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Jen Dalitz Founder and SheEO of sphinxx

07 March 2011

\"In business you must understand the rules of the game. You must understand how the 90 percent of decision-makers function. For the moment, that 90 percent are men\"

Lights off

Jen Dalitz - business consultant, author, farmer, presenter on business and change management - remembers her corporate 'tipping point' with stark clarity. She was 18 months into her job, discussing upcoming strategies as part of a 14-man leadership team, when she was asked for her take on an idea.

\"When I began the job, which was a business turnaround and one of my strengths, I was buoyed and vocal. But months of meetings and agreeing on strategies and then finding all the guys in the team [a dozen in all] disregarding the plan and doing what they wanted to do, meant I was completely disengaged. I was asked for my comment and realized I had nothing to say. You don't get to where I was in business and lead and have no comment.\"

It was then that Jen knew it was time to self-select and pursue something she was passionate about.

Taking a lead

\"I had begun sphinxx.org as a hobby, a website for time poor women to swap ideas, put forward thoughts, share knowledge. For women who are ahead of the game and also running households it's harder to stay ahead of the curve without help.

\"I could see it was time to develop sphinxx into a business and find further opportunities. What I cannot fathom is educating people and not allowing them their full potential. I think it's from this thought that the idea came for the workshops: to advance women as corporate leaders.\"

Jen confides that much of the site's development and the development of the speaking and consulting business it has spawned has been to meet the needs and wants of those who contact her... and \"not through flashes of brilliance on my part\". Her personal mantra is to be honest and to keep things simple - not dumbed down, but clear and simple.

Netball and guns

As a child and young girl Jen played netball, lot's of netball. Tall and lanky, she can do a pack of Oreos in a sitting with a pot of tea, and admits she also loved playing school and shops when she was little.

\"I used to categorise the book shelves. I wanted to be a librarian.\"

Instead, she did a Bachelor of Arts (Accountancy) and a Master of Business Administration and, after moving from Adelaide to Sydney to live, has bought a working farm with her husband where they spend a great deal of time and, among other farm pursuits, breed donkeys.

Jen finds the land to be a very leveling place: a place that tests and teaches resilience. A place for her that is about being straight forward and leading with integrity.

\"My dad was a contract farm worker and professional shooter. I did a lot of things with him on weekends on the land in South Australia but I never learned to shoot. My husband can use a gun but won't shoot animals. On a farm, accidents and things happen - brown snakes are very aggressive - and sometimes a gun would be handy.\"

Honesty

Having led complex business units, major projects, customer service teams and change programs in a number of Fortune 500 companies, Jen's 15 year business and finance career has left her with some well-fenced boundaries.

\"There's a lot about business which is dishonest. Restructures are challenging. After a while you look at what you are doing and ask yourself what is this all about? Is this honest? Is this really being transparent with people?

\"I understand there are wider strategies and directives in business that don't need to be spoken about in detail. But at an operational level, business needs to be honest. It needs to share operations targets, communicate with people. The successful business turnaround is about working with people and performance.\"

For Jen this simply amounts to confronting the issues, having the hard conversations about what needs to be done. It results in putting people off-side but then have them discover as the strategy begins to work they're in time \"with the beat of the drum\".

\"It's cruel to lie, whether it be to an individual or a whole unit.

\"I was working on a business unit as part of a complete management overhaul and there was a directive issued to all units to meet certain deadlines and targets. The unit I was working with was in bad shape. Every time I turned something over there was a mess underneath. I was told not to worry. We didn't have to meet the deadlines. The people in the unit already felt like a disaster and this was just perpetuating the problem. What they needed was to feel fulfilled, to achieve and change the old cycle. I demanded we have the same deadlines, and although we did not meet them we did achieve fantastic results in the time and eventually, complete turnaround.

\"We all need boundaries. Not confronting the issues helps no one. \"

Lights on

Just over a year ago Jen had her first child. Children, she says, had not been a driver for her and the first six months of her son were a complete and total shock. From having a career that had had many successes, great choices and was a place in which she felt in control and confidently competent she plummeted to feeling out of control and incompetent to the point where she could no longer even master sleep. And yet the unfolding beauty of the experience and the feelings she has for her son have led her to a new place.

\"The whole experience has taught me to manage my business, my relationships and myself in a totally different way. It also has me fired up about the place of women in the corporate world. 90 percent of the people making decisions for or about, or that affect women, haven't the faintest idea what it is to be a woman - what drives us, our insights, our different perspectives.

\"If those male decision makers had the chance to ask and experience what it is women have to offer, through communication and inclusion of women in the process, then what would our market place look like, what would our leadership teams look like?\"

These thoughts led Jen to begin escalating her leadership workshops, which had begun as 1-hour sessions once a month for up to 20 women.

\"I added webinars to increase participant numbers. The problem was everyone wanted to be in the room. So in 2009, we piloted full day programs in Sydney with Westpac. We've gone from 75 to 80 then 90 women per event and will continue to increase capacity in 2010.

\"In fact we're holding full day programs in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in 2010. Capacity is 100-200, depending on the city, and we're selling out.\"

The demand says a lot about where corporate women are and want to be.

Key Achievements

My family

Education: it creates a future

Financial independence

Personal Passions

Developing women for leadership roles

Supporting the underdog

Understanding the country

\"If you want to understand your strengths you need to listen to what people say and think about you.\"

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