Challenging the comfort zone

Challenging the comfort zone add

There have been two prevailing narratives for some time now that unite women worldwide. Of course, there are many others, but these two in particular have seen many lend their voice to the cause. They are: women can do it all, but more importantly they certainly don’t have to in order to fulfil the definition of ‘success’, which is an arbitrary concept anyway. And, postnatal depression doesn’t discriminate.

While both narratives have inspired great discussion, many personal stories are still being shared in hushed tones as society seeks to shrug off the last of the associated stigmas. Few could appreciate this more than Architectural Designers New Zealand Board Chair Julie-Ann Ross. She has experienced both. Through her leadership roles over the years and thanks to her candidness, Julie-Ann has been able to powerfully contribute to a normalisation of these former taboos, as well as anxiety, something she lives with every day.

Her willingness to operate outside her comfort zone was perhaps instilled in her from a very young age with her mother setting a brilliant example. “My mother was always in various local committees when I was young, so it felt quite normal to do this sort of volunteer work. As an adult, my first real leadership role was when I joined Parents Centre NZ Inc. following the birth of our first child in 2001. I had postnatal depression when I had both my children and I found it hard to settle into a stay-at-home-mum role.”

Julie-Ann’s journey with Parents Centre saw her take on senior positions including President of the local branch and national based roles including Southern Regional Co-ordinator and Community Advisor.

“This work led me to be a trainer for the region delivering training workshops on topics like meeting procedures, effective communication, change management and group dynamics. I was awarded the Parent Centre New Zealand CEO Award of Excellence in 2008 for this work.”

It was during this time that Julie-Ann recognised she was suffering from an anxiety disorder, something she has always been open and honest about which is no doubt immensely reassuring to those in the same shoes. “Creative people often do have anxiety or similar conditions, it doesn’t discriminate. I think it is out there and people don’t always talk about it. It has been good to open up and in the process be kinder to myself and to know that it's ok to fail sometimes and the world won’t end. I’ve also learnt to say ‘no’ to things that aren’t important, busyness isn’t an achievement.”

Julie-Ann brought her professional and life wisdom to ADNZ in 2007. “I was voted on to the regional executive in 2009, becoming regional secretary for seven years then regional chair, before stepping on to the National Board in 2016.”

Perhaps due to her anxiety she wasn’t assertive in asking for lead roles, preferring the background tasks in the past. But ultimately with good management of her condition she has been able to flourish.

“One of the things I have always been passionate about is knowing that a lot of skills can be learnt - we are always learning - but you need to be an honest person, a person of integrity, to properly lead.

“Leading is actually a position of service - you’re actually serving the people you’re leading. It’s important not to let your position go to your head. When you’re in a position of power, you have to be careful with that power due to its influence and be honest and straightforward with everyone.

“Working on the Board you need to be able to go to a meeting well prepared, but also be willing to have your mind changed and listen to everyone’s ideas. Passion for the cause is so important - be concerned about the outcome and not who is getting the credit. Some people go for a role for the label or status but you don’t get the best out of people in this mindset.”

Like life, business is not a popularity contest and Julie-Ann knows this is an important thing to keep in mind, particularly as someone who wants to please. “Whatever you do in life, it is hard to please everyone. I love the quote by Maya Angelou, ‘Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it”’.

Crediting her ever-supportive husband and children as well as her talented team on the Board and support from ADNZ national office for her ability to thrive in the role, Julie-Ann says she embraces the opportunity to set an example as a female leader but isn’t a martyr about that fact given she has always felt that her gender never dictated her ability to succeed.

“I believe that equality between men and women isn’t about sameness. We are different and that’s a good thing. I do think it is good though for my boys to see me in these leadership roles as I did with my mother, and perhaps influence the future world they will be living in.”