International Women’s Day (IWD) is not only a conversation around what is happening right now, and a chance to contemplate how things can change in the future, it’s a celebration of the achievements of women.

At Ability Options, we strive to support and accommodate both employees in their jobs, and participants through our services, regardless of gender. Over 70% of our Ability Options workforce is made up of women, from our CEO and Board Directors, to managers and frontline employees. We spoke to some of the women in leadership at Ability Options, asking them about the importance of IWD, the need for a diverse workforce, female role models, and more. This is what they had to say.

What does IWD mean to you? International Women’s Day is…

An opportunity to celebrate the contribution of women to our community and reflect on how we do as an employer to support women. I remember my mum saying when I was young “In the 60s we fought for women to ‘have it all’. Now they just ‘do it all’ “. I think we’ve come a way since then but there’s certainly more to do Julia Squire, CEO 

An opportunity for both individuals and organisations to reflect on the achievements of women, increasing visibility of their contributions whilst highlighting the need for gender equality – Karen Newman, General Manager – Employment Programs

A day for the formal recognition of women’s issues worldwide – Claire Cavanaugh, Board Director  

A day to celebrate the achievements of women around the globe, but also a day that recognises there is still much action and work to be done towards true equality – Kerry Glen, Senior Manager – Property and Assets

A celebration of having freedom and choices at every stage of a woman’s life – Wendy Zhang, Digital Marketing Manager

A time to acknowledge the people who fought for equal rights for women and the impact they’ve had, as well as recognise people who today continue to fight for gender equality – Kelly Kean – Senior Manager, HR Operations

A time to listen and reflect on what challenges many women face in the world today and how can we all work to reach equityPatricia Biszewski, Board Director

A day to celebrate women’s achievements in every field. It’s a day of recognising women who’ve made an impact and moved the needle for gender equality – Heather Scheibenstock, Deputy Chair, Board Director


This year’s IWD theme is #EmbraceEquity. How will you be celebrating or taking action on IWD?

I will be acknowledging the day with my team and colleagues, sharing my support on social media and attending a Hunter Women’s Business Network dinner event in Newcastle – Kerry Glen, Senior Manager – Property and Assets

I’ll be celebrating this year’s IWD by spending quality time with my mum, grandma, and daughter – Wendy Zhang, Digital Marketing Manager

As the CEO I hope I embrace equity every day. It is certainly epitomised in our Mission, and it is something I do work hard to live and lead. On IWD I’ll take some moments to reflect on the female role models in my life – my mum, my late grandmother and my daughter, as well as all those women I’ve had the privilege of working for and with Julia Squire, CEO 

This IWD, I’ll be attending a breakfast at a regulatory conference – Heather Scheibenstock, Deputy Chair, Board Director

I’ll acknowledge the day with my team and talk through what it means to them and some of the key moments in the history of gender equality in Australia – Kelly Kean – Senior Manager, HR Operations

Across the Ability Options sites we will be hosting morning teas with both staff and participants – Karen Newman, General Manager – Employment Programs


Standing alongside the hardworking women who make up over 72% of our workforce, how does working at Ability Options help you thrive?

I’m proud to be working for an inclusive organisation that has diversity as one of its core values. It’s inspiring to see women colleagues such as Lauren who navigated challenges of being a new parent and worked hard to achieve her career goal at Ability Options – Wendy Zhang, Digital Marketing Manager

I’m fortunate to have a leadership role at Ability Options and to influence and support other women to develop. I’m grateful Ability Options has both female and male leadership within the Executive team. This offers a diversity of opinions – Karen Newman, General Manager – Employment Programs

I absolutely adore my job. I’m so lucky. I thrive at Ability Options and I’m grateful it found me, almost five years ago now. Working alongside 860 other women who do fabulous work supporting our participants, each other and the organisation, is a privilege and something I enjoy, value and benefit from Julia Squire, CEO 

I’ve learnt so much in my time at AO, we have many intelligent and hardworking women working together, every day is an opportunity to learn and grow – Kelly Kean – Senior Manager, HR Operations

Ability Options shows a strong trend in recognising women at every level of its workforce and this encourages me to feel stronger and to thrive – Claire Cavanaugh, Board Director  

We have a great deal of incredible, strong, resilient women at Ability Options. Seeing the terrific work they do and seeing how our leaders are able to progress through the organisation gives me motivation – Kerry Glen, Senior Manager – Property and Assets

I’m extremely privileged to be at Ability Options. Seeing the great representation of females in leadership and the next level of leaders coming through with diverse backgrounds and skills, is inspirational – Heather Scheibenstock, Deputy Chair, Board Director


What are the benefits to having more women in leadership?

Having a diverse leadership team is something that I know breeds creativity and success. It helps us develop a great reputation, recruit and retain the best employees and ensures we make good decisions. Being representative of our diverse and wonderful Australian community means we are more likely to understand and meet community expectations and participant needs – Julia Squire, CEO 

Women in leadership bring different skills, fresh perspectives, and innovative ideas. Women wear many hats in life, and this crosses over in leadership as they bring empathy and mentorship. More women in leadership will help close gender pay gaps experienced globally – Kerry Glen, Senior Manager – Property and Assets.

