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Effie Tan is an Assistant Director at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, where she works on climate policies. Discover her journey, insights, and advice for young women in this profile.

*The views expressed in this profile are strictly that of the individual, not of her employer

Q1.

Could you tell me about your job and your day-to-day responsibilities?

I work for the Federal Government on climate policies. Specifically, I work in the Net Zero Economy Agency, which was established in 2023 to promote orderly and positive economic transformation to ensure Australia, its regions and workers realise and share the benefits of the net-zero economy.

 

Given that the Agency is quite new, a lot of the focus to date has been on establishing its functions. Day to day, I speak with our stakeholders in the regions — including local councils, community organisations, union representatives, industry, First Nations peoples, etc., — to understand the opportunities and challenges in those locations and how the Agency can best support them. These insights then help me contribute to strategic policy development by government. I am also part of the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Network, have managerial responsibilities and am an advocate for team-bonding activities. 

Q2.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your role? 

Having direct interaction with the Australian people. I have had the opportunity to meet people from all over Australia and hear about their work, their communities and their views about Australia’s climate transition. This has been extremely rewarding because I have been able to hear a lot of different viewpoints which have expanded my own perspectives. For me, this role has highlighted the importance of public policies understanding the different contexts (historical, cultural, socio-economic) of the groups of people they serve.

Q3.

What advice would you give young women in university at the start of their careers?

Redefine the meaning of ‘failure’ for yourself. There are lots of studies out there that show that women are more risk averse than men (potentially because they are judged more harshly than their male counterparts when they do ‘fail’). Certainly, for a lot of