7 Leadership tips for women in male-dominated fields

August 1, 2022
Women in leadership

Are you passionate about providing value and opportunities to others? Do you have leadership aspirations for your career? 

Leadership is no easy feat, but it’s incredibly rewarding. At least, that’s what Ciara Doran believes. 

She’s General Manager Distribution for Ampol Limited. Her job, and the job of the 500 people in her team is to keep Australia moving – literally! 

“We move, store, and transport fuel into a national network of pipelines, big fuel terminals, and small regional depots,” said Ciara. “We deliver fuel to every Ampol customer in Australia. This includes our network of 1,800 service stations, and our business customers – from large mines and airports to small farmers, regional businesses, and everything in between.” 

Here are a few of her best tips to succeed in a leadership role.  

1. Choose companies with clear growth pathways 

As Australia’s leader in transport energy, Ampol offers many diverse job opportunities across its supply chain. 

“We’ve been powering journeys for more than a hundred years, and we’ll be doing so for a hundred more. We offer significant career progression opportunities – such as leadership programs, study support, LinkedIn learning, and plenty of informal on-the-job learning. We also offer internal networking groups, allowing people to gain experience across the entire business.” 

2. Do work that inspires you

As a leader, finding work that challenges, inspires, and motivates you can be the “fuel” that keeps you going. 

“I love being in a senior leadership role where I feel like I can make a difference. I love spending time onsite with frontline operations across the country – our tanker fuel drivers on the roads, our aircraft refuellers at airports, our operations teams in our terminals and depots. They’re the real heroes in Ampol, doing the hard yards every day to keep the country moving. They inspire and energize me.” 

women in leadership

Ciara also feels inspired to be part of the business’s transition to green energy.

“The future for fuel is green! It’s an exciting place to work as we leverage our people, customers, and infrastructure to create this change.” 

3. Opt for organizations with flexible work arrangements 

Great organizations provide flexible work arrangements to attract and retain the best people and help team members achieve work-life balance. 

Ampol has been leading the way, offering hybrid work models, and flexible start-finish times. The company also has digital capabilities to make it easier for people to stay connected. 

“Ampol approached me while I was working in the energy industry. I had my hands full with two boys under five at the time. Like many women probably do, I told myself I couldn’t make it work, that it was too risky to make a change, and that I’d let everyone down. But the job seemed like it was written for me, the people at Ampol were wonderful, and they were prepared to offer me flexibility.” 

Ciara was the first senior woman to become manager in an operations role, and the first to work remotely outside of a capital city. 

“This was the key factor that enabled me to work here. There was flexibility on both sides – I was willing to commit to the extra travel requirements, be on call, and put in the hours. Because I was the ‘pilot’ for remote work, I was determined to make it work.” 

Eight years on, and Ciara is still working remotely and flexibly! And the business has introduced innovative policies to support working parents, such as childcare support and generous parental leave. 

“I’m so grateful Ampol were prepared to pilot flexible work with me. Looking back, the company has been a real trailblazer before it became the norm. It’s kept me feeling motivated, productive, and loyal.” 

Ampol also champions gender-neutral parental leave policies with zero minimum waiting period to access this benefit.

Find more about this and other benefits. 

4. Find the right work-life balance 

For aspiring leaders, flexibility can give you the opportunity to find the right work-life balance. 

Ciara has used flexible work to succeed in her career while being a great mom to her two boys. 

“In a typical week, I might travel interstate for a few days to visit our operations sites, and work from home for the remainder – doing the school run, making lunches, and helping my kids with their homework. Sometimes though, it takes some juggling! 

“What makes it all worthwhile is seeing my two boys think it’s normal (and ‘cool’) that their mom oversees more than 500 people. When we’re out and about, they’ll excitedly point out Ampol service stations and trucks!” 

5. Move the dial 

For women aspiring to leadership, advocacy can be a key factor in helping them overcome challenges, achieve success, and move the dial for other women too. 

Ciara has faced a number of challenges, having worked in male-dominated industries throughout her entire career. 

“I’ve experienced discriminatory workplace policies, harassment from senior managers early in my career, gender bias (‘you only got the role because you’re a woman’), and unconscious bias (‘it must be so hard for you as a mom to be away from your kids when you travel’).” 

But it’s been the opposite at Ampol. 

“When I first joined, I was surprised that senior leadership was very male-dominated. But they were so excited to have a woman manager in their team – they did everything and more to help me settle in and be successful. They buddied me with an experienced peer manager, introduced me to people, gave me their cheat sheets, and made me feel like I belonged.” 

A lot has changed since she’s been the only woman at the table with her male peers. 

women in leadership

“Today, I’m one of four women GMs in the Fuel Supply Chain leadership team of nine! In my distribution leadership team, 45% are women. But there’s more to be done – particularly in frontline roles. But with more women in leadership, the future is bright.” 

Ciara is committed to moving the dial for others and has seen a big shift in Ampol. 

“Male leaders are championing women. We have great male leaders who are committed to diversity and taking action. They’ve believed in me and helped me climb the corporate ladder.” 

Ultimately, its diverse range of roles across locations and disciplines, and the people and culture, that Ciara believes makes Ampol a great place for all women to work.  

“Ampol has a strong reputation for being a great employer that cares about its people. We’re focused on providing opportunities to women and bringing them into roles traditionally held by men – to inspire and show them they can do the job too.” 

6. Lean on your team  

One of Ciara’s biggest learnings has been accepting that you don’t need to know every single thing in your role. Being surrounded by a great team means that, between you all, you’ll know most things. 

“What sets us apart is having the best, most experienced people. There are people with 20 years of experience who I can call any time if I face a challenge – they’re always ready to help! We have the next generation of graduates who inspire me because they’re so smart and talented.” 

Ciara loves that everyone has a shared commitment, cares for one another, and puts customers first.  

“We challenge and inspire each other to do better every day. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help or advice. It’s actually a sign of strength. People want to help you and feel valued that you asked.” 

7. Believe in yourself 

Finally, to lead others, you must first be able to lead yourself. 

Over time, Ciara has learned to believe in herself more – which may surprise people who know her as the confident, self-assured person you see today. 

“As I’ve taken on more responsibility, I’ve experienced imposter syndrome. If you have these moments of doubt, build your confidence by reflecting on your track record. Remember, someone gave you a role because they believed in you. So, you are good enough!” 

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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