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Mar 19, 2021

International Women’s Day: Being a female CEO in 2021

Published in Nursing Review, Hospital + Healthcare (Page 65 - 66) by Tammy Sherwood.

The 2019/20 Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated almost 80 per cent of workers in aged care were female, with over 40 per cent of CEO positions being occupied by women – the highest workforce percentage in Australia. Nationally, the statistics showed that only 17 per cent of CEOs were women – an increase of just 1.4 per cent over five years. So, while there’s still clearly a lot of progress to be made in gender equality, it’s incredible to see aged care leading the way, and it’s a privilege to fall into that bracket.

Before my current role as CEO of Person Centred Software Australia, a leading global technology developer for the aged care sector, I held several different positions at a number of companies, but a career in aged care wasn’t on my radar. That being said, I’ve had a close affinity to the care sector since just the age of 12.

I had a paper round which would see me delivering the local newspaper to a nearby retirement village. I used to love riding through the village on my bike where all the residents would greet me. One day, I was told the newspaper would be discontinued so I struck a deal with the newsagent to keep me on by offering to deliver other items to the retirement village, such as bread and milk. I was only paid 20 cents per trip, but it wasn’t about the money; I had been ingrained with a deep desire to help the elderly.

In my early 20s I worked in a community pharmacy, which was managed by an inspiring woman - the first of many I would work with - who ran the successful business while raising her children. I then moved to a hospital pharmacy, and that’s when I decided to pursue a career in aged care. I remember delivering medication to an aged care home and on my way out a resident asked me to sit with them, so I did, and she proceeded to hold my hand and tell me a story. As we sat there the realisation of wanting to make a career out of aged care hit me, and I haven’t looked back since. I also remember getting in trouble with my employer at the time for returning from the delivery drop-off so late – that’s how long the woman’s story was! 

Person Centred Software was already an established company in the UK and was making serious waves in the digital care market. One of its co-founders flew out to Australia and after a brief meeting at a conference along with a director of Belgravia, we discovered we shared the same common values and decided we would launch Person Centred Software to the Australian Residential Aged Care market.

It’s been an incredible journey and a bit of a whirlwind at that. What I enjoy most about working at Person Centred Software is that we can improve the lives of people living and working in aged care. We’re passionate about creating positive cultures and being a part of that change.

As CEO, every day is different. I alternate between spending time with my team, customers, and partners, although COVID-19 has changed the way we operate. While Zoom is great for maintaining a connection with everyone, I must admit, I miss onsite visits to aged care homes, and I can speak on behalf of the whole organisation when I say we can’t wait to get back out there again.

Looking at the lopsided national statistics, I feel very fortunate to be a female CEO. In saying that, however, I’ve always believed that the right person should be appointed to the right role, regardless of gender.

My two directors are male and have years of experience in a vast range of businesses. There’s not much they haven’t seen or experienced, and are always available if I need them to guide me in the right direction. Simply put, I’ve never felt they treat me any differently for being female.

Even when I started my family, my female manager at the time was always understanding and accommodating despite not having children of her own, and was there to help me find the perfect work-life balance. Personally, I don’t think I would be in my current role if it wasn’t for the support of the people who have managed me along the way. Even today I will often pick up the phone and call the very people who helped me all those years ago for support and guidance.

Overall, working in aged care is extremely rewarding regardless of gender and I recognise I have been fortunate not to have experienced the challenges of inequality. This is an exciting time to be in the industry as we look forward to the next phase with spirited hope. My message to all young Australian women thinking about pursuing a senior career in aged care would be to think big, back yourself, find a mentor, listen, learn, and, ultimately, enjoy the ride.

March 19, 2021

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