With support from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Office for Women, the AICD has run a multi-year scholarship program for emerging and experienced female directors in regional, rural and remote Australia. We spoke with four winners of the Women’s Regional, Rural and Remote Diversity Scholarships about how the governance knowledge they gained is furthering their careers. 

    Gina Woodward MAICD

    Chief communications officer Snowy Monaro Regional Council, director Tourism Snowy Mountains

    How would you describe your leadership journey so far?

    Through many different stages — from leading small teams through to much larger ones of around 120. I currently look after a team of 30, with four direct reports. It’s been interesting to think about what I’ve learned about myself along the way. I know I have a certain management style, but I have adjusted it to suit different teams, roles, industries and individuals. I understand that everyone learns differently.

    Why did you apply for the scholarship and how will the governance education further your capabilities and ambitions for the organisation you steward?

    In my mid-30s, I was inspired by people I knew who were participating in board roles. Ever since then, it was something that I wanted to do. I have been on five different boards now, and have also reported directly to a board. I had [former Qantas CEO] Geoff Dixon as a mentor, which was incredible. Each of the organisations have been NFPs and mostly focused on tourism.

    I had wanted to do the AICD course for quite some time, but due to the heavy workload I had when I was working for myself, and the financial constraints following the bushfires and then COVID-19, I was unable to take it on without a scholarship.

    What challenges have you faced in your career, including any that relate to gender or identity?

    Things have changed for the better, but there is still a long way to go in terms of gender equality in the workplace. I sat on a board for six years and for the first two, I was the only female. Women are still a minority on boards — although I’m not saying we should be there because of our gender, but because of our experiences.

    Being a female leader can be challenging. Sometimes, I have felt there are qualities that males are “allowed” to express in the workplace, [but] if a female expresses those same qualities, it is perceived differently. There can be a perception of females in leadership roles that they're abrupt or unapproachable. Actually, we are often just trying to get things done and those words are quite cutting.

    What were your top takeaways from the course?

    I undertook the Company Directors Course as a five-day residential program and it was an excellent experience. It really drove home the importance of networks and bouncing ideas off people who are outside your everyday business circle. It made me remember that there’s a much bigger business world out there and some amazing knowledge to be drawn upon. Now the pandemic has subsided, I was reminded of how supportive people are.

    What is the state of Australia's beef export industry?

    In my region, we have two key economic drivers — tourism is the largest, then agriculture. In terms of beef production, there are definitely challenges. The threat of foot and mouth disease is a massive issue. Fortunately, it has been well managed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, which gives us some comfort.

    How has the snow tourism sector in NSW overcome the challenges of the past few years?

    There have been a lot of challenges for the industry. The pandemic dramatically affected visitation levels and caused staff shortages, as a lot of people had to go back to their home state. Many of them have started other careers and they are not coming back. Now that people can ski overseas again, it will take some of the pressure off next year. While winter is incredibly important, we're trying to build a year-round visitor economy. There is 40-year plan to achieve that, supported by the state government.


    Muriel Bin Dol AAICD

    Chair Yumba-Meta Housing Ltd, Adviser 

    Your leadership journey so far?

    I am in the formative stages of my career as a director and it has been an empowering journey. I became a non-executive director in 2020. In hindsight, it was a brave decision. Whilst I had a suite of transferrable skills, I knew little about corporate governance. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a generous board, which helped me understand the operating rhythm and strategy. I used the scholarship to complete the AICD Foundations of Directorship course. It gave me confidence in my role — which was demonstrated through my performance. The founding chair, Dr Ernest Hoolihan OAM, yarned with me about succession planning and over the past 12 months, I took on stretch tasks within the board as part of that development. I was recently elected chair and it is an honour to serve our community in this way.

    Why did you apply for the scholarship?

