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.



This is the third and final podcast with alumni from the RISE Program. Today I am talking with two great women from Unilever - one is based in Unilever Australia - Shihara and she is the Finance Director, and the other is Sarah, also Australian but currently working in the UK with Unilever in a senior HR role. They are women that have attended the RISE program and, in my mind, have really used the program experience to progress their careers.

I really think you’ll love listening to Sarah and Shihara today. They will share some of the interesting moments in their own careers, how they are thinking about things, what’s been hard and what they got from the RISE program experience. They really are an inspiration.


Links we talked about on the podcast include:

RISE Accelerate program:

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Your transcript

Well, hello and welcome to another episode of Your Brilliant Career.

I hope you’ve had a few good weeks. The last few weeks for us have been quite mad, but very exciting with the launch of our new RISE programs. We are soon to close the doors for both RISE Elite, which is our senior women’s program, and RISE Accelerate, our women’s career advancement program for mid-level women wanting more from their careers. Be it the skills – the confidence to step up.

Now, if you’ve been following us over this launch period, you will have seen lots going on. I feel like we’ve done lots of ‘firsts’ in the last month. I delivered a LinkedIn Live series over three days with the spotlight on sponsorship which was really interesting and a topic that I absolutely love talking about personally because I think it helps a lot of women think about their careers and I think it helps a lot of organisations think about how they can really support progress when it comes to gender equality.

I also delivered a free masterclass called Lead more, do less and showcase your value. And in this masterclass, I love doing masterclasses, they’re always so energetic and fun – they go for 90 minutes - I shared three strategies to really elevate yourself, to understand how do you overcome that constant sense of ‘busyness’, that place where you feel you’re just getting through the ‘to do’ list, everything’s tactical. You’re not demonstrating your strategic acumen or allowing yourself to shine at anything. You’re just doing. So this session was very much about how you take back control of your career.

Now, I have one free masterclass left and it is running this afternoon. So, if you’d to join us, the link is below in the show notes. Come along!

But basically, we have had a very active period and it has been so much fun. I’ve done my first Instagram Lives and we’ve very busy on social. You might be sick of us if you’re an ardent follower. But I’m sure we’ll back off pretty soon, once the launch is over.

But it’s been great and I love the community that is Your Brilliant Career – so thank you for being here.

I am excited to introduce you today to our special guests today.

This is the third and final podcast where I have invited alumni from the RISE Program. They are women that have attended the RISE program and, in my mind, have really used the program experience to progress their careers AND can I add… they’ve really used the experience to think about themselves; get a fresh set of eyes on themselves as individual and what they’re capable of in their careers?

Today I am talking with two great women from Unilever - one is based in Unilever Australia - Shihara and she is the Finance Director and the other is Australian but currently working in the UK with Unilever in a senior HR role. They will elaborate on what they do very shortly.

I have worked with Shihara for a few years now and when you do coach over a period of time, you can’t help but form a bond, a fondness, a genuine interest and investment in their growth – and its enduring. I imagine I’ll be Shihara’s success for many, many years to come.

Over the time that we have worked together - Shihara has gone from strength to strength. Nothing fills my cup more than seeing women fulfil their potential – really step up and find the courage to have the important conversations, back themselves, and do things that take a lot of confidence when you don’t have buckets of confidence – and you do it anyway.

Shihara is one of those women. She is committed in the most wonderful way and as you will hear for yourself, she is a woman who takes her career seriously. She wants to do well for herself and the business, and she is constantly stretching herself.

Sarah is based in the UK. She has chosen to take that stretch opportunity to head to the other side of the world to enhance her career. Anyone who has spent time abroad to further their career will know that that takes commitment.

But Sarah is loving her experience and will return to us at some point. She attended the RISE program last year and in true high-performer mode listened to every recording of the workshops within the program, hours of recordings… she took notes and had questions to fire at me when we met. I love that kind of dedication and energy. It always comes across to me as someone who is serious about growth and contribution.

Even though I attract a very high calibre of women to the RISE programs you don’t always see that level of commitment – Sarah’s questions were always excellent. And it’s interesting because I really admire it when women come to a program like RISE who want to be all in. They want answers, results, they want to figure things out – they are driven and prepared to put in the extra work.

I really think you’ll love listening to Sarah and Shihara today. They will share some of the interesting moments in their own careers, how they are thinking about things, what’s been hard and what they got from the RISE program experience. They really are an inspiration.

Lets dive in!

Gillian Fox: Welcome, Shihara and Sarah to an episode of Your Brilliant Career. It is fantastic to have you both here today.

Sarah Edwards: Great to be here. Thanks for having us.

