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Vanessa Vanderhoek: drowning out bad beats

Alexa Sommerville

We’ve all encountered a bad DJ or two at a club, but for Vanessa Vanderhoek, there’s an even worse one a lot closer to home.

“I hear often that evil DJ in people’s minds, that self-critic who’s saying ‘you’re not worthy’ or ‘you shouldn’t speak up’ or ‘your opinion’s not valued’. It’s a very big thing,” says the founding director of The FlexAgility Group. “You hear about imposter syndrome.”

What exactly is imposter syndrome? It’s a recognised psychological feeling of self-doubt and inadequacy. A sufferer believes somewhere down the line, someone’s going to figure out they’re just fraud who—despite whatever experience, qualifications and accolades they may have—doesn’t really know what they’re doing. That evil DJ spinning woeful tracks in your head is the reason many women struggle to make strategic changes in their careers, says Vanessa.

“You’re your own worst critic. A saying I love is that if anyone offers you an opportunity, but you think you’re not up to it, you should take it – because they see something in you that you don’t see in yourself. So often as women, we go ‘oh no, I can’t do that’. And that’s that evil DJ in your brain spinning tracks, which is getting you off track.”

Drowning out those bad beats is a part of what Vanessa will be speaking about at the 2018 YWCA Canberra She Leads Conference on Wednesday 1 August, where she’ll be discussing flexible work as a key to career development: “Flexibility is the way of the future, and the way of now.”

A successful stint helping the Department of Foreign Affairs embrace flexible work led to the birth of the FlexAgility Group, and later, International Flexible Working Day, which has just had its second birthday. Over two years, they’ve reached two million people in 60 countries, but despite all her own work, Vanessa passes the mantle of leader to the people who implement her message.

“The only reason Flexibility Day was a success is because leaders such as Lisa Annese from Diversity Council Australia and Ashley Winnett from Holden put their necks out there. Just having one passionate leader on board gets you another, then another, then another,” she explains.

“The companies who are really leading the way, their executives all work flexibly. Mark Bernard, the CEO and Chairman of Holden works part-time every second week, as he has children. Their entire Senior Leadership Team work flexibly – it’s impressive and should be the norm. Work doesn’t fit into a 9–5 box anymore.”

Vanessa’s She Leads seminar will double down on the message that to be a leader, one must adapt and create movement for other people will follow.

“It’s very practical. What we want is people to learn something and go away and implement something in their lives. When I hear leadership, I always think about a ship, and a captain as the boss of the ship. It’s very male-dominated.

“I believe it’s about ‘leaderflex’, because part-time work is on the increase, and full-time is on the decrease. As leaders, I think it’s about how we flex our own style, to get the best out of ourselves and our teams.”

Of her own leadership development she says “Our mind can really play awful tricks on us”.

“My career has not been a straight line. When I was just starting I had an interview I knew nothing about so I just asked lots of questions around ‘what do you do?’ and ‘how do you work?’ and that got me the job. The man who interviewed me said, ‘we saw that you were really interested but interesting’, and that’s always stuck with me.”

Helping almost 60 people find jobs after the not-for-profit they worked for lost funding, Vanessa found the philosophy she still imparts to clients today.

“I realised it was just about believing in people. It’s about that are you ‘interested and interesting’? You go through your career, and you know you’re good at stuff, but I personally had never really stopped and thought ‘I am really good with people’, and that’s why I’ve got to senior roles. That’s why I was a deputy CEO at 32.”

While Vanessa says there is no one-size-fits-all secret to success, there are three keys that can help.

“We all have different skills and attributes that make us who we are. It’s about working through what authentically can you bring, and what do you bring? Often it’s already there. We’re not creating [skills] a lot of the time, we’re just unwrapping the present.

“It’s that exercise of asking, what are my five key strengths? And then also personal brand. Take Apple—clean, contemporary, fresh. You go into every Apple store and they’re the same. They’re predictable.

“It’s the same with leaders, if we really want to make our mark on the world, it’s just about being predictable and authentic and being clear in your own mind what you stand for. Those three things. So you can say: I’m not an imposter.”

the essentials

What: The 2018 YWCA She Leads Conference, an empowering conference centered on the theme of women helping each other to rise
When: Wednesday 1 August from 8.30 am–5 pm. A networking function will also be held the night before on Tuesday 31 July.
Where: Rex Hotel, 150 Northbourne Ave, Braddon
Website: ywca-canberra.org.au/event/she-leads-conference

HerCanberra is a proud media partner of the YWCA 2018 She Leads Conference


Alexa Sommerville

Canberra raised Alexa Sommerville has almost completed her Bachelor of Communication in Journalism degree. After five months on exchange in the UK, Alexa fell in love with solo travel and has mastered the art of daydreaming either about her next getaway or her next meal. She enjoys watching health documentaries, online shopping and old-school film photography, but not as much as she does annoying her mother by using every ingredient in the pantry to bake her latest healthy food obsession. Alexa hopes one day to be writing about traveling, or eating, or writing while she travels and eats. More about the Author