Your Brilliant Career Podcast
The go-to resource for getting the most out of your career
This podcast provides an injection of energy and practical insights to women who are committed to their career. I share tactics, tools and stories that inspire capable women to think bigger and unapologetically achieve the success they deserve.
One of my early realisations was that there are many unwritten rules about career success that no one tells you. Smart women are tired of generic career tips. They want accessible, relevant and practical tips. Each episode includes content that inspires women to step up in their career and experience the energy and reward of being more.
Your Brilliant Career is a podcast that aims to help more women rise and reach new heights in their career.
Renowned journalist and editor, Helen Trinca, is my guest on this podcast and I am thrilled that she has agreed to join us.
Helen is a highly regarded veteran of Australian newsrooms. She has been The Australian's European correspondent, Editor of The Weekend Australian Magazine, Managing Editor of The Australian, and more recently, editor of its business magazine, The Deal – which is fantastic by the way.
So over those five decades, she's worked in Australia, she’s worked overseas, and she has found the kind of lasting satisfaction in her working life that few achieve.
In this podcast, we talk about her career and women in the workplace. You’ll hear how passionate she is about access to childcare and she'll also share how she’s able to access this tremendous energy that she brings to her own career. It’s a super conversation!
Links we talked about on the podcast include:
RISE Accelerate program: https://www.yourbrilliantcareer.com.au/rise-accelerate
RISE Elite program: https://www.yourbrilliantcareer.com.au/rise-elite
Helen Trinca, The Australian: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/author/helen-trinca
My free guide - How to make your value more visible at work: www.yourbrilliantcareer.com.au/make-your-value-visible
Don't forget to subscribe!
Inspired? Looking for more?
We are always creating, innovating and sharing at Your Brilliant Career.
Connect with us to stay ahead of the game and if you loved this episode, we would be incredibly grateful if you shared it via your socials or left a review!
How many media professionals can you name with a stellar career in journalism that has spanned almost five decades?
Renowned journalist and editor Helen Trinca is my guest today and I am thrilled that she has agreed to join us.
I interviewed Helen in 2016 for my book, Woman of Influence, and I loved that conversation. You can DM me on Instagram if you’d like a copy – Gillian Fox Group.
When I launched my book, Helen kindly agreed to join a panel discussion with 3 or 4 other women from the book. To say that she stole the show would be an understatement. Both the audience and the panelists were captivated.
Helen has a natural ability to engage and entertain, combined with her sense of confidence and intelligent approach to every topic. She was such a standout. It felt like I had sourced paid talent for the event!
So, as many of you would know, Helen is a highly regarded veteran of Australian newsrooms. She has been The Australian's European correspondent, Editor of The Weekend Australian Magazine, Managing Editor of The Australian, and more recently, editor of its business magazine, The Deal – which is fantastic by the way.
So over those five decades, she worked here, she’s worked overseas, finding the kind of lasting satisfaction in her working life that few achieve.
Helen has also authored three non-fiction books, including Waterfront, Better Than Sex and Madeleine. She even won the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for non-fiction.
Today, we get to talk about her career and women in the workplace. You’ll hear how passionate she is about access to childcare and she also shares how she’s able to access this tremendous energy that she brings to her own career. It’s a super conversation, so let’s dive in.
Gillian Fox: Helen, it is a pleasure to have you here today and a wonderful opportunity to interview you yet again. Such a treat.
Helen: Yeah, pleasure for me, as well. Thank you.
Gillian Fox: Perhaps you could give us a little bit of a snapshot of your career journey to date.
Helen: Well, I started in journalism more than 50 years ago, which is extraordinary really. But that's what I've done all the time, been a journalist in various roles, various papers, and it's been a wonderful career, actually. But I started as a cadet, I just kept on working and it's a very interesting field, actually, because you find yourself... It's such a small field in some ways that you got jobs because they could see your work. I didn't have to do lots of interviews for jobs, I didn't have to really chase jobs particularly. And I'm just delighted now that I'm still working. I'm working four days a week now, not full-time. It's not so pressurized and it's great and that's allowed me to stay in the field for quite a long time, really.
Gillian Fox: Yeah, it's amazing. I have such admiration for journalists, Helen. I've never told you that before. But I see journalism as such a creative craft. It’s exceptional. And five decades, wow, that's incredible.