Shihara Zafrullah: It's great to be here too.

Gillian Fox: I think one of the most interesting things about our conversation today, we'll be hearing a little bit about your backstory because I've had the great pleasure of working with you both. Shihara, for you, for the last couple of years. And Sarah, well, a big chunk of 2022, which has been fantastic and you're both very impressive. But maybe just share with our listeners a little bit about your role. And Sarah, you might kick off and there's been quite a few things happen been new in your world, so you might share that too.

Sarah Edwards: I'm Sarah Edwards. I work for Unilever in our global UK business or global business based in London. And my role now is the Home Care and Continental Europe Talent Learning and Organisation Lead. It's a bit of a mouthful, but it's a long-winded way in saying that I support our HR teams that create the Home Care Talent Management Plan and Learning and Development Plan. And the same for our Europe HR team.

Gillian Fox: I'll get back to you, Sarah, because I want to know what took you to Europe. Shihara, what about you? Tell us about your role.

Shihara Zafrullah: I work for Unilever Australia in New Zealand as well. And I am a finance director looking after sales, finance, forecasting, planning and reporting. So that's the short version of it.

Gillian Fox: And Shihara, the thing I've always loved about you is your clarity around your career. And you have always wanted to progress in that path to Finance Director, and you've been very driven over the years to try and land on that and you have landed on it. What do you think allowed you to be successful?

Shihara Zafrullah: I think I've achieved what I've set out to. And if I look back on my career, I think there's a couple of things that have brought me to where I am. You've called out a couple of them. Very driven, very ambitious. And I consider myself to be hardworking. I also invest time in people and building relationships, which has been instrumental for me over time. And to your point, I've had a very clear view of my destination role and that has helped me navigate through different roles, gain different experiences and skills, which eventually will have help set me up for success in this destination role.

Gillian Fox: Sarah, what about you? Tell us about going to the UK and that decision.

Sarah Edwards: So I was really fortunate to have really strong career sponsors quite early in my career at Unilever in Australia. And I spent a fantastic three years doing our graduate program, our graduate leadership program in ANZ. And one of the people that I definitely credit a lot of my career opportunity to was my sponsor, Anish, who was the HR director of our Australia business at the time. And he was very well-connected globally, and I was very clear with him that I wanted more experiences than what I could get in Australia at that point in time in our HR team. And he very kindly connected me in with an opportunity here in London. And I went for the interview and was lucky to be successful. So, I moved into our global HR strategy team here in London supporting our CHRO.

And I spent about 14 months in that role. And then we restructured our business globally into five business units. And I was also very fortunate to be based in our global team and based in London to be able to take up the opportunity of working in our transformation office. And I think what really took me to London was getting a breadth of experience within HR. Australia is an incredible market to have a career in, and I'm looking forward to going back no doubt. But I think with a function as small as HR, in some parts of our Australian business, there were limited role opportunities. And so being able to step out and leverage how global Unilever is and the different kind of roles that sat in our kind of headquarters here in London was something that was really clear to me that I wanted to do early on. So I'm very, very glad that I did it, but I would describe my experiences and we'll probably go into it later, but as a bit more building breadth rather than depth and a global career has let me do that. So, it's been awesome.

Gillian Fox: And it's been such a great experience for you. Shihara, what about for you working with a global organisation and managing your career? What's been the hardest thing?

Shihara Zafrullah: Look, I think I've been quite fortunate in the sense that I've had a lot of people support me in my career and throughout my career. And that's probably been one of the reasons I've been with Unilever for 13 years now. I’ve had great roles, great learning and development opportunities, similar to Sarah as well. I think I've gained a breadth of experiences within finance, mostly in Australia, but I have spent some time in Singapore as well. And I feel like I've covered different roles across different parts of finance. So started off as the intern, stayed on as a grad and then progressed through different roles and starting off as a grad and having done so many different roles, you very quickly need to prove yourself. You need to start adding value in a very short period of time because you only do a role for a very limited period of time as well.

So for me, I think one of the most challenging things has been that, trying to get into a role, settle in very quickly and excel. But the other thing that I've also noticed throughout my career is I've stepped into roles where I've taken over from people that have had significantly more years of experience than me. So come into a role feeling sometimes like an underdog and there's a massive amount of pressure that I put on myself to nail the role, to prove myself and to do well. But some days when you're sitting there and it's particularly challenging, I just need to keep reminding myself that there's a reason that I'm in this role, there's someone that's trusted and believes in me and that I was indeed capable of doing it albeit with less experience than others.

