Human on the Inside with Empowered Women in Trades’ Hacia Atherton


5 min read

We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

You’re the Founding Director of Empowered Women in Trades – a newish (est. late 2020) not-for-profit organisation offering educational resources, support and advocacy for increasing female participation in trades. In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does your role entail?

My role entails developing and executing our innovative strategy to inspire women to pick up the tools and consider a career in skilled trades. I objectively look at the current barriers for women to enter skilled trades (lack of awareness, culture issue in the industry, limiting beliefs of women who feel they “can’t” enter a male dominated field) and collaborate with industry leaders to create programs and resources to break down these barriers. I then empower and support our team to do the hard work that is needed to remove these barriers and get more women into trades!

Alongside your work with Empowered Women in Trades, you’re a Director & Secretary for Atherton – a world leader in sterilisation and infection control products for the hospital, medical and scientific industries, Treasurer & Executive Member of the School Broadcasting Network, a Committee Member for CPA Australia, and the Founder of Hacia Atherton International – an organisation born of your own incredible recovery from a life changing accident in 2017. Training for the World Equestrian Games, you were thrown and crushed by your 600kg horse, and told walking meaningfully again would be near impossible.

Embracing ‘progress over perfection’, you’ve since smashed your goal of walking unaided – a journey you share with audiences via keynote talks. WHAT an inspiration! How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

My personal purpose is to inspire people to see their remarkable potential whilst connecting them with their inner courage so they can overcome any challenge or adversity that comes their way. This purpose was born from my own recovery journey from a horse accident when I realised how powerful it was to have someone believe in you in those moments when you don’t have the strength to believe in yourself. What drives me as an individual is challenging the status quo and your own personal boundaries so we can reach those places we never imagined possible, both personally and professionally. In all my roles I lean in to my personal purpose and internal motivating drive; be it through encouraging innovative thinking on how we advance infection control technology, inspiring a women to pick up the tools, supporting a child to step outside their comfort zone and host a radio show, guiding an emerging leader along their career path in the accounting industry, or igniting a flame of self belief through my keynote speaking.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

My education pathway has had many twists and turns!

I graduated from Ruyton Girls’ School and went to Monash University to study Law, but soon realised that being a female commercial barrister was going to be extremely hard back in 2007 as the industry was extremely male dominated and women were not treated with respect. Although I had a love for law, I didn’t want to become the woman you needed to be to survive in that environment, so I transferred into Psychology, Management, Marketing. I also did some bookkeeping qualification and set up my first business ‘Bamboozled Office’; supporting sole traders and small startups with their bookkeeping and office management.

At the end of my first year I was academically burnt out, so I left Uni and started a Diploma in fashion design which I loved. However, after the year I knew a career in fashion design was not for me. I was enjoying my work with Bamboozled Office and wanted to continue to support people with their finances, so obtained my Financial Planning qualification. Again, the industry was not for me as my values did NOT align with the values of the industry (enter Royal Commission!). I only lasted a year before I couldn’t do it anymore, and left to work for the family business.

I then went back to Uni and completed a Bachelor in Commerce from Deakin university. My last exam was not long before my accident and being able to walk across the stage to collect my Degree became a driving motivation in hospital (I was successful with my trusty walker and managed to shuffle across the stage).

I started my CPA studies from my hospital bed – lots of people thought I was crazy for doing this! However, for me in a time with so much uncertainty with my physical state, I thrived having something that was stable and predictable. The professional community of the CPA also became a safe harbor for me during my recovery, and no matter how bad the news was relating to my physical health, I felt like my life was progressing as I made my way through the CPA program.

All this experience continues to serve me well in my current career, even the fashion design component, as it gave me confidence to provide inside feedback on creative topics such as marketing. My education has led me to become a well rounded executive and director with not only an understanding and appreciation of legal, financial and creative disciplines, but a dynamic, strategic mindset too.

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be …

Take the path that twists and turns around the mountain; that leads through the rivers and over the rocks. Find your own ‘right’ path – yes take advice and guidance from others, but at the end of the day, let your own passion fuel your purpose and don’t let fear get in the way of walking an unwalked career path.

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?

My journey with human skills has been an interesting one. Pre accident I always valued strong interpersonal communication skills and I guess your more “general” human skills. I definitely didn’t embrace being vulnerable or empathetic communication, and underestimated the importance of resilience. That all changed after my accident!

To get back on my feet mentally and physically, I had to climb a steep human skills learning curve. To survive I needed to embrace being vulnerable and leading myself with empathy which in-turn resulted in communicating with others through an empathetic lens. I started to research positive psychology and human skills and very quickly realised this was the future not simply of self leadership but corporate leadership. My love affair with human skills had been ignited, and although I had lost my ability to pursue what I thought was my only life passion (dressage), I discovered new passion and drive in life.

Now in everything I do I use human skills as a way to push myself and others around me to new heights never thought possible – to unlock parts of our mind and discover parts of ourselves we never knew existed. We all have within us exactly what we need to be successful. The trick is unlocking our remarkable potential and the key to the lock is human skills and having the courage to develop them.

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

My strongest personal super power is courage. For me courage is making the choice to show up in hardship and the willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation with a strong sense of self-belief that you will be ok and get to the other side. That you have a strong sense of conviction and integrity, whilst having compassion for yourself and others. You have the mindset to not only survive in adversity but thrive.

And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career?

Patience! To find the strength to accept disruptions and delays without getting angry or frustrated. To hold the space for others while they go through the learning process to discover an answer you may already know, and be supportive of that person’s learning journey.

If you could share one piece of career advice with recent secondary or tertiary graduates, or other individuals keen to work in a trade, what would it be?

Explore! Get your hands on a number of different tools and experience a range of trades, in a range of different industries before you decide what trade you would like to pursue. Get a trade assistant job or a labouring job so you can experience what the industry is like, and watch what happens in each different trade.

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

A dynamic, out-of-the box thinker that communicates with empathy.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?

This year I will be studying a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at Melbourne University.