International Women’s Day: Smashing the Glass Ceiling with UTS’s Leading Ladies


It’s International Women’s Day, and while women’s place in the workforce has come leaps and bounds in the last few decades, we still have a long way to go.

“What do you mean?” I hear you ask. Well, dear reader, here’s a very quick rundown of a few stats for women in the workforce from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency:

  •  Women make up 46.9% of the employed Australian workforce
  • They hold 13.7% of chair positions, 24.9% of directorships, and comprise 16.5% of CEOs
  • Compared to their male counterparts, women make 15.3% less full-time income – equating to an average of $253.70 less in their pocket each week

Despite these inequalities, Australia is home to some amazing women who are not only making waves in their chosen fields, but are revolutionising the workforce as a whole by being their totally awesome, passionate, and badass selves.

This week, we were lucky enough to have a few of UTS’s own leading ladies step forward with their career anecdotes, sharing stories of success, failure and those darn glass ceilings. They also provided some pretty vital advice and #careerinspo for those of you who are just starting to get stuck in to your career journeys.


Have you encountered the glass ceiling, and if so, how did you overcome it?

Liz Sullivan (Assistant Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Distinguished Professor of Public Health):

 Yes I’ve experienced the impact of glass ceilings, but I think that there are multiple glass ceilings. For me, the thing that was most supportive in getting through them was finding a mentor, finding a sponsor and also going on a ‘woman in leadership’ program. It equipped me with the skills and attributes to break through that ceiling.


My advice to anyone who has experienced it, or is experiencing it now, is to first of all find a support network. Find someone who you’re not necessarily working with but who can advise you on how best to navigate the glass ceiling. Ideally, there are programs that you can enrol in around women in leadership to give you the tools that you need to get through it.

Verity Firth (Executive Director, Social Justice and Former Minister for Education and Training in NSW)):

 I think all women at some point in their career encounter the glass ceiling. I think the way to overcome it is to have good friendships with other women and to have a good sense of humour about it. But most importantly, I think it’s important to understand what it is that’s confronting you.


So don’t internalise it, don’t suddenly say, “oh, I can’t be any good at my job then – oh, this must be my fault”. Understand that there are structural barriers that are often in your way as a woman.


You understand, you persevere, and you laugh at the silliness of sexism.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever done for your career?

Danielle McCartney (Manager, Sustainability, Program Management Office):

 Travel, definitely. I’ve lived, studied, and worked overseas, and it’s inspiring. It gives you a global perspective and it broadens your horizons.

Christina Ho (Senior Lecturer, Social and Political Science Programs):

 The best thing I’ve done for my career is to surround myself with people who are going to support me, so when I’m struggling with something there’s always people who are going to remind me that there’s life beyond whatever it is that I’m worried about.

Lan Snell (Director, Education Services, UTS Business School):

 The best thing that I’ve done for my career is ensured that I continued to invest in my education. So I’ve got four different qualifications, and they signal different shifts in my career as well. They’ve enabled me to pursue my passion, my dreams, and a shifting career.

If you could, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Jenna Price (Senior Lecturer, Journalism Program and Fairfax Columnist):

 The thing I would tell my 18-year-old self is that there’s a lot of time. Here I am at 60 and I’m still working full-time – I didn’t realise that at 18. I remember crying when I was 35 thinking my life is over and I’ve run out of time to do good things, but you’re going to be working ‘til you’re 70 girl, so do it.

Nicola Hazell (Director of SheStarts, a tech accelerator for female start-ups):

 I would tell my 18-year-old self the future is unpredictable, so don’t worry so much about the decision you’re making today affecting where you’re going to be in 10, 20 or 30 years.


Life is full of twists and turns and  – surprises, and as long as you’re doing something you’re passionate about, you’re following those things that really motivate you and get you out of bed every day, then your future is in good hands.

What does ‘resilience’ mean to you?

Nareen Young (Professor, Indigenous Policy (Indigenous Workforce Diversity), Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research):

 Resilience means Indigenous women. It means culturally diverse women. It means working class women. It means women who keep doing what they’re doing without fanfare and without fuss. It means women who just keep the world going round.

Verity Firth (Executive Director, Social Justice at UTS and Former Minister for Education and Training in NSW): 

 Resilience to me is being able to go on. It is about being able to say to yourself: “I appreciate what I’ve got in life”, and not worry so much all the time about what you don’t have. I think resilience is also about making sure that you have good relationships with people – not everything’s about work and career success. There are other ways to have success in life, like having deep and rich friendships, and doing interesting things and reading interesting books. I think resilience is about having a well-rounded life, and a good understanding of what matters in life.

What has failure taught you?

Professor Shirley Alexander (Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Education and Students):

 There’s a saying that if you want to increase your success rate, you have to be prepared to double your failure rate. That’s what I’ve learned from failure.

Liz Sullivan (Assistant Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Distinguished Professor of Public Health): 

 The thing I’ve learnt most from failure, and it really was in recent years, is that failure should be re-framed to failing forward. And that when you fail forward, you always learn something that contributes to your progress, innovation, learning. Now it may not always be great, but ultimately it propels you forward.


So I have one pretty notable failure: When I sat my HSC, I didn’t get the mark I expected to get. So I didn’t get into the course I thought I was going to get into. I started a university course at Sydney Uni, and I dropped out, which was quite unusual for my family. Then I went back to school, re-sat the HSC, and went into the course I was originally going to go into. So at the time it was a massive issue for me.


But, of course, it’s not, because once you rationalise it, it’s 4 or 5 months of work and then you reset. It’s given me enormous opportunities because I followed something I was passionate about and interested and I’ve been able to have a really wonderful career.


What’s the best advice you’ve been given by a mentor?

Margaret Petty (Executive Director, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, (Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Creative Intelligence Unit)): 

 I’ve had a number of people that I’ve really looked up to that were my idols or, in some ways, professional mentors. And when I’ve had the ability to work closely with them, and to see that they believe in me, and they believe in my capabilities, and that I’m not a lesser being but an equal being… I’ve found that incredibly inspiring, and something that I hope to share with others. It’s not a specific piece of advice, but it’s more of that reckoning, where you realise that we’re all humans trying to do our best and it’s important to focus on that rather than on someone being higher than you.

Liz Brett (Chief Executive Officer, ActivateUTS):

 It was from Tom O’Sullivan, my former boss, and he said to surround yourself with really good people, and then get out of their way!

And finally, what’s the most pressing issue for women these days?

Lan Snell (Director, Education Services, UTS Business School):

 We live in fantastic times at the moment. The #metoo movement is unparalleled and all of a sudden it’s given us license to discuss these kind of awkward situations: sexual harassment, the constant bullying and harassment that is in every workplace. So let’s not be naive about it, and not name it out.


For women in particular, there are a number of challenges, and they’re systemic issues that go all the way through. The literature gives us so many different examples of it, but for us I think today is the day. This is the moment for us. This is the moment for women to make that change possible. And I think it’s not just inspiration, it’s a very realistic challenge to have as well. I think sexual identity, sexual harassment, workplace, gender, inclusion – all these things should be part of our mandate for change.

Get involved

UTS has a ton of female-centric initiatives designed to connect women and smash through that glass ceiling. Check out clubs and societies for groups like Women in Engineering and IT, look at joining the UTS Women’s Collective, or learn more about what UTS is doing with the Athena SWAN initiative. 


By Mia Casey

By Mia Casey


Mia is a Sydney-based copywriter and content creator, who ran the UTS Careers Blog for five years since its conception in 2016.
Her freelance work focuses on branding development and helping companies create a cohesive identity narrative tailored for each of their platforms.
She enjoys piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.