The choices that you make matter, no matter how late you make them.
What is the one quote that you have been inspired by and live your life by?
I love Maya Angelou’s books and words, she was an incredibly inspiring poet. Her poem, Still I Rise resonates with me. I urge every one of you to find an author, a role model whose words speak to your soul and use this to propel and guide you, particularly during challenging times. We do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants.
‘You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise’
– Maya Angelou