Helen: I mean it's stressful at times and I guess I was a lot more stressed when I was younger, but these days it's really good. It's an interesting thing that the longer you stay in a job doing it, actually, the better you get at it and the easier it gets in some ways and the more confident you become. So, if there's one message to... If you are interested in a career, you can really bet on the fact that you're going to get better at it. If you practice a craft for longer, you're likely to become better at it.
Gillian Fox: Yeah, absolutely. But I'm sure you've seen that newsroom evolve in the most extraordinary way over that period of time, from a technological point of view and a craft point of view.
Helen: Yes, indeed. I mean it's been extraordinary. And, of course, the last three years when we've been home working remotely, which was a thing that was unheard of for journalism. Everyone thought we must be all together. We must be in the newsroom. We couldn't possibly create a paper with people working from their bedrooms and their kitchens. But when we had to we did, and it's been good. And many of us, of course, have really thrived working remotely. I've found that I get a lot of work done. And I do go into the office occasionally, but not really on a regular basis.
Look, as time goes on, I think there'll be a requirement from employers to spend more time in the office and to really specify which days you're going to be in and to make it a more routinised operation. And I'm not against it. I think I can understand that. From an employer point of view that's necessary. From an employee point of view, I think if you're motivated and you're good at working by yourself and from home, there's nothing better in some ways. It's pretty amazing how much work you can get done if you're not interrupted by other problems. Well, they're not problems, but I mean they're other interactions with people.
In terms of difference here, I mean the difference from the old days of print and a composing room downstairs with hot metal, all that sort of thing, to a computerised setting and now to digital production. And you think perhaps you'll never learn it, but the last couple of years I've actually learned a lot about production and that's amazing. It is just amazing. I still love that whole process of everyday a newspaper is put out. And it's kind of a minor miracle.
Gillian Fox: So coming from the media industry, which has traditionally had a history of being male dominated, I'm sure the newsroom earlier on in your career had a lot of blokes in it, Helen.
Helen: Yeah. Even now.
Gillian Fox: Well, well I don't know what it's like now. So I-
Helen: It's far more feminized. There's far more women now but there are still quite a lot of men. But yeah, I haven't done the numbers recently but it probably is more half and half these days.
Gillian Fox: Okay. But in that earlier period where it was more male dominated, how did you navigate some of those challenges?
Helen: Yeah. I think what's interesting about someone of my age, when you really grew up in an era where you did sort of cede authority to men very easily. We ceded authority to the men in your family and then we went to work and in some ways you didn't question the fact that the men were in charge. So it became a slow kind of recognition on my part, probably, over a period of years to sort of understand that even though they were in charge, they weren't necessarily better than us and they weren't necessarily better at their jobs than us, and they weren't necessarily more able.
So look, I don't think I've had a really difficult time navigating. I think that I would feel the younger people and other people may find much more difficulty. I personally haven't had a great deal of difficulty because I haven't really pushed against it terribly.
It is so much more equal now in terms of attitudes to things. And I think, also, as you get older what you find is that younger men of a younger generation, men in their 40s, I mean they're very different from the older men, my colleagues of that time. They're much more, I think, respectful of women. They're much more immediately understanding that women have got something to contribute. I think if you're thinking of attitudes in the 70s when I started in journalism, it really was even the best-intentioned men and the nicest younger men, had certain ideas about patriarchal societies and the whole way that things operated that they couldn't help but sometimes think that they actually knew more than you did. I think now it's completely different. I do feel that with younger men, they really do treat women professionally. I feel that they really treat people equally. They really treat you as an equal.
Gillian Fox: Which is lovely.
Helen: It really comes from within. I don't think it's even something that the younger men need to remind themselves of. It sort of almost comes automatically, which is wonderful.
Gillian Fox: Yeah, it is wonderful. And I think we're even going to see even better when I look at my son who's 20, Helen. They're so impartial to racial, gender.
Helen: What's great about is it sort of just not an issue. Whereas, I think over maybe men of 50 might still have to remind themselves about it but I think a man of 30 or younger doesn't need... They say "What is the problem? What are you talking about?" Which is great.
