How women at Monash Health #ChooseToChallenge this International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated each year on March 8. It is a day to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality.

The 2021 theme is #ChooseToChallenge. After a year that has challenged the most resilient people, we are looking to explore what particular impacts the pandemic has had on women and what we might challenge next to work towards gender equality. How will you help foster a gender-equal world?

At Monash Health, our Gender Equity Committee, led by Chair Dr Anjali Dhulia, is working to create a work environment where all employees are able to access the same opportunities, resources and rewards, regardless of gender.

This year, we will be celebrating IWD at a special employee forum. Join us at 2pm on Thursday 11 March, when Dr Anjali Dhulia will be talking to Victoria’s first Commissioner for Gender Equality, Dr Niki Vincent.

In line with this year’s theme, we spoke to some women from across our health service about their experience as a leader during the pandemic and how they have challenged gender bias during their careers. Read on to hear about their experiences with leadership and overcoming gender bias.

Rebecca McNamara, Infection Prevention Clinical Nurse Consultant

“I am very proud to be part of a team of women striving for excellence every day.”

As someone whose expertise was in high demand during the pandemic, Rebecca has a unique insight into being a woman in a leadership role. With many complex challenges being thrown their way, Rebecca and the Infection Prevention team were able to work to set the precedent for many infection prevention procedures.

Being an Infection Prevention Clinical Nurse Consultant during COVID-19 has called upon the entire Infection Prevention & Epidemiology team to be leaders in promoting COVIDsafe practice in all facets of healthcare throughout Monash Health. COVID-19 has brought on a multitude of changes to our regular Infection Prevention practices. I, personally, had the opportunity to lead the team’s involvement in the creation of our COVID-19 contact tracing electronic application.”

Rebecca also mentioned the strong leadership she saw from her team during a time when uncertainty was the norm.

It has been nothing short of an amazing experience working with such a strong and knowledgeable group of women, led by Professor Rhonda Stuart and Anita Lovegrove. Our team of resilient, hard-working women have stood up to the challenge and supported one another throughout the whole journey. I am very proud to be part of a team of women striving for excellence every day.”

Anupa Shah, Coordinator, Monash Doctors Workforce Operation

Women in many roles take on leadership. The pandemic has shown that we change, adapt, take on the challenges and still survive.”

Anupa is a coordinator at Monash Health and a leader within the community. Recently, she was named Maroondah City Council’s Citizen of the Year for her work delivering outreach projects that support the community.

During her professional career, Anupa found herself in male-dominated industries where women in management were considered unsuitable and unqualified. With steely determination, she was able to challenge the preconceived view of women in leadership roles and prove women were more than capable of taking on difficult roles.

I have worked management roles in the finance and health industry, in places where gender bias was very prevalent. Men could not accept that women in management can be as qualified and suitable. I had to prove my capabilities, which I did strongly and boldly. With knowledge and confidence, I proved that I was very capable and earnt respect amongst esteemed health and finance professionals.”

As a healthcare worker, Anupa was exposed to the challenges that COVID-19 posed. However, she saw women in all areas rise to the challenge and successfully navigate their way through the difficult situations which arose.

Women in many roles take on leadership. The pandemic has shown that we change, adapt, take on the challenges and still survive.”

Julia Oxley, General Manager, Monash Health Community

“Breaking down gender stereotypes means being part of the conversation and having a voice, listening, learning and contributing.”

Julia has held many leadership roles throughout her career but says leading through a pandemic has been both the most challenging and the most enjoyable experience she’s had as a leader. She spoke about how she ensured her teams had regular access to their leaders during COVID-19:

As a leader being visible, accessible and transparent is important. Using Webex provided our people with the opportunity to ask questions and for us to answer them ‘in person’. Incorporating regular huddles with the Directors and key support people into our operating rhythm helped us stay on top of this fast-moving and changing environment and this continues today.”

When speaking about gender bias, she recalls the way she dealt with gender discrimination in her past roles:

“Many of the industries I have worked in were male-dominated and over the years I have dealt with my fair share of discrimination. I never saw gender as a barrier and have always backed myself and felt the equal of anyone, thanks to my mum who was a trailblazer.

Breaking down gender stereotypes means being part of the conversation and having a voice, listening, learning and contributing. Building networks, connections and supporters based on genuine relationships helped me to take on new roles in unfamiliar environments.”

Sharon McNulty, Director, Support Services

“Removing gender bias does not mean pretending that gender does not exist.  It means removing the unnecessary limitation based only on gender.”

Support services are an integral part of the response to COVID-19. Their hard work can sometimes go unnoticed day-to-day, but the pandemic reiterated the importance of what they do to keep us all safe. As the person steering the Support Services team across all of our sites, Sharon found herself challenged in all areas of her life.:

Leading through the pandemic challenged me on almost every level both professionally and personally.  Acting with urgency and confidence constantly was something that I found quite confronting at first.  My team, our organisation, and my family and friends looked to me for reassurance and in the early days, this was challenging when we didn’t have all the answers. I remained calm, put my brave hat on, my ‘can do’ cape and acted with humility, even though deep down, like most other people, I was concerned. 

I have grown so much both professionally and personally through the experience and have achieved so many things that I didn’t think I was capable of before the pandemic. I am very privileged to work with an amazing team and this experience has further cemented my appreciation for those I work with each and every day.

Sharon has faced gender discrimination in the male-dominated areas she found herself working in. She recalls hearing phrases like, ‘That’s a man’s job’ or ‘It’s not safe for a woman to lift a patient’ casually tossed around the workplace. As a senior leader, she understands the importance of breaking down gender bias and strives to lead by example.

I am passionate about breaking down these barriers and perceptions. I do call people out on it.  Each time I hear discriminatory comments, I will challenge the person’s comments.  It is important that I lead by example and help to break down gender bias. 

Removing gender bias does not mean pretending that gender does not exist.  It means removing the unnecessary limitation based only on gender. I challenge each and every one of us to think about our gender bias either conscious or unconscious.”

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and seek out and celebrate women’s achievement. This International Women’s Day, we ask you to #ChooseToChallenge gender bias. From challenge comes change. Together, we can work to ensure a fair and equal world for everyone, regardless of gender.



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