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COUNT HER IN: Exclusive Interview with Janine Williams

05-Mar-2024 11:11 | Cassidy Lau (Administrator)

UN Women Australia has announced its theme of International Women’s Day 2024 as: Count Her In: Accelerating Gender Equality Through Economic Empowerment. At the Western Sydney Business Connection we wholeheartedly embrace this theme! We present, in collaboration with Westgate Executive Search, a leadership interview series featuring six influential women in our region. With an exclusive article each day leading up to the 8th of March, we celebrate prominent female leaders shaping Western Sydney's business, social and economic landscape. Explore their perspectives, experiences, and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In our third feature article, we hear about the career path of Janine Williams, a successful entrepreneur who founded and developed The Epiphany Group into a highly influential business. Read on as we delve into Janine's experiences and lessons learned, from overcoming challenges to embracing inclusivity in the workplace. Through her story, we'll hear valuable insights into defying stereotypes, building a thriving business, and finding success as a woman in the business world.

Janine Williams

Founder & CEO of The Epiphany Group

Janine Williams is the founder of The Epiphany Group, a highly successful consulting business that helps organisations scale and grow while providing the programs and services that support that growth. She worked as a trainer and a coach in a wide range of industries, including retail, FMCG, franchising, hospitality, manufacturing and construction companies. She has a wealth of knowledge about how business and industries operate and is convinced that successful companies are driven by empowered teams at all levels.

Jacqueline Clements: You have founded and developed The Epiphany Group into a highly successful and influential business. How did your career path lead to this point?

Janine Williams: My career journey has been far from conventional, working in many different roles in a wide variety of industries. I grew up in a small regional town, with 200 people and this environment offered very limited opportunities or resources that matched my aspirations.

I focused on education because I understood even at a young age that education was an equaliser. I had two priorities: doing well at school and leaving town. I left home two days after I finished my HSC to move to Sydney, six hours away. My parents thought it was insane and they couldn’t understand why I would want to do that.

When I was at school my aim was to become an English professor. I really loved learning and wanted to help other people also find a love for learning. But I took a different path and landed initially in hospitality, moved on to retail and franchising and then spent time in the corporate world. My corporate and franchising roles included supporting businesses in their growth trajectory, as a company ourselves we focused on growing to then go through an IPO process which eventually saw the business got to a public listing. Over time I began to realise that I didn’t like the corporate politics and that the work didn’t align with my moral and ethical values.

It was time for a change. I left my corporate career and decided to spend more weekends at home with my children. This period coincided with significant changes in safety legislation, an area I have always been passionate about. I quickly realised that it was going to be a game changer in many industries, particularly in construction. I had this vision that we needed to change the way people looked at safety, empower every single person to contribute to a safe workplace. I wanted to be part of this development. The government provided funding for training organisations to upskill and educate people on the new legislation and I stepped into the opportunity. I loved talking to people about safety and was passionate about it. I also understood the constraints of business and industry. During this phase of training, people started to urge me to become a coach, encouraging me to get a coaching qualification. And Epiphany, the company was born from the idea that I could help business owners see things in a different way through my experience and straightforward approach. The intent was they would have that lightbulb moment that would take them and their business to the next level.

JC: One of the aims of International Women’s Day is to empower women to overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities. From your experience, what are some of the common challenges for inclusivity in the workplace?

JW: From my experience the government is incredibly effective in providing KPIs and targets in their contracts for diversity and inclusion. This helps organisations with government contracts to implement actions towards achieving these KPIs. One of the things I learned in working with CEOs and managing directors of larger companies is that while they prioritise inclusion, it can often become one priority amongst a number of priorities.

In my view, the best place to start is education. One of the biggest challenges for inclusion is that people just don’t know how to put good measures in place. They don’t know how to break the vision of inclusivity down into achievable steps. They need to see examples. One of the companies that has set a good example is Mirvac under Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz. She recently left as the CEO, but when she started, she put a target of 50% gender equality for every level at Mirvac. And she achieved it. This really is a best practice case study for businesses in Australia. We can learn what worked and what didn’t work from this achievement and others like it.

We shouldn’t shy away from admitting what doesn’t work. Doing so helps people understand the nuances in their industries and what might be effective for them. We also need more open discussions about unconscious bias and acknowledge the importance of diverse perspectives. When we approach differences with curiosity and a desire to learn, we have a solid starting point. And that starting point is for most businesses the hardest thing.

JC: What role did inclusivity play in your career, have you experienced any barriers in your trajectory and how did you overcome these?

JW: In the early phases of my career, I have certainly experienced stereotyping. There was the perception that when you had children, you would no longer have the same level of commitment to your role. At the time this was openly discussed by senior management. Unfortunately, I think that this notion still permeates in some organisations today. However paternity leave has assisted in shifting this conversation and the some of the perception of who does the child raising.

Of course, we now have a much better understanding of the fact that a career pause is not a step backwards. It can provide you with life experience, enable personal growth and the ability to see things in a more holistic way.

I learned that a really good way to overcome barriers to promotion is having a role model, finding someone who exemplified who I wanted to be. During my career I had several role models who inspired me with how they approached challenges and opportunities. I would advise everyone to find a role model or a mentor.

Besides a mentor, it is also important to find a sponsor. If you are in a large organisation, you need to have someone more senior who respects your work ethic and your contribution, otherwise you just don't make it to the top.

The other thing that I did was make sure I got results. I would present my results in a factual way, communicating what targets I reached and what this meant in terms of profitability for the business. Demonstrating your value through positive contribution, a strong work ethic and a positive mindset will help overcome a lot of barriers in most industries.

JC: To conclude this interview, what advice do you have for women who like you, plan to leave their job and start their own business?

JW: I coach a number of young women who are doing exactly that. Their enthusiasm is so contagious, and their knowledge and skillset is exceptional. That is a great place to start. But they also need to put in the hours without seeing results for a long time. New business owners will need to put a lot of sweat into their business and that sweat equity is probably one of the most challenging things. All this effort and so little reward.

The piece of advice that I would really like to give to young female entrepreneurs is that they need to be prepared to put their hand up and ask for help. There is going to be so much that they do not know. They will find that people genuinely want to help, and they need to be ready to explain what type of help they need. This is a skill in itself. They also need to think about how they can help somebody else. Business is very much about reciprocity. Offer help to people, one day someone may be able to help you as well. That is the foundation for any successful business.

Lastly my most important piece of advice, and that is having people around you who believe in you and cheer you on. If you are in a room with people who celebrate you and want the best for you, you are in the right room.

More about The Epiphany group:

Presented in collaboration with:

By Jacqueline Clements
CEO, Westgate Executive Search

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