Gillian Fox: Yeah, it is great. It is great. Now a lot of successful women, and men I'm delighted to say at this stage of the game, put a hold on their careers to start and raise a family. What sort of advice would you give to women who are returning to the workforce after an extended paternal break? Because it can be hard, that reentry.
Helen: Definitely. Look, I have to be honest because of course I didn't have a family, and I've never had to consider that issue. I've never had children and it hasn't been an issue for me, so I've just been able to work when I wanted to and as much as I wanted to. I think for young women now trying to negotiate this, I would say take your time out for babies and remember that the working life is a very long one now. I'm 72 and you're still having some great periods of time, and periods of work. And I think that you can take 10 years out really and go “backwards”, and come back into the workforce and make a lot of progress.
So, I think women have often been frightened, young women are frightened, about leaving and thinking they're going to really be discounted, they're never going to get back. I just don't think that's so true anymore. And also, particularly at the moment with a tight labor market and a search for talent, I think there's a lot of opportunity. So I suppose I'd say don't panic. Don't feel that you have to get it all done simultaneously, the career and the family. At the same time, the other advice is to keep pushing for as much childcare as you can get. Really good childcare, inexpensive childcare, available childcare. That's I think our biggest problem, our biggest hurdle.
Gillian Fox: Yeah, most definitely. I mean the pandemic, I think, has been really great for women just because of the more favorable work conditions. I think that's great from a reentry point of view. But, and this is a little bit of a controversial question, do you think organizations are responsible for reskilling or upskilling or reentry programs for women?
Helen: Up to a point, really. To be honest, I think a lot of it has to be individual. I think the idea of people retraining staff is good, but it only really works if the company itself is so short of labor, so needing to do it, that they will do it. Tacked on programs that sort of say this is a good thing for women, good thing for the company, this is a social responsibility, it's a civic responsibility. I don't think those sort of programs really work. The ones that work the best, I think, is if an employer is really desperate for staff and understands that part of the process is actually creating that talent and those skills.
The other thing that I don't really understand is how much reskilling you can do outside of a job when you are mid-career, say, and you need to go back in. Where you are going to learn those skills, to be honest, is in the workplace, is in the job. I mean I've never been very keen on people going off and doing lots of certificates outside. I'm going to do a certificate in IT, a certificate in this. You can do it and it can cost you money and you can get the certificate, but I'm just not convinced that when you front up to a job that there's a match there between what you may have learned to get that's certificate and the job you're actually trying to do.
And look, it's a particular bias of mine, I suppose, learning on the job, even for knowledge workers. I mean obviously I had a basic, good university education, as much education as you can get. But once you're in the workforce, I think the upskilling and the retraining, I think probably the best of it comes from doing the work.
Gillian Fox: I think so too. Look at university. I mean you can do HR or marketing, but until you get into the job and really understand how you bring that to life... And a lot of the time it's not even stuff that you learnt through the three or four years that you studied. So true.
So figures are regularly reported in the media, including The Australian, about the lack of women in the executive leadership role. We know that. It's crazy because we've got half of employees in Australia are women yet we've only got less than 20% of CEOs, about a third are in management, around the same for boards. So we're underrepresented, there's no doubt about that. What more do you think organisations can be doing to address this gender imbalance?
Helen: I feel as if organisations are doing a lot already. I mean the big ones, the corporate small business is completely different, obviously. There's so many programs, there's so much motivation, there's so much goodwill and they are identifying women and giving them positions. They're going out of their way to give permissions to meet targets. I think it might now be a bit of a matter of time. And I think all they can do is, in a way, keep doing what they're doing, keep looking for the women and the talent. And look, there is unconscious bias, I guess, and as I said before I think younger people don't have that so much, so that all comes through and there's a sort of evolution, really, and I think we'll see more and more women in the top jobs.
So no, I can't think of a specific thing that I think that a corporation needs to do other than provide the parental leave. The more they can do that, the more open they are about that, the more flexible work they can do once you're in the job, and the more they can do to also push for some really good childcare. Again, it's those basic issues about being able to care for your children.
One of the big problems of course, I think, and you'd agree with this, I think having had a son, is when they're in school age. That is the biggest problem for parents. Actually, childcare is not such a problem that your kid leaves school at 3:00, 3:30, that is a truncated day for a parent unless you've got other sorts of help. And so, I don't know, I just wonder if in 20 years there'll be different sorts of approach to the school hours even.
