Female representation: A driving force behind next-generation inspiration

Last updated on 13 March 2024

Anglicare Southern Queensland’s Chief Executive Officer Sue Cooke. [Source: Supplied]

There has been a slow but significant increase in female leadership representation during Sue Cooke’s 30-plus-year career in nursing and aged care. And now, Anglicare Southern Queensland’s Chief Executive Officer is using her experiences to guide and inspire the next generation of female leaders.

Having earned her stripes as a Registered Nurse before moving into more operational roles, Ms Cooke said she always found the lack of female representation in a female-dominated profession surprising. 

Despite the limited opportunities, Ms Cooke worked hard to progress. She told hello leaders there was plenty of natural progression through the ranks but it was the support from her female peers that repeatedly had the biggest influence.

“Nothing encourages women more than other strong women,” Ms Cooke said.

“As I progressed through my career […] there was a lot of encouragement from strong female colleagues, but I came up against issues around being on the same negotiating level as men. From my perspective, you were just grateful to even be at the table, let alone to feel that you had the voice to negotiate a salary.”

“That was my experience for a couple of decades and now I mentor the women coming through to help them find their voice, to be courageous and not feel any shame in representing themselves from a financial and career perspective.”

There has been a rise in the number of women in leadership positions over the years, including at the executive level, although there are still gender bias examples, including males enjoying greater longevity in their roles than their female counterparts.

Ms Cooke even highlighted the fact that male colleagues are still often more confident in negotiating wages or asking more direct and difficult questions during interviews. 

She said elements such as imposter syndrome are often to blame, and this is why she is working hard to help women find their voices in the workplace.

“When we achieve something in our career we often doubt ourselves or ask ‘How did I get here, why am I here?’. We all need to have the ability to reflect and talk to ourselves about our capabilities and our skill set to recognise that we do deserve to be on an equal economic playing field,” she said.

“When I say things like ‘I shouldn’t be a CEO because I’m not that much of a strategic thinker’ it can take other strong women to help me hold up the mirror. They highlight where I’ve been innovative and sought change. They see me as very strategic. And so when I sit and I talk with other women and I’m mentoring them I say we’re going to start with ‘Yes we can’ and work backwards.”

Creating opportunities for all women

Ms Cooke, who was recently elected to the Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) Board as QLD Director, spoke of two critical issues she wants to tackle within her organisation. 

One is ensuring that older women can live securely. She said Anglicare SQ is seeing a lot of women over 65 seeking support due to homelessness. With financial insecurity leaving them vulnerable, she wants to bring positive change today to create long-term support for women once they leave the workforce. 

“The overrepresentation of homeless women who are grandmothers is just daunting and frightening,” Ms Cooke said.

“This is what we would like to see as the big shift for 60 years; how do we not have more grandmothers coming through who are experiencing similar circumstances?”

“We have flexible working arrangements and we provide grants, scholarships and support for professional development. Then being supportive of the multiple roles women hold in society. Many women have to put things on hold because they’re going through key milestones in life and they’re not getting that opportunity to progress at the same rate as some male colleagues.”

In the same vein, Ms Cooke’s other goal is to create more opportunities for women from multicultural backgrounds within her workforce. Not only do women from racially and culturally diverse backgrounds often face more leadership barriers than their colleagues, but there is also the perception that family comes before a career. 

Overcoming deeply entrenched barriers, like the ones she faced at the start of her career, is incredibly important. Encouragement, support and opportunity are just some of the tools she wants to give her diverse workforce. 

“We’re here to provide opportunities and find out how can we help our women from multicultural backgrounds take on leadership positions while taking on the multiple roles they have as women in a busy household,” Ms Cooke said.

“We can say to them ‘You can be a leader in this country. In this culture you can be a leader, you can step up and you can have multiple roles in your life where you can be a caregiver and a mother and still be a leader or manager’.”

women in business
international womens day
women leaders
women in aged care
female ceo
female leadership
women in the workplace
anglicare southern queensland
Sue Cooke
strong women