What do you love most about your business?
I love beer. I feel the beer industry is in my blood. We grew up opposite our brewery in Leabrook SA and would spend weekends there with my father when he was checking on the brews. I love the family feel of the organisation even though we are now much larger and more corporate than a generation ago. We still manage to have a close bond with our co-workers and feel like they are part of the family too. It is a fun industry to be in as well, although it is currently in decline, which creates its own challenges.
What is something you wished you knew starting out?
I am a chartered accountant by profession and didn’t really expect to be speaking publicly. I was very reluctant to make speeches, and, like many people, I dreaded it. If I knew that it would be something I would spend a fair bit of time doing I think I would have received tuition. But I tend to speak from the heart and very rarely read from a script, which has come more easily over the years.
What have you found to be the biggest hurdle to female leadership?
Lack of quotas. If you asked me 5 or 10 years ago if I believe in affirmative action to increase female representation, it would have been a resounding no it should be merit based. A few years ago I was on a forum with a woman from a mining company at a Women in Leadership conference and she, like me, used not to believe in quotas. She told the audience that her manager had asked her how that was working out for her, and she had to say not well. It was like a light bulb moment for me that we will never get to equal representation if there is not some form of affirmative action. It’s very complex as women often operate differently to men. A woman might not apply for a role unless she is 100% sure she fits the position. Government departments do this very well having 40/40/20 board representation of men and women with the remaining 20% being either. Until there is around 40% representation of either gender on the board/committee/leadership team there will not be an equal voice for that gender. In my opinion we need quotas across the board.
What do you think are the top 3 habits to successful leadership?
Being able to listen to what is being said, to challenge people to consider a different train of thought, and to defend the moral code or values of the organisation.
What is the best advice you have received in business that has supported your success?
When I was raising two children solely on my own and working full time, some wise person said to me that it doesn’t matter if you stay still in your career for a long period of time. Just tread water and hang in there. It was brilliant advice. I knew I just had to ride it out, especially on the days I would arrive at work in tears after dropping the girls at school - when it was all too hard. I took it one day at a time, and hung in there. In a way I was a role model for them, as they have gone on to be strong, successful, and independent women in their own careers.
What advice you would give to the next generation of female leaders?
I truly hope this current generation of female leaders is paving an easier path for the emerging generation. We need to make changes now in order that they don’t have to struggle for an equal chance and voice at the table. Diversity of thought should be embraced and not feared. I am heartened when I see the talent out there and hope they are given the opportunities. Otherwise, like many of my colleagues, they will turn and walk away at a time in their career when they could be stepping up.
Melanie Cooper AM
Director of Finance and Corporate Affairs,
Chair Coopers Brewery Foundation Inc.
Coopers Brewery Ltd | Passion | Respect | Responsibility | Consistency | Service