Australian Government,  Blog post,  Leadership

Working women, change and organisational culture

An interview with Samanatha Sutherland

This week I turned the tables on Samantha Sutherland. More used to being behind the microphone and interviewing influential women, I wanted to get to know Samantha and what she can teach those of us working in government about navigating the workforce, managing change, and organisational culture.

Samantha Sutherland has had a super interesting career. For those that thought I was brave leaving the public service to start Elm, you should talk to Samantha. She was a high-flying executive working for big four accounting firms and energy retailers before launching her first business focused on bringing the fun back into team building and coaching. Moving into consulting, she focused on building diversity in organisations and workshop facilitation. Now she is back out on her own focused on supporting women in the workforce, (with her podcast Women at Work and 1-1 mentoring program), and building organisational capability during times of change.

Samantha Sutherland – https://samanthasutherland.com.au

Who is the most impressive woman you have interviewed for your podcast?

That’s such a tough question! I think everyone has an amazing story, and have loved each and every interview. Tracey Spicer was very kind in agreeing to be on the podcast early on, which helped me get other high-profile women on board. Jamila Rizvi’s episode has the most downloads, and we had a really interesting conversation about systemic barriers that women face. I loved my conversations with Anne-Marie Rice about intentionally building a life that supports you, and with Kirstin Ferguson about how when women lift each other up we all rise higher. But like I said, all the women have been impressive and interesting.

Is there a theme coming through from the women you have spoken to?

I would say there is a theme around women wanting more support from their workplaces in creating fulfilling lives, both in and out of work – so that relates to getting opportunities throughout their careers to continue learning and growing, as well as having the space to pursue other passions. All the research shows that people with time for their own lives and passions do better work anyway, so it’s time that workplaces support that.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing women working in the APS?

I think the environment can be a bit rigid in government, so policies get put in place and it can be difficult to negotiate anything different that better suits your personal circumstances. However, there are a lot of opportunities. There is an understanding across the board that diverse teams perform better and represent the public more effectively. There is also movement towards flexible working options. These positive shifts mean that high performing women have a chance to both drive and take advantage of changes that support families and women in leadership positions.

I know you have a background working in change management and it is something you are really passionate about. In government we are constantly faced with change. What is the biggest mistake organisations make when faced with significant change?

Number one, a lack of communication. When there isn’t enough information dissemination, people will make up their own stories which are very often worse than reality. Additionally, trying to make lots of changes all at the same time, without really understanding all the interacting impacts of that. A solid planning phase is really important for clarifying the connections and potential repercussions. People are really the key to any organisation’s success – without good people you can’t perform well – so really taking all the people impacts into account and putting mitigating actions in place can help ensure the long term success of your organisation.

Culture is a big subject in Canberra at the moment. Why do you think organisational culture so important?

Culture is really the bedrock of your entire strategy. You might be able to treat people like process monkeys or push them aggressively for solid results in the short term, but over time neither of those approaches work. Inclusive leadership and really drawing out the full value from your diverse workforce is the most effective way to ensure ongoing success.

What should people in Canberra know about you?

I’m passionate about creating workplaces where everyone thrives and building inclusive workforces. Women ready to actively managing their careers should have a look at my website https://samanthasutherland.com.au/women-at-work-mentoring/

Organisations that want to embed inclusive leadership capability, develop their female talent and manage organisational change should contact me at samantha@samanthasutherland.com.au

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