Gillian Fox: It's funny, isn't it? I think we all have that experience, Shihara, but behind the scenes you have those imposter moments that can terrorize us. But I love the way that you've chosen to deal with it because you do have to have that conversation with yourself and set yourself right because it's not going to support you buying into those negative thought patterns whatsoever. It's the time where you need to be standing tall and really backing yourself and looking for that extra confidence.

Sarah, go back and tell us then a little bit about your career journey and talk us through this desire to look for breadth in your career.

Sarah Edwards:I think probably similar to what Shihara said, we both started on the same graduate program, and part of that program has you moving quite quickly and through various roles doing very short six to nine to 12 month stints across different parts of your function. And it's an incredible thing for someone coming straight out of university or straight out of young career person that doesn't maybe know what exactly, which part of which function they want to be in and what really, I guess makes them tick and what excites them. So having that experience really early on in my career was awesome. But I think it also gave me an appetite for a change and for wanting to learn more. And I think I'm a very curious person and I went through a couple of different roles and different experiences, and I still hadn't quite found that role that I fell in love with, I guess.

Each role had really challenging experiences, really rewarding experiences, and I look back and I'm so appreciative for every experience, but I hadn't found that one that I was like, "I can see myself spending 10 years building depth in this role, really building expertise". So I think it was a little bit of trying to create my own journey and see what fit. That was part of it. And then part of it was wanting to increase my business acumen. So at one point, I was not sure whether HR was for me, and I did a stint in our sales team, and that was a really exciting journey as well. And I think I've been really fortunate in a company like Unilever that really bets on you and allows you to have those different experiences even if you maybe don't have the years of experience or skills behind you to step into a challenging role.

So, I think it's been a mix of both having a bit of luck and a bit of curiosity that has led me to these different experiences. And I would say it depends on where you are in your career as well. So I'm still quite very, very young in my career journey. It's been short. And so I think right now I'd probably describe myself as a jack of all trades, but I know that that won't always be the case in the future. And as I've tried different things, I've started to understand, okay, I really like this part. For me that's change management. I love working in change management. I love working with people. And so I seek out those experiences and those opportunities when I see them. But who knows, I've stepped into a totally new role this time round in HR expertise in learning and development, talent management. So, we'll see where that takes me.

Gillian Fox: Yeah! I love it, Sarah, because you don't really need to have all the answers at this point in your career, but the experiences count for a lot and feeling like you're stretching yourself as well through that career journey counts for a lot as well. Shihara, what inspires you?

Shihara Zafrullah: One of the things we talk about a lot at Unilever is our purpose, and mine is firstly to be the best that I can be and to help others unlock their potential. So what helps me sleep at night is knowing that I've got done a good job and there is nothing else that I could have done in a particularly difficult situation. I've got a passion for people. So I enjoy being able to develop talent, to see them grow, and there's nothing more satisfying than seeing them progress through their careers. And I'm inspired by surrounding myself with passionate, energetic, and empathetic leaders who truly care about people.

Gillian Fox: Well, you have a great female CEO, you're very lucky to have Nicky Sparshott who was CEO of the year too, last year, which was pretty inspiring.

Shihara Zafrullah: Indeed, she was.

Gillian Fox: Yeah. But Nicky is an incredible leader for all of you at Unilever, and she's so accessible and so supportive of each of you as well, which makes it very inspiring around what qualities make a great leader too. And when you were citing all of those attributes, Shihara, I couldn't help but think of Nicky because I think she does represent a lot of those things, which is amazing. What else inspires you, though? Does the four-day week inspire you? Because that's pretty exciting at Unilever from the outside.

Shihara Zafrullah:And I think for me, the challenge I set for myself is needing to find a way to make it work because you feel this enormous pressure on yourself. Because if I don't do it from the top, my team's not going to be able to do the same wherein month end cycles, where sometimes it's a little bit difficult. And I feel like a lot of the other Unilever countries are looking in on ANZ hoping that we make this a success so they can roll this out as well.

So, it does inspire me and it inspires me. I think it forces me to do better to do the 80/20 where we can to prioritise and be really ruthless on where we spend our time as well. And I think with the gift of the fifth, there's a lot of things that I would love to do. There's a few things that I've slowly started to do with self-care, spending time just relaxing. I'm a massive foodie; going out for brunches, catching up with people, and once we've got into a rhythm of this, there's a few exciting things that I'd love to do, just giving back.

Gillian Fox: Yeah, that's lovely, Shihara. The wellbeing thing is... It's talked about but it's not practiced at the high level in a lot of organisations, and it's almost like a badge of honour for doing these long hours, but we also know that high performance doesn't support that particular combination, and we all need to have breaks and take care of ourselves to perform really well.So, I really admire Unilever's initiative to drive this. And as a senior leader, you have to role model it, right?