    It was integral to my development and future aspirations. I wouldn’t have been able to afford the course without it. Importantly, it enabled me to consolidate my understanding of corporate governance and strategy to ensure Yumba- Meta’s continued organisational performance of innovation and long-term value creation. I grew up in social housing, in a family that lived week to week. I hope to demonstrate it’s possible for others with similar lived experiences to contribute to the governance of high-performing organisations.

    I will continue mentoring to identify future talent, and hold the door open for other aspiring First Nations leaders.

    What challenges have you faced?

    I initially found it difficult to navigate the boardroom environment, given my introversion and relatively young age. The course gave me the confidence to know my value and find an authentic way to raise issues. In my leadership experience outside the boardroom, I have found that high-performing teams experience conflict. What’s important is the quality of the discussion — and evidence used — to arrive at decisions. Our decision-making has benefited from diversity of thought and lived experience.

    Ambitions for your organisation?

    As an incoming chair, I have very big shoes to fill in succeeding the founding chair. Yumba- Meta had very humble beginnings, but there was a vision of self-determination to address the inequities First Nations people were experiencing after the 1967 Referendum. The organisation is now a multi-dimensional entity and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2023. My ambition is to be a custodian of the organisation by making informed decisions for continued long-term value creation for the past, present and future collective of Yumba-Meta members.

    The Townsville economy has fluctuated over the past decade. Our region continues to experience high rates of domestic and family violence, as well as homelessness. Accommodation insecurity is impacting all sectors of the community — not just social and affordable housing. Working in partnership with governments and other NGOs is critical to dealing with the complexity of issues.


    Ali Broinowski MAICD

    Founder Perfectly Sorted, President Mudgee Chamber of Commerce and Business Mudgee

    Your leadership journey so far?

    I’ve been working for 30 years and my background is in pharmacy. I’ve had a small business for seven years. At Perfectly Sorted, I employ eight people — we do property staging and interior styling. It’s quite unusual to provide that in a regional area, because people in the bush do stuff themselves — they have a perception that those services are only for the city. We’ve created our own market.

    I head up the local business chamber and I have joined the Mudgee Region Tourism Board. Mudgee has been named Australia’s top tourism town for the second year running.

    Why did you apply for the scholarship?

    I needed good qualifications to take me further in my board career. It gave me the confidence to say, yes, I can do that, I can bring an educated view. I’m glad to have had some experience on a board before doing the course, because it helps to cement the applied learning. A scholarship gives people the opportunity to do things they might not be able to otherwise. In regional areas it is especially needed.

    What challenges have you faced?

    I’ve been fortunate in that there has only ever been one time when things were difficult. I was a councillor and they [other councillors] seemed to find it completely out of left field that I had a newborn. That was 20 years ago, so I would hope things are different for working mothers now.

    Takeaways from the course?

    You don’t need to have a super high-powered job to fulfil your duties as a director. If you have life experience, it’s amazing what you can bring to the table. Another takeaway was the extent of your responsibilities as a director — it’s not just turning up to a preschool committee meeting.

    How has small business in central west NSW overcome recent challenges?

    We’ve had COVID-19, bushfires and flooding — although the flooding was not as bad here as it was in other parts. It impacted a lot of livelihoods, but this is a resilient community.


    Brooke Howell MAICD

    Vineyard Manager/Viticulturist at Hill-Smith Family Estates, Vice-President Australian Society of Viticulture & Oenology (ASVO)

    Your leadership journey so far?

    I’ve been working in viticulture for the past 12 years. During that time, I’ve also done an MBA. I joined the ASVO board in 2017, recently stepping down as president after a three-year term. That was certainly a career highlight. It is a voluntary leadership role, which means I was able to give back to an industry that’s given me a huge amount.

    During COVID-19, I was sort of the gatekeeper for the industry, which obviously came with its own challenges. I needed to make sure we were still able to produce wines and we had to change all our seminars for members for social distancing. We had to be responsive and agile, and undertake some risk management with staging an event last year. We sat down and wrote a risk appetite statement to work out where we might need to adapt and change things to make sure we’re minimising risk — such as around cybersecurity.