The benefits of having more women in leadership include different viewpoints and experiences that are beneficial for everyone – Kelly Kean – Senior Manager, HR Operations


What advice would you give to other women aspiring to be in leadership roles?

Be authentic, network, follow genuine leaders who’ve changed the world, accept failure as a learning opportunity – you don’t always have to be right – Patricia Biszewski, Board Director

Learn from the leaders you respect and apply their skills. Embody important traits like respecting others, listening, communicating well, and admitting mistakes – Heather Scheibenstock, Deputy Chair, Board Director

Be yourself, back yourself, be strong and courageous. Don’t let the idea of failure prevent taking chances. – Kerry Glen, Senior Manager – Property and Assets.

Don’t limit or doubt yourself, learn from others. Find a mentor – I’ve had amazing mentors who I still keep in contact with – Kelly Kean – Senior Manager, HR Operations

Find good female mentors and role models. Don’t put up with behaviour or expectations that aren’t in line with yours. Be confident. You can ‘have it all’ and you don’t have to ‘do it all’ as my mum and our mums, had to! – Julia Squire, CEO 

Aspire get educated and plan, then put those plans into action. Think in five-year chunks and envisage where you would like to be at the end of those five years – Claire Cavanaugh, Board Director


What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

Patricia Biszewski, Board Director:

  • Listen quietly with patience
  • Do volunteer work
  • Be kind
  • Follow your dreams

Heather Scheibenstock, Deputy Chair:

  • Put more effort into learning and studying
  • Learn about other cultures and religions
  • Work or study overseas
  • Listen to new advice

Wendy Zhang, Digital Marketing Manager:

  • Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do
  • Take a gap year after high school and travel
  • Say yes to opportunities that excite you
  • Don’t settle into your comfort zone or be afraid of change

Karen Newman, General Manager – Employment Programs:

  • Don’t fear failure or success
  • Be grateful for the opportunities and challenges
  • Focus on what is important

I’d say, “In 40 years’ time, you’ll know your parents were right”. I’d also say be brave, work hard, stick to your values, you’re going to be lucky. Things will be better than okay” – Julia Squire, CEO 


Who are your mentors or role models and how have they influenced your life and career?

Professionally, my best female role model was a Director of Public Health (DPH) in the UK when I was early in my career, relatively newly married and about to become a mum. She went on to do great things and huge jobs and is an amazing, warm person with a brain the size of many planets. As a DPH her interest was in the many; the whole population. The things that determine people’s life and health outcomes. She’d make exceptions, deal with big decisions for individuals as well as the decisions she made about the whole population. She would be challenged about whether exceptions set precedents or why she decided for one when there could be many more. As a working career woman and a mum, she also made sure she never missed a sports day, birthday, or parents evening. It didn’t matter what else was going on. I saw that the world at work did not stop without her. Those were valuable lessons – Julia Squire, CEO 

My mum is my role model, she’s taken risks, faced significant challenges, is strong & independent and I am grateful for her support, feedback, and advice – Karen Newman, General Manager – Employment Programs

I’m lucky to be surrounded by a long-term friendship circle of supportive, successful, and wise women who lift me up and help me be my best self everyday. They’re my Queens! I’ve also had a number of colleagues over the years who’ve inspired me greatly, their positive and effective leadership traits have left a mark on me – Kerry Glen, Senior Manager – Property and Assets.

I have two great mentors – my father and Nelson Mandela. My Father survived D-Day and WWII; he never complained. He cherished the life he had, shared amazing adventures with us and always included us children at dinners held at home with business contacts. What great conversations I heard!

Nelson Mandela, he was awe inspiring. How could he survive everything, yet come out so forgiving and as such a transformative leader? – Patricia Biszewski, Board Director

I listen to the podcast – She’s on the money – which empowers women to be financially savvy. The podcast shares the journey of women who’ve changed their mindset about finance, then worked to achieve their goals. I love to hear stories that challenge my assumptions about money, relationships, and life, and stories that encourage me to grow in every aspect of life. – Wendy Zhang, Digital Marketing Manager

Deputy Chair Heather Scheibenstock’s main role model is Catherine Day – “A game changer for my career and helped me look at the world from other people’s perspective. Catherine’s advice helped me work better and really supercharged my executive career.” Heather’s other role models include Gillian Triggs, Louise Sauvage, Julia Gillard, and Greta Thunberg.

Several years ago, a woman who I’ve known since my early teens, experienced a life-changing personal heartbreak. How she’s recovered and continued to live to her fullest inspires me every day – Kelly Kean – Senior Manager, HR Operations

My first role model is one of my early bosses, Carole Hopper, she taught me that a woman’s opinion is worthwhile and different to a male opinion. She taught me to hear both and make a balanced decision. Plus, to always admit when you have been in the wrong as quickly as possible – Claire Cavanaugh, Board Director 


Thank you not only to the inspirational women who contributed to this article, but to all the women of Ability Options who continue to motivate, support, and empower others daily.

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