The 2020 Telstra Business Women’s Award winners are leading the charge as Australia manages through the COVID-19 pandemic and adapts to a new way of living and doing business.

For 25 years the Telstra Business Women’s Awards have celebrated the success of Australia’s female business leaders and entrepreneurs. With most of our 2020 events cancelled due to COVID-19 things looked a little different this year, but we were still determined to celebrate our incredible finalists and winners.

We spoke to our 2020 Telstra Business Women’s Award winners about what it’s like to win an award in the middle of a global pandemic, the impact receiving a Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award will have on them personally and their businesses, and the journey they have taken to get to where they are today.

Good news at a testing moment in time

TBWA20TAS - Margaret Williams

For Margaret Williams, the 2020 Telstra Tasmanian Business Woman of the Year, winning the award in the middle of a pandemic was a welcome surprise during a stressful time. As Chief Executive Officer of residential care facility Medea Park, Margaret’s leadership has been more important than ever, and she has been focused on being a present leader, supporting her team and residents alike.

“I’d been so worried about the health of my residents and staff, and I had just walked in the door to my home when I got the call. I put my phone on speaker and when I received the news I just started crying. Happy tears of course – I think my husband may have shed one too!”

2020 Telstra Northern Territory Business Woman of the Year, Bec Hammet, won the award at a time when her business, SH Build, was feeling the full impact of the pandemic, and closing their doors was becoming a real possibility.

“We were considering closing our doors and hibernating while COVID happened, but instead we decided to stay open and support workers as much as possible. The day I found out I had won we had just received a small contract, and then I got the phone call. I was so overwhelmed, but it was such a shining light and great way to get our name out there.

“The win has given me additional contacts and opened up new networks, with many people contacting me to say congratulations, and that they didn’t know we were still operating because we are so remote.”

TBWA20WA - Jodi Cant

Jodi Cant, Director General at the Western Australian Department of Finance, and 2020 Telstra Western Australian Business Woman of the Year, won the award while focused on the government’s COVID-19 response.

“The important thing as leaders is to make sure we keep the good things that have come from COVID-19, on the other side of the pandemic. Since winning the award I’ve had lots of contact from people I’ve worked with over the years, and support from very distant places. I’ve also had a very proud mother posting full-page ads of my head! Times and situations like these mean people are quick to focus on what’s important, and as someone who grew up in the country where family is number one, COVID-19 has been a good reminder of what really matters.”

Leadership and collaboration during a global pandemic

Jodi, Margaret and Bec’s focus at the time of their win was supporting their staff and the people around them, and helping them balance their priorities. This rang true for our winners across the country, all in leadership positions at an unprecedented time where empathy and adaptability are more important than ever before.

For Jo Thomas, 2020 Telstra Queensland Business Woman of the Year and Chief Executive Officer of Metro Arts, leading in the not-for-profit sector was challenging enough before the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“It’s an interesting time where we are very focused on physical safety in Australia, but we cannot forget about mental health. I’m constantly checking in with my team and artists to make sure everyone is doing OK, while spending a lot of time in sector consultations for art, and joining recovery committees for the broader arts industry. Especially in tough times, you need a good reason to keep going, and I’m lucky to be leading in an industry that I love.”

Jo is focused on working with health ministers to re-open the arts sector, and sees art as critical to guiding society out of isolation and enabling connection, joy and entertainment once again.

State finalists include Victoria’s Julie Hirsch, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Eloments Natural Vitamin Tea

Collaboration has also been key to Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year, Julie Hirsch’s recent approach to leadership. As Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Eloments Natural Vitamin Tea, Julie has spent her time talking with other business leaders.

“There are so many wonderful ideas that are going to come out of this period. It has opened people up to thinking about a different world that we are entering, and while it’s super intimidating and scary, it is also so exciting when you have people that are willing to push boundaries and innovate. If you put anyone in a house for eight weeks by themselves, they will come up with some cool stuff!”

Kerrie Campbell, Chief Information Officer at Flinders University, and 2020 Telstra South Australian Business Woman of the Year, has been amazed at how the information technology function is now seen as the department that can hold up a business.

“The feedback has been that we have been so calm and helpful. We are in control because we do this all the time, not just during COVID-19, but people don’t realise it. What has been most important is exercising humanness and empathy at a time when people are scared. There is a lot of merit in leading with both courage and vulnerability.”

2020 and beyond: what leadership looks like moving forward

This year’s winners have all agreed that one of the most beneficial aspects of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards has been the opportunity to reflect on their journeys so far, and consider their approach to improving their industries.

TBWA20NSW - Sarah Pearce

For Dr Sarah Pearce, Deputy Director of Astronomy and Space Science at CSIRO and 2020 Telstra New South Wales Business Woman of the Year, one of the most exciting things to have come out of the awards experience is the opportunity to speak to audiences she wouldn’t usually talk to, about space science.

“People are really interested in what we do (at CSIRO), so one of the things I’ll try to do more of is get out there and continue to talk to different audiences and raise the profile of women in science and astronomy. It’s so important that girls see that yes, they can do this, and have fun doing it.”

Dr Pearce felt the congratulations and display of warmness from the community as a whole has been overwhelming, and is a great reminder that it is possible for women and girls to have successful, rewarding careers in STEM.

2020 Telstra Australian Capital Territory Business Woman of the Year and Chief Executive Officer of Mental Illness Education ACT, Heidi Prowse, has used the awards as an opportunity to reflect on the practices she follows as a leader.

“We are experiencing such a critical time in Australia, having faced the recent bushfires, and now COVID-19. This has enabled me and my team to take a good look at what we’re doing, the purpose we exist for, and evaluate whether we’re meeting these whole-heartedly. This isn’t just for business purposes – it’s for the people we are working to help as we educate Territorians about mental health, something that is now even more important as we face a pandemic.”

Entering a new world

As Australia begins to create a new normal, strong leadership will continue to play a crucial role in the success of businesses across all sectors. The innovation and determination shown by this year’s winners is exemplary, and their courage and positive outlook on the future offers hope and excitement for what business might look like on the other side of COVID-19.

We will continue to advocate for women in business, promote gender equality in the workplace, and applaud the women who are paving the way for future generations. Congratulations again to our 2020 Telstra Business Women’s Awards winners!