In the lead up to International Women's Day (March 8th 2019) we will be interviewing inspirational women about their journey in the business world. We want to recognise and share the achievements of these women; share their stories with others and encouraging other organisations to #BalanceforBetter in their businesses.

Our sixth interviewee is Professor Nadia Badawi AM | Medical Director and Co-Head Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care | The Children's Hospital Westmead

Charterhouse Australia Professor Nadia Badawi

Please tell us a little about your current mandate

I work closely with families, the community and other health professionals to achieve my current mandates as I could not possibly accomplish them on my own.  My current mandate at the Grace Centre for Newborn Care, the Children’s Hospital at Westmead to is to help increase the survival and quality of life of sick newborn babies who require neonatal intensive care and to help them live as full a life as possible. Through my work with Cerebral Palsy Alliance my mandate is to prevent, find the best treatments and ultimately find a cure for cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability of childhood. This is a global goal, we have an extensive network of researchers and clinicians focussing their attention on helping us achieve this.  Helping support care in developing economies for children with disabilities and their families has become an increasing part of my role in the last ten years. Part of my role is to advocate for sick babies and people with disabilities and to bring issues associated with their care and their enjoyment of life to the attention of the greater society. An important aspect of facilitating research and service provision  involves raising much needed funds. 

A vital aspect of my work is to support, train and mentor the next generation of health professionals and researchers.  Increasingly we are collaborating with parents of babies who have been in neonatal intensive care and people with disabilities to guide us to the best research and treatment decisions that are meaningful to them and have the greatest impact on their lives.

I have a strong interest in education particularly in lower and middle income countries and as health and education are so intertwined, I was very lucky to serve on the Board of the School for Life Foundation with Annabelle Chauncy OAM who co-founded a school in Uganda with Dave Everett OAM to provide high quality education for children who would not have access to it otherwise.  She is a woman who inspires me greatly.  My interest in education also extends to the staff in the Grace centre as CP alliance and finding education and training opportunities for them to improve the care we provide is crucial.

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced?

My biggest professional challenges have been to try and do as good a job as possible, while also looking after my family.  I have had to learn to accept that I will never be perfect at any aspect of my life. While we have an outstanding health system, dealing with the bureaucracy can be very difficult, particularly when we trying to be innovative and at the forefront of change and improvement. Competing for research funds, education opportunities and new medical equipment to try and improve outcomes constantly is ongoing, and we have had to find new ways to achieving these independently while also working within the boundaries of the Department of Health. Giving a voice to the needs of sick babies and their families, as well as those with special needs, is often difficult in a community where adults receive much more funding and attention.  

What advice would you give to women looking to forge a career in your industry?

My advice to women who wish to work in Medicine, and other health professions, is to find mentors and sponsors who can guide you and pave the way for your career to advance. To have a sense of humour, a collaborative attitude and to work hard.  Having a supportive life partner makes all the difference and involving them, and your family, in your work is incredibly helpful. 

My family and social contacts enrich and facilitate my work.  Learning to be resilient is vital. My best opportunities have come from what seemed to be setbacks or disappointments, both personal and professional. Picking myself up after them enabled me to take different paths and see chances I would have been otherwise blind to.  I have also realised that my desire to achieve a goal is greater than the desire of those who wish to prevent this achievement, so eventually if you are determined and the goal is important enough, one can prevail.  I believe in the motto, it is better to seek forgiveness than to seek permission.

Who has been your biggest influence professionally?

My biggest influence professionally was Professor Fiona Stanley AC, who was made Australian of the year in 2003.  She was my PhD supervisor and gave me many opportunities to learn research skills and set me on this career path. Like me, she is the mother of two daughters and often shared stories with me about the trials and tribulations of being a working mum. She put a human face on the work, made success seem achievable and encouraged me to strike out on my own. Another great support and mentor was Professor Jenny Kurinczuk; who is the head of the Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford. She helped direct me towards people who would be nurturing to my career. We had children within a few weeks of each other and she was a great support to me during this time. I have been incredibly fortunate to have so many people support me in my career and it encourages me to be an active mentor and sponsor for  others. I also found that people in areas different to my own, outside of health, were generous in sharing both their time and expertise.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing gender equality in the workplace?

I think the biggest challenge facing gender equality is the lack of honest discussions around it, and the lack of other diversity in the work place including disability, ethnicity, religious expression, sexual orientation and age range.  We don’t acknowledge our biases, conscious or otherwise, and if we don’t put diversity front and centre of our employment and opportunity strategies, nothing will change. I believe in proportionate representation in the workforce and believe that our staff at senior levels should reflect the make up of the community they serve.

What do you believe women uniquely bring to the table in senior positions?

Women bring better understanding of what motivates, and interests, half the population. They have different ways of problem solving and tend to embrace collaborative partnerships.  It is my experience that working groups, who are diverse in all aspects, are much more productive, have fewer blind spots and are less stagnant. They are more creative and resilient in the face of change.

What does International Women's Day mean to you?

I think of my mother who was Irish, who had travelled to Egypt and met my father there. She taught all four of us to read at a very early age and to value working with others, particularly women and children.  I then think of my daughters and hope they can fulfil their dreams and have productive lives. My life would be so poor without them.  My thoughts then turn to my friends and neighbours and the outstanding nurses and volunteers I work with, who devote their lives to the service of others.

Then I think the situation for women who live in wartorn countries, and in financial and social hardship all around the world; including in Australia.  It would be something indeed if all girls (and boys) had access to great education, financial liberty, good health care and basic human rights.

Thank you for your time in answering our questions, Nadia

You can follow Nadia's success at: