She’s described as a trailblazer in business circles, working as a chair, board member and senior executive across a range of industries.
But Kathryn Fagg, AO, Chair of Boral Limited, still clearly remembers the day she was asked what it was like to get a job in engineering simply because she was a woman.
“It was my first day as a petroleum engineer and it was devastating that people might think that I got a job simply because I was female,” Ms Fagg said, speaking at the QUT Business Leaders’ Forum today at the Hilton Hotel.
“I didn’t have an overwhelming amount of confidence and I found working in that environment challenging. But luckily I had a spectacularly great boss who helped build my confidence.”
She moved on from the experience, becoming a champion for equity in the workplace, and for sponsoring those with the talent to do a job – whether male or female.
“I do think things are changing in Australian work environments and senior managers are now much more willing to stand up and say if things are not good enough,” she said. “But more needs to be done.
“I’m not a fan of quotas though because I think the term has too much baggage. I believe if we want change in the gender mix in the business world we need to set targets and track progress across many organisations and not just within them.”
A cancer diagnosis was a turning point in her career seven years ago, and a time when she realised that working as a senior executive was no longer an option.
“After the cancer treatment I didn’t have the crazy stamina any more and so made the decision to go onto boards. I grieved for about a year as I let go of my sense of self as a senior executive because I loved working in that area and I missed it,” she said.
“But I also felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude – not for the cancer that I’d developed – but for the career I’d had that may not have been possible if I’d been born 10 years earlier.”
Ms Fagg was a member of the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia for five years until 2018 and is the immediate Past President of Chief Executive Women. She was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) this year for her distinguished service to business and finance, to the central banking, logistics and manufacturing sectors, and to women.