    Why did you apply for the scholarship?

    Our board has a lot of people who are skills- based within viticulture or winemaking. They don’t necessarily have governance skills. While I’m in this leadership position, I wanted to be able to learn skills I can impart. I’m not going to be on a board forever and I wanted to make sure that when I step off at the end of my term, the organisation is in a good position governance-wise.

    What challenges have you faced?

    Being in a male-dominated industry has made gender always front of mind. But because I am one of the minority, sometimes I actually get more opportunities than others. Stepping into a leadership role as a young female, I had a bit of impostor syndrome —wondering whether I’d get the respect of people more senior than me. I overcame this by getting a few small wins on the board to boost my confidence.

    Takeaways from the course?

    The risk framework was really helpful. It also got me thinking that perhaps we should be reviewing our constitution because there were a few things I learned from others hin the room who work in different organisations that we could potentially change within our own. Our organisation has existed since 1980 and has never had a major review. Some things are quite outdated and business operations have changed a lot since COVID-19, such as videoconferencing.

    We’re also thinking about the structure of our board. Currently, it’s elected by the membership. To get independent directors in will need a constitutional review plus support and endorsement by the membership base of 600.

    How did the lockdown impact the sector?

    Being in primary production, our industry was considered essential work. We did have to change how we delivered our content for members because we were so used to doing things face-to-face. Bigger challenges have been the rains and the impact of China shutting its borders to Australian wine in 2020. The industry is still in a big downturn. Some businesses won’t be picking grapes this year — there is no-one to sell them to.

    Sarah Cox GAICD

    Grazier, Owner Jefrey Rural Communications, Director Theodore Water

    Your leadership journey so far?

    My parents were always involved in community organisations and the local shire council, in addition to running our family’s beef cattle business. I grew up innately understanding that community contribution was a given.

    Once I graduated from university and began work in the real world as an agricultural journalist, I realised how much I had to learn. Not just from a technical knowledge perspective, but also how to adapt communication skills to a range of personality types and audiences, how to be a valuable member of a workplace team, how to hone my problem-solving skills, self-confidence and listening with empathy.

    Fast-forward 30 years and those foundational skills are as important as they were then in my day-to-day roles and relationships. I wear many hats — proprietor of our family’s beef grazing business, Cracow Station, and my freelance journalism business, Theodore Water board member, Brisbane Boys’ College School Council member, president of the Dawson Valley branch of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, and secretary of the Cracow Community Centre.

    Why did you apply for the scholarship?

    Undertaking the Company Directors Course has been a goal for a number of years, but I was eager to consolidate on-the-ground directorship learnings first. Applied learnings are far more valuable if you actually have situations to apply them to.

    I felt the time was right to enhance my skills, knowledge and networks. There are significant responsibilities associated with being a director — there’s no point sitting on a board if you don’t contribute meaningfully to the organisation.

    What challenges have you faced?

    I’ve never been discriminated against or undermined in any workplace. Maybe that’s down to good luck, but I suspect it has to do with attitude. My focus has always been on working to the best of my ability, embracing opportunities to improve my knowledge and skills, contributing to the workplace team, celebrating others’ achievements and keeping a firm eye on desired outcomes. My challenges have been more internal — learning to adapt mindset, accept setbacks and develop resilience.

    Takeaways from the course?

    [I took away] the importance of good decision- making — and particularly a good decision- making framework; the need for boards to adjust questions of “can we” to the more ethically framed “should we”; to be clear on purpose; that risk and strategy are two sides of the one coin; that culture is vital — bad culture and a lack of trust can erode good systems and processes.

    How is the beef export industry?

    Tremendous opportunity intersecting with significant challenges that need to be closely managed, particularly on a biosecurity front. The underlying fundamentals are exceptional.

    Latest news

    This is of of your complimentary pieces of content

    This is exclusive content.

    You have reached your limit for guest contents. The content you are trying to access is exclusive for AICD members. Please become a member for unlimited access.