Shihara Zafrullah: Absolutely.

Gillian Fox: Yeah. What about you, Sarah? What inspires you?

Sarah Edwards: It's a great question. I think I thought a lot about this actually in preparation for the podcast with you. And the thing that just kept coming back into my mind was authenticity. People who really speak from the heart and people who are governed by their principles. And I think what we're seeing more and more in a growing world of distrust in everything, in institutions, in our leaders, in our governments, social media, I think that people are going to appreciate this kind of leadership more and more. And I think when you see it's such a breath of fresh air. We recently had an HR forum for some of our top leaders in Unilever in London, and I was fortunate enough to hear the recording of our now CPO, our Chief People Officer who shared, and I think he just shared so authentically, it honestly put a fire in everyone's belly.

Gillian Fox: Let's talk about the program a little bit. Shihara, maybe just tell us a little bit about what you hoped to achieve from attending the RISE career program.

Shihara Zafrullah: Yeah, sure. I think for me, one of the biggest things I wanted to achieve out of it was to learn how to elevate my profile. And I think what I found was not only did I learn how to do that, but the program also helped me build my brand to increase visibility, and it helped me gain sponsorship. And that was ultimately what helped me land the role that I have been working towards for a very long time.

Gillian Fox: When you think about the year ahead, Shihara, what's going to be important for you? What sort of goals have you set yourself?

Shihara Zafrullah:So career-wise, I think if I look through the breadth of experiences that I've gained and where I want to get to, I think the most important thing for me is transitioning into the financial controlling space. It's an area that I have no experience in, but it is an opportunity for me to learn skills towards my destination role. So that will be my career goal for this year. On a personal front, I mentioned earlier I'm a bit of a foodie, so I've got a massive bucket list of things that I want to eat, restaurants that I want to go to, and I absolutely love travelling. And COVID, I think, had me in Australia for two and a bit years, so I haven't caught up on travel as much. So that's my personal goal, I guess, for 2023.

Gillian Fox: So have you got a big trip planned, Shihara?

Shihara Zafrullah: Not yet, but planning phase. I did Bali for a couple weeks last year, which was absolutely amazing. And I think the one thing I reflected on coming back was the awesome team supporting me. They survived through a difficult period. I didn't realize when I'd book leave that it was a very challenging period. I was going to be away. But you come back energised with, but then you have fire your belly, I think every time you go away for a little while.

Gillian Fox: Yeah, there's nothing like a good holiday, nothing like it at all. Well, that's wonderful. You've got a bit of an exciting year ahead. What about you, Sarah? When you walked into the RISE program, what did you think you wanted to get out of it, and what did you get out of it?

Sarah Edwards: So I was really unsure because I hadn't done anything like it before. But also I did feel... Maybe will sound arrogant, but I felt like I have good sponsors, so what more can this program do for me? And so one of the things that I knew I wanted to understand was, I had sponsors, but since I'd moved globally, keeping those sponsors was a whole different part that I was unsure of. And I'd had great sponsors. I think because I was on a development program, those sorts of things, I had almost a structure in place to support me. And when I moved out of that structure, trying to retain sponsors and keep them engaged was something that I hadn't unlocked. So that was something I wanted to get out of the program. And I think also I started moving into a part of my career where you have a bit more difficult conversations.

So how do you not harm your personal brand when you need to have those difficult conversations and really go after what you want? So that was a key element for me. And then I was also really curious, I think, just to go, okay, well, I'm probably being arrogant and thinking I know it all, so what don't I know? Or confirmation that I'm doing the right things. And so there was a few things that I wanted to get out of the workshops. And then I suppose what did I get was everything that it promised on the tin and so much more. So, what I wasn't anticipating was how valuable the one-on-one coaching sessions would be for me personally with you.

And for me, it was just, I could probably work with someone, but not someone that had the expertise that you had. And I could probably work with someone at Unilever, but I maybe didn't have that psychological safety to have those... Practice those difficult conversations and workshop how I should present myself with someone at work. So to be able to do that with someone outside of my employer was incredibly invaluable to me. And yeah, I found it hugely, hugely beneficial and I think I've had great results since. So it's paid off for me for sure.

Gillian Fox: You've done extremely well. But I also loved the fact that you watched all the workshops because there were recordings, Sarah, being in the UK, and you were so vigilant and you had questions. And I mean, you were an amazing participant in so many ways, and it's fantastic to see you do so well.

It has been a great pleasure speaking with you both. Thank you so much.

Shihara Zafrullah: Thank you for having us!

Sarah Edwards: Thank you! Appreciate it.

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