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The rewards of public service

We asked Colette McCool, one of only eight Queenslanders to receive a Public Service Medal in the 2018 Australia Day Honours’ List, a few questions during Queensland Women’s Week.

A Board member of Gold Coast Health since its inception in 2012, Colette has more than 27 years’ experience as a senior executive in complex public sector organisations across both social and economic portfolios. Her most recent experience was with the City of Gold Coast Council.

Her Australia Day Honours came 11 years after winning the 2007 Telstra Business Woman of the Year (QLD) Government and Community category.

As a leader she uses her passion, stamina and management style to inspire the next generation of female leaders. 
What did it mean to you to receive the Public Service Medal?
I was totally surprised that I was recognised for doing my job. A job I absolutely loved and always found satisfying and rewarding. Of course I felt very honoured and privileged.

What’s the most pressing issue for women in the workplace in 2018?

There are so many - and they vary from one workplace to another. I think a fairly common challenge for women in all organisations is striking a healthy life/work balance. Particularly women with family responsibilities. It is hard to do, I know.  My two daughters and I discuss this regularly and I know they have a healthier attitude to achieving a balance than I have had throughout my career. Younger women are much more conscious of deciding what is important to them and enjoying every stage of their life than my generation has been.

Many women at middle levels perceive reaching ‘the top’ as a difficult journey. What advice would you give to women aspiring to a career in the public sector?
Most importantly work in an area you really enjoy and you will thrive. Identify successful people, both men and women, whose values, leadership style and behaviours mirror what you aspire to. Seek opportunities to be mentored by them. Take opportunities as they arise. For example, sometimes you may be offered a higher position in a temporary capacity and are concerned that you don’t have sufficient skills, or experience to do the job well. If you are building and developing a career, you have got to take some risks. Obviously your supervisors thought you were capable, and it’s important that you continue to grow, develop and change. Give it a go. Value your work colleagues, and work with them, and through them to achieve the best results.

Finally, when the going gets tough (and it will occasionally), it’s important to believe in yourself, that you can make a difference. ... and do what you think is right, even if it’s not popular.  Integrity is important. (Interestingly, Professor Michelle Simmons, 2018 Australian of the Year, expressed a similar sentiment recently). The public sector is hard work …but it’s exciting, varied and challenging and at the end of the day you feel you have made a difference.  I strongly recommend it as a career.
How do you use your position on the Board to tackle gender bias? (To achieve gender equity?)
One measure of gender equity is the representation of women in the workforce. In an organisation of 9267 people, 74.4% are women; on the Board five of the nine Directors are women.  In that respect we are doing well, but there is much more to be done. The Board’s role is to ensure the right policies, training and support are in place. And further, we need assurance that the suite of policies are being implemented effectively across the organisation - policies with respect to equity, diversity and inclusion; recruitment and promotion; bullying and harassment; flexible work arrangements; job share arrangements; and that support mechanisms such as WEHO officers (Workforce Equity and Harassment Officers’ network) and an Employee Assistance Program; and training in cultural diversity and leadership development are working effectively to ensure our workplace is inclusive and equitable. As leaders in the organisation we also strive to model appropriate behaviour and attitudes.

What advice do you wish you received at age 25?
There are two bits of advice that stand out:

  1. Identify the work that is most satisfying to you and focus on that.
  2. Have the courage to do what is right, even if it is not popular.

Do you see yourself as an inspirational role model?
To be successful leaders need to have a style focused on inspiring and supporting staff to do their very best. Success in the businesses I have led has always been about people, people, people ... by recruiting the right people, guiding and supporting them, you encourage them to excel. I have been very fortunate in the leadership roles I have held to have had wonderful staff that were very committed to providing high levels of service and really did go that extra mile - very similar to our staff at Gold Coast Health.

Last updated 09 Mar 2018