Gillian Fox: What about the 16 weeks of holidays?
Helen: Yeah, yeah. That's gotten worse in our lifetime, hasn't it? It used to be shorter and they added on a couple more. Yeah, I really don't know. I was the managing editor for a long time with The Australian, up until a couple of years ago and really, to be honest, I don't know how women with kids managed. And many of them really did. I mean they were wonderful. But the amount of work and effort they had to put in... And in those days it wasn't possible really to stay home. You could go home and finish off work at home, but it is much better now. But it's a real drama. So corporates need to... I suppose the biggest thing is they need to appreciate and truly understand in their bones, if they want women to go through the ranks they really had to cut them a lot of slack at various times of their life cycle.
Gillian Fox: Yeah. Helen, I love that you've put a positive spin on that because I think we are so quick to talk about all the things that aren't working. But I agree with you. I think organisations are working very hard. I think there's a lot of initiatives internally that are great, and just that commitment alone is definitely progress.
I have two little things that I rant on about. And one is in the big organisations, there's a high attrition rate at that level just before executive. So if the women are opting out at that stage then the pool is smaller and there's less chance of us getting more women up to that next level. I would love the organisations to be more prudent, I suppose, in understanding why they're leaving, really why they're leaving, and looking at that data and understanding it. Because I'm sure there's some great lessons to learn.
Helen: That's right.
Gillian Fox: And the other thing is sponsorship. There's a lot of research that says people sponsor people like us with careers like us. So if you're a bloke, your unconscious bias will lead you to wanting to support and advocate for someone like yourself. So I think education and awareness, and I do think companies are onto this, but there are still opportunities for us to progress.
Helen: So I wonder why people do opt out just when they're about to make the big time, so to speak. And I suppose it's a variety of reasons. Sometimes people just don't want that extra pressure and responsibility of the really big jobs, I think, and that would happen be happening for men, as well. I mean there might be a lot of men opting out at that point too, because it's a funnel and you get narrower and narrower. So I'm not sure but I suppose the other thing that can happen for women is they then become carers of their parents, as well.
Gillian Fox: Some of the research, Helen, says that they are unsatisfied. They're getting great feedback in their reviews, but they don't have a clear trajectory. And they don't have enough role models, female role models in the business, and the role models there perhaps aren't projecting what they want. It's not reflective of how they want their career to evolve. So it is interesting, but there's more that we can learn there. Do you think women can do things for themselves to support the gender equality progress?
Helen: Yeah, well a couple things. One is obviously a fair amount of self-belief, which is good because they are pushing against the tide and there's a lot of conditioning that we've all had to not feel that we're good enough. So that's a big one. I think the other thing they can do is to put their heads down and work really hard, as well. I think there can be a tendency for younger people, maybe younger women, and this is a bit of a generalisation, to feel that they should get there faster than they are able to. And sometimes their expectations are very high, but not necessarily success as a female, but just success anyway. So I think recognising that it takes time.
I think recognising the sort of sacrifices that you make in a big corporate job, whether you're a male or a female, are quite intense and with being prepared to do that, working out whether you're prepared to do that because male or female, you're going to miss out on a fair bit of family life, regardless. But I do think the other thing is the more pressure they can put on politicians and governments and society, generally, to recognise basic things like childcare, just so that is easier to do. So that even if you don't aspire to the biggest corporate job, you just want to keep working that it's not a nightmare scenario as soon as you have a couple of kids. That it's easier.
And some companies do make it easier. I mean, I don't know the details, but we know that even in countries like Germany, for example, there's kind of free preschool, kindergarten level education. It's understood and expected, irrespective whether you are working or not, that your child will go into a free sort of childcare program at the age of two or three. So, there's a lot more provision.
Gillian Fox: We're a world away from that. I did read yesterday, and I was quite delighted, and it's for entrepreneurs not the corporate world, but Business Chicks, which is a networking group. You may have heard of it, they do a lot of events and things. But they have opened a shared office working space, this is how I understood it, and you can bring your kids.
Helen: Yeah. That's amazing, isn't it?
Gillian Fox: Yeah, that's good. That's good.
