Asia Pacific Opinions Updates

Who runs the world?

Direct Selling Australia executive director, Gill Stapleton, says more women need to put their hands up for leadership positions. 

As a woman currently in a leadership position, I am excited about the prospects presented for women today. The changing dynamic of work and culture carries huge opportunities for stepping into leadership roles, we just have to identify them and then ask! It’s not always the easiest path, but it is the most rewarding.

As a leader of any organisation, male or female, we need to stay relevant. Disruption and innovation are talked about a lot, but in my mind, it’s about staying relevant to the needs of the consumer. In this case, that is my employees. For me, staying relevant means being responsive and providing flexibility, both in hours and location, so that I attract and retain the best team that I can. It is about providing a culture that fosters growth and leadership, trust and transparency, and one that recognises potential leaders.

I haven’t always been in a position to be able to do this. My career started in teaching and now, as the executive director of Direct Selling Australia, a peak body for an industry that empowers entrepreneurs to run their own business, I lead a small but effective team. It hasn’t always been easy, and I have made some tough decisions along the way, but every decision has been made on the basis of trust and transparency.

It’s not easy to ask for rewards or promotion that may appear as self-serving. But we shouldn’t let fear stop us from asking. I once asked the founder of a previous company I was working for if I could be considered for a vacant leadership role in Australia. I was living in the U.K. with my husband and two young children. I was never considered for the role because it was assumed I would not be prepared to relocate… Three months later we arrived, as a family, in Sydney. You have to ask the question and be prepared for the answer. Perhaps I was being little self-serving, but I had the skills and capability to do the job. I had nothing to lose by asking, and everything to gain.

If you are of service to others, value your strengths and what you have to offer, then you are in a position to ask for a promotion, a salary increase, or new work conditions – whatever you need to thrive. A great employer will recognise this. For many this can be hard, especially when it is not in our nature to do so. But if you have the skills, the attributes and the desire to serve your company, they will value that. They will respect you for asking, even if, in the first instance, you don’t get the response you were hoping for.

I have worked in the direct selling industry for more than 25 years. It is an industry that prides itself on personal development, and I have been privileged to learn from the best. Surrounding myself with champions (male and female) has allowed me to learn from some great people, and to seek advice and mentorship – a key to success.

I’ve always sought to work for people who I can learn from. One time I accepted a role for that sole purpose. He taught me strategy, crisis management and how to see the long game; I valued the leadership lessons he demonstrated and the time he took to pass them onto his team.

Direct selling is built on relationships. Being authentic in those relationships has enabled me, as a leader, to ensure that everything I do is aligned to my values of trust and transparency. Being transparent can mean that you need to ask for help. A challenge for many, but particularly when you are a leader.

I still need 10 seconds of courage to ask for what I want, it’s still not easy, but coming from a place of service, knowing that I’m adding value, makes it easier.

I’ve had a different career to many, working full-time as a mother in the 1980’s, running my direct selling business in the 1990’s, and becoming a CEO at 40. It was different. It was not so accepted then as it is now.

That difference has defined me. It’s enabled me to have a wider view, to be agile, and respond to the demands of leadership as a woman. You can do the same.

Gillian Stapleton is executive director of Direct Selling Australia (DSA) and is the first woman to hold this position in the association’s history of almost 50 years. Stapleton is passionate about empowering others, particularly women, and runs marathons for fun.