A journey to leadership and a fair go

Issue 22 – November 2010

Carol Stigley, former Standards Council member, shares her journey to leadership roles and some key business tips.

Carol Stigley is Denmark's Consul-General in New Zealand and Chair of the Hospitality Standards Institute. Carol has also served on the Standards Council, which governs Standards New Zealand, the national Standards body.

Carol's leadership roles have been extensive – they include Chief Executive Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Chief Executive Local Government New Zealand, and a wide range of directorships. Carol recently completed 7 years' service on the Standards Council. Here, she shares her career path and approach to new challenges when women hit the 'glass ceiling'.

Timaru born, Carol won a national scholarship to the Canterbury university, the first of three siblings to attend university. She completed a BA in history and political science and she met her future husband while at Canterbury.

Carol started work at the then Department of Industries and Commerce. 'I wanted to work overseas but soon found out I had to work my way up. I was lucky to have brilliant bosses who channelled my energy, since I realise now I was over-enthused!

'The department had a 2-year rotation policy – it hired you as a 'good mind' and moved you around. I had many different micro careers in exports, import licensing policy, investment, helping to manage the Trade Commissioner service, and on the project to review and restructure the Department into three different entities. Rotation trains you to be able to get up to speed quickly.'

Carol and Paul did a two-year OE, working in Britain before returning to Wellington, where Carol started getting promotions and working in junior management back in the department.

'Women often got very high performance ratings but were not getting shortlisted for overseas positions, seemingly because we were married. We felt we were not getting a fair go.

'It was International Women's Year, 1975. We got stroppy and complained to the State Services Commission about discrimination. Twenty-four hours later we had an appointment with the big boss and his two deputies. We were terrified!

'They argued that a posting wouldn't be straightforward for a married woman. We said that naturally we would talk to our husbands before applying, just as a married man would talk to his wife about any posting.

'Then they argued that they had sent some 'single ladies' overseas, but it hadn't worked out. We assured them that as were married we were more stable and likely to stay in the job. We could see the 'light bulbs' switching on in their heads as we talked.

'After another round of overseas posting applications we started getting interviews. Within a year, three out of four of us had postings overseas! I worked in London as the Assistant Trade Commissioner. I have a lot of respect for those bosses; they listened and gave it a go.'

Over 20 years Carol did 14 different jobs in the department, which then became the Ministry of Commerce. 'That was a wonderful and challenging period, specially working on import barriers reform with David Caygill as Minister. My juggling skills also became highly developed – with twin boys it was a hectic period. But I wouldn't change a thing; the skills you apply to family and work are amazingly similar!'

In 1989 Carol applied for the Chief Executive (CE) role at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, but wasn't shortlisted. 'I'd put a lot of thought into applying. I asked CEO John Belgrave for feedback and he argued that I had specialised in the import side for the last 5 years, whereas the CE job was about consumers. I persuaded him that my work in import licensing and tariffs was all about benefitting consumers. After a tough panel interview 3 days later, I got the job.'

Six years later Carol decided to look at the private sector. 'Somewhat to my surprise I ended up as CE at Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ). I brought a fresh approach to strengthen LGNZ's capabilities and its 'clout' with central government. That job ended in difficult circumstances where professional integrity had to come first, and it was time for me to think 'what next'.'

At LGNZ Carol had completed the 5-day Institute of Directors directorship course to support her CE role. 'After leaving LGNZ I wanted to run my own business. I've worked as a director on boards, including several voluntary boards, and I've built up an enjoyable business over the last 10 years. Over that decade I've also been active at both branch and national level in the Institute of Directors.

'At that time John Belgrave chaired the Standards Council and he asked me to join. I did so, bringing a broad perspective with an understanding of consumer policy. I believe that Standards are a central part of the economy and critical for consumers, technological development, productivity, innovation, and to make all our lives easier.

'As part of a board, governance principles dictate that you and your board colleagues are responsible for the strategic leadership of the organisation. For example, on the Standards Council we developed a new business model that is much more viable because of the strategic thinking at the Council and CE level, and in the Standards New Zealand team. Standards New Zealand is now operating in sectors it has not traditionally worked in including environment, health, and primary industry.'

Another form of leadership Carol enjoys is business mentoring. She lectures at a course for migrants at Wellington's Victoria University and mentors emerging managers and directors.

Into the future, Carol wants to maintain her work/life balance (she and her husband are intermediate plus Ceroc dancers) and continue to build on her directing skills. 'I enjoy board work and I get huge professional satisfaction from chairing the Hospitality Standards Institute.'

Carol's business tips

  • Put your hand up and volunteer for projects. It's how you learn and get your name known in an organisation.
  • If you have the opportunity to work in a district office, take it. It's a different dynamic and more like a family than in a head office.
  • If you don't get a job interview or if you get a job interview and don't get the job, follow up. Ask if you can have a chat about why and get some feedback – it will help you to move ahead.
  • Don't hesitate to say sorry if you need to. How hard is it? It can repair and even improve business relationships.
  • If you can, pick an organisation where there's plenty of room to move around and get different experience.
  • Have the best possible people around you. If you don't know something, find someone who does. But never appoint someone if you are in any doubt.
  • Use the power of intelligent questioning. Remember your board colleagues are probably keen for the answer but won't ask the question!
  • Start a blog, professional or personal – it's great fun!

This article was published in Her magazine October 2010 and was written by Rosalie Chamberlain at Standards New Zealand.

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