To celebrate 20 years of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards, the first Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, Sue Vardon, reflects on a generation of women in business.

I’ve seen some major changes for women in the workplace over the last 20 years. Telstra Business Women Award entrants now come from everywhere. They are doing innovative work in every sphere of the business world, including areas previously the sole domain of men. Women are in mining, trucking, all forms of public service, science, medicine, commercial retail, and insurance.

Women are now very adventurous and are less likely to be put off course by nay-sayers. It is wonderful to see young women achieving without the barriers the previous generation of women experienced.

Some things don’t change though. There is a constant theme about the women who apply for the Awards: they have a vision for how things could be better and can spot an opportunity or niche and follow it through. Women are great team builders with the vision to take others forward. Many are very successful financially but they always acknowledge the people who helped them.

Sue in the paper after winning her awardThe Awards also highlight the pool of extremely talented women, so no one can say women aren’t ready, available or appropriately qualified and experienced for senior positions and opportunities. It makes me wonder why after all these years of proving women can do anything at every level, women are still underrepresented in decision making forums and the C-suites and board rooms across the country.

If we make up 50 per cent of the workforce, why are we not 50 per cent at every level?

My win has highlighted the fact that public servants were business people. This caused a lot of debate at the time. I was surprised that others had a higher opinion of my work than perhaps I did. It gave me confidence and also a profile and credibility which I am sure helped for my next career move to set up Centrelink. It also gave me a chance to acknowledge the many others who had contributed to my success, in particular my mother.

Most significantly, the awards continue to highlight women who may see themselves as ordinary by acknowledging and showing how extraordinary they are. Other women gain confidence and inspiration from hearing the stories particularly when they see how others have persisted after hardship.

They showcase to the larger community that success and excellence is not defined by a gender and I know a lot of women are thankful for the path the Awards have helped pave.

Do you know a brilliant businesswoman that deserves to be recognised?

Receiving a nomination lets her know she’s made a positive impact on someone’s life and gives her the opportunity to reflect on her achievements and share her story. Entries open on May 26 and winners share in a total prize pool of more than $650,000!

Nominating is easy – just visit the Women’s Awards website or call 1800 817 536.