Helen: Look, I think it's tricky bringing your kids, bringing your dogs to work, all that sort of stuff. I mean I'm an offender, really. I used to find it hard to think you could do that and really realistically work when I see sometimes that occasionally a parent would bring their kids in. I mean it's very disruptive to the parent, because the kids really can't cope with being at work with you. So I'm not 100% sure that that's the answer, but I think being able to know that your kids are cared for and in a good situation if that's what you choose to do. And also, obviously, as I said before, if you opt out and don't do a lot of full-time work for a few years and having the courage, the self-belief to know that you can jump back in again, is really important.
I think confidence is really important for women at that stage of their life, as well, because they lose a lot of it. They are suddenly thrust back after children sometimes into a real caring role. And all of the skills that they've learned, and all of the decisiveness they've had, and the sort of power, in a way, that they've had in a workplace sometimes kind of evaporates and they no longer see themselves as relevant. It's just about the kids now. To some extent, child minding and parenting is extremely tedious work. I mean there's a lot of tedium involved in that but it's part of the deal. So if you're going to decide to do it, I guess being able to recognise that you can go back and work later is really a big thing. But it's kind of a confidence that you can somehow make your life work through the various phases of life.
Gillian Fox: And it is a big adaptation. I remember maternity leave was just such a rude shock. People used to respect me and listen to me.
Helen: Yes, that's right. Kind of lack of relevance, or that is felt. It's a perception of lack of relevance, it's not the case.
Gillian Fox: Absolutely. And I think for women going back in, as well, a lot happens in the business environment in 12 months. A lot can transpire. But it's all doable and I think to your point, a lot of it is in our head and perhaps imposter syndrome, or whatever, that we bring to it.
Gillian Fox: One of the things I admire greatly about you is your energy. The fact that you've done five decades in a pretty intense industry that requires a lot of energy. How do you access and maintain your tremendous energy? Because some days must require some mental toughness.
Helen: Look, I think I'm lucky in one way because I've been pretty healthy. I've been lucky, and good health is really a gift as much as anything else, and luck. But no, I reckon the energy comes actually not necessarily from your physical situation when it comes to work, it's how curious you are and how much your mind is engaged. So one is energized and you think of that as a physical thing, but it actually, I think, comes from a mental disposition towards work and to what it is. And I'm curious about things and I've loved the kind of interrogation process that you can undertake when you're a journalist, and learning new things all the time, and the speed of it, and the immediate sort of gratification when you see your story in the paper or you see a paper produced.
But I think that energy and interest in work is important. Look, not everyone's born to work, but I feel in some ways that I've always really enjoyed the process of work. Actually, working has never been a problem for me. And I feel sometimes if I'd gone into a different profession, I would've felt the same. It didn't really matter which job you were doing, and I was just lucky enough to find one that's been great. But I think the energy ends up being mental in some ways. The origin of the energy is probably in your head, and your approach to the work and interest in your work, rather than any physical exercise that you do or anything.
Gillian Fox: Yeah. But I remember when I interviewed you all the way back in 2016, you were talking about your Mum and you were saying your Mum was just such a positive human being. And I can see that has rubbed off on you, too.
Helen: That's true. And actually my mother died three years ago at the age of 94. So she had a good life and she stayed engaged. Physically, she deteriorated, but her mental health was really fantastic and her brain was engaged. But she died actually just before COVID, which was actually a blessing because she was in a nursing home by then. But yeah, sometimes I think you inherit these things, your approach to work. She never minded a bit of work.
Gillian Fox: Now any good career comes with challenges. I mean all the people that we would probably admire have probably had their ups and downs. What sort of advice would you give to women, Helen, who are going to come up against the inevitable disappointment or failures along the way? And I'm sure you've got your own war stories that have happened along the way, too.
Helen: Yeah, I mean it's true. I've got dumped from jobs a couple of times. I didn't lose my job, but I got dumped from my level. And one in particular about, I don't know, 10 or 11, 12 years ago maybe now, felt very hard to take at the time. And you feel battered initially. And I think how I got through that was to say, "Well, I'm not going to show anyone that I feel battered. I'm just going to do the new job. It's a good job. I'm very lucky. I'll move on to that and sort of try to do it with a bit of dignity and grace". And that helped a lot, actually. And I think just to keep on going was what's been good for me.
