Mona Shindy and Julie Hammer are widely recognised as leaders in their respective fields within the Defence Force, yet they still find that gender bias continues to be their greatest challenge.
“The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, ‘Thus far and no farther’.” – Ludwig van Beethoven.
The famous and supremely talented German music composer battled many inner and outer demons during his fruitful and colourful life and believed anything could be achieved by anyone.
The same could be said of Mona Shindy and Julie Hammer. The former is a Captain in the Navy and 2015 winner of the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year, while the latter was an Air Vice-Marshal in the Royal Australian Air Force.
Both are recognised as leaders in their field, and not just for their work, but also for their valuable community spirit.
Without a doubt though, their greatest challenge has been battling against gender bias to rise through the male-dominated ranks to achieve senior positions and be respected within and outside their industries.
Challenge entrenched attitudes
“I have worked very hard to progress my career,” Captain Shindy said.
“With a strong commitment to lifelong learning as the backdrop on which I have built knowledge and competencies in a broad range of disciplines, I have also navigated a significant number of cultural reform journeys as the Defence Force has matured and continually challenged entrenched attitudes and norms over the years.
“Initially, as one of the first women on an Australian warship, being taken seriously as a competent engineer, effective leader and reliable team player was a significant challenge. I felt that I worked many times harder than my male peers to develop trust and relationships that would facilitate learning and growth.”
Captain Shindy is currently Director Littoral Warfare and Maritime Support and former head of the Fast Frigate System Program, who has combined a 26-year naval career with sea time and motherhood. She is also Chief of Navy’s Strategic Adviser on Islamic Cultural Affairs.
“I felt I needed to always strive for excellence in outcomes in order to leave little room for criticism,” Captain Shindy said.
“With every new posting environment came new challenges and the need to repeatedly reprove my worth to different colleagues, seniors and subordinates, time and time again.
“Besides the gender difference in my male-dominated field and profession, my ethnic and religious differences in what is still a very deeply conservative institution of mainly white Anglo Saxon males have also presented me with an added level of unique difficulties to work through.”
She said knowing that she has helped inform learning, contributed to policy developments
and lived by demonstrating a successful example of what is possible inspires her to work for an even more capable, inclusive and effective Navy.
But it is not just work that keeps Captain Shindy busy. She dedicates time to community service in support of Western Sydney youth through Australian Navy Cadet Leadership and Development programs and youth mentoring programs.
“I love being involved with youth as a way to give back to the community,” Captain Shindy said.
“I know that by telling my story, sharing experiences and challenges, as well as encouraging others into the sciences and inspiring young people to dream big and follow their passions, I can make a real difference to the futures of these young Australians.”
Julie Hammer was a motivated person determined to achieve the best she could from a very young age.
“My parents always encouraged me to be the best I could, and to make the most of opportunities that they never had,” Hammer said.
“A similar attitude was prevalent in the schools I attended, and it simply became part of my personality.”
That attitude served her well throughout her outstanding 28-year career in the Air Force, where she became the first female Air Vice-Marshal in Australia.
“For the majority of my career in the Air Force, I was the first female to fill any particular role,” Hammer said.
“That meant that I sometimes had to deal with both conscious and unconscious preferences and gender bias, some of which were institutionalised in rules and procedures.”
Hammer had a distinguished career in the Air Force serving in the fields of aircraft maintenance, technical intelligence, electronic warfare, and information and communications technology (ICT) systems. She was the Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy during 2002 and 2003. At the time of her transfer to the Reserve in August 2005, she was the most senior woman in the Australian Defence Force.
“As I became more senior, I became more visible and that adds a bit to the pressure,” Hammer said.
“You can’t really afford to slip up because everyone will see your mistake and conclude that it’s because you’re a woman.”
Hammer is quick to point out that she received valuable support throughout her career.
“I was supported a number of times by male colleagues and bosses throughout my career when I was aspiring to particular roles that were potentially controversial,” she said.
“My appointment in 1992 as Commanding Officer Electronic Warfare Squadron, specified as an ‘aircrew job’, was a case in point. It was more controversial because I was an engineer filling an aircrew role than that I was a woman being appointed to an operational command. I was very fortunate that the Chief of Air Force at the time supported and had confidence in me.
“It is interesting because people who inspired me in my career were not people who are well known. They were colleagues, more senior than me, whose style of leadership I greatly admired: calm, considered, thoughtful, methodical, respectful and optimistic. I consciously tried to develop my own style of leadership along similar lines.”
Hammer, who was the first female national president of Engineers Australia, believes her engineering qualification put her in a good stead and offers many opportunities for those wishing to follow in her footsteps.
“The number of different roles that an engineer can have is mind-boggling. It can range from the massive, such as the construction of tunnels and motorways, to microscopic, such as applying complex nanotechnology to the development of medical treatments,” she said.
“An engineering career offers opportunities to travel and work all over the world, to interact with people from many different cultures, to contribute to the establishment and preservation of peace, and to plan, build and deliver many of the fundamentals of our world that we take for granted.”