Women in Leadership: Sophie Smith

In Australia women constitute 42 percent of all employees yet make up just a quarter of executives and only 10 percent of CEOs*. This imbalance is the focus of International Women’s Day 2019.

Women are underrepresented in decision making roles in the Catholic Church in Australia, however, within the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle we have wonderful women influencing others and leading a number of our agencies and Catholic schools.

To celebrate the contribution of all women in our region, Aurora interviewed six inspiring women who hold leadership roles in the Diocese on what motivates them and what guidance they could offer to others.

Sophie Smith: Head of Human Resources


What is your role and what does it involve? 

Head of Human Resources.  My team and I are fortunate to interact with all people within the diocese.  This includes during their recruitment process, or engagement as a volunteer, when they take leave or have a baby, if they raise concerns in relation to safety and wellbeing, if they request development opportunities, through to their exiting or even retirement from our organisation. 

Does faith influence the way you lead in the diocese? If so, how?

I like the concept of servant leadership, particularly around the value of diversity, developing others as leaders, acting with humility and building a culture of trust. 

In HR we often are faced with difficult situations involving our employees, and I often ask myself “What would Jesus do?”. 

Why do you think it is important to have women in leadership roles?

Typically, research has shown that women score higher in the areas of empathy, the ability to influence as well as conflict management.  Often women are more attune to their own self-awareness and self-development.  All these attributes make great leaders.

In Australia for instance, women are more likely to hold post graduate qualifications then their male counterparts.  But perhaps underutilised!

And in the words of Beyoncé “Who runs the world?  Girls.”

What would you say to women wanting to be leaders?

Seek opportunities.  Find yourself a number of role models to reach out to for guidance.  Make mistakes (you learn from these).  Challenge yourself to be better – personally and professionally.  Educate yourself by reading and watching Ted talks.  Work hard.  Be agile and roll with the punches, gracefully.

The theme for International Women’s Day is ‘balance for better’. What does this mean to you?

That our male counterparts also need to take action and step up to addressing the gender balance we all face.  Australia is currently falling behind other 1st world countries which is so disappointing.  Our culture needs an awakening from our male counterparts too.

Do you have a female role model? If so, can you please share with us what about them inspires you?

Lately I’ve felt energised watching Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand.  She has a refreshing perspective and some youthful ideas.  Her recent conference on addressing Wellbeing in New Zealand was great!  She holds down that big job while raising a daughter and is always smiling – go girl!

What is your proudest accomplishment?

The ability to juggle working full time, while being a mum and wife.

* According to a January 2018 study by Business Council of Australia, McKinsey & Company and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

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Brooke Robinson Image
Brooke Robinson

Brooke is Content Officer for the Communications Team in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

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