And I later moved into a job as managing editor. I liked parts of it, I didn't like other parts, but I knew that if I kept going with that, that it was good to have a job like that at that stage of my life. Because I could have been made redundant many moons earlier, a lot of the journalists were being made redundant, losing their jobs. It sounds a bit sort of basic, but in some ways, I think, suck it up and move on. Unless you've got to go and find another job, which then you need a completely different set of skills.
But if you are marked down, or you lose a promotion or something like that at some point, I think again, that long-term view is good because eventually for most of us, things change. And particularly now our workplaces change quickly. The boss that didn't like you goes, and then perhaps you’re in favour again. All those sorts of things can happen so I kind of think a long-term view. But also, I suppose, to be honest, sort of recognising... I think at times when I did lose jobs, my bosses weren't completely wrong in their decisions. I learned from that. I could see where I wasn't doing it properly, or I wasn't the right person for that job. It's not so much you're not doing it properly, you're trying hard, you're efficient enough, but it's not really your spot. And I think understanding that and then making sure that next time you go into a job that it is more your spot, I think that can be a real learning process.
Gillian Fox: Retrospect is a beautiful thing once you get out of that emotional turmoil. Helen, a final question. If you could change just one thing in corporate Australia that would support the progress of women, what do you think it would be?
Helen: Look, I've already touched on it. Really, I do think it's probably childcare, that specific, sensible thing. Look, years ago I didn't believe it because I didn't have children and I didn't actually know the struggle of it all. And I saw lots of people just leave completely in the 70s and never come back to the profession. I saw others struggle on and even that has evolved. But I do think if we had better childcare, more available, easier to access, cheaper, all those things, that would be a very good thing.
And years ago we were arguing that it should be the responsibility of the corporations. They were meant to build the creche downstairs. They're meant to do that. That was meant to be their job. They managed somehow to pass it on to government to do and make it government's responsibility to subsidise childcare. And that's fair enough, but I think we just need more of it. I don't know, maybe corporate should think about whether or not they actually should be providing more childcare themselves. I don't know. That would be a turnaround for them because they have not done that in the past, really.
Gillian Fox: Yeah, it'd be great to see one corporate give it a go. And really give it a good go.
Helen: Yeah, maybe that's what has to happen more. I mean, I know the whole childcare thing is there are a lot of corporations or companies that own childcare centers. I understand that. But the subsidies basically coming to the parents from government to parents. And, other than that, I do think we've kind of really made the leap from corporations not recognising the need to assist and promote women to really recognizing it. So I think the maintenance of that is the only thing that's needed, but I think that will happen because of the pressure of women coming through for it to happen, as well.
Gillian Fox: Helen, I have to ask you this final question and it's to do with your wonderful book Better Than Sex, How a Whole Generation Got Hooked on Work. Are we still hooked?
Helen: Actually, I don't know that we are. It's an interesting one, that one, because I wrote that book, Catherine Fox and I, my colleague, wrote that book and it was-
Gillian Fox: Catherine's wonderful. You're such a duo, I tell you.
Helen: So that was in 2004, which is nearly 20 years ago, unbelievably. And look, I don't think we are. I think we're seeing now, and COVID sort of tipped people over the edge, and the pandemic, and working from home, and hybrid work. And look, absolutely I think a new generation is saying, let's get a better balance. I'm not going to get all my goodies from work. I'm not going to work for the man all the time. I'm going to resign and try and get a better job somewhere. I'm going to go pick up the kids after school and then go back and work. So I think it is different. But look, I think to your earlier point, it's still incredibly important for a full, rich life, work, whether it's paid or unpaid to be honest, but paid work obviously is what we're talking about, is incredibly important. It's central, really.
Gillian Fox: Helen, thank you so much for sharing. Thank you for your insights, and your stories, and your energy. It's just been wonderful.
Helen: Thank you, Gillian. That's great. Lovely.
Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I would love to give you something for FREE to help you with your career right now.
If you look in the show description, there's a link there to my free 16-page guide on how to make your value more visible at work. In this guide, I share three strategies to amplify your accomplishments at work and practical ways to boost self-confidence.
The insights and tips in this guide are the same I share with my one-on-one coaching clients inside the RISE program. If you would access to this guide, click the link in the description or go to www.yourbrilliantcareer.com.au/make-your-value-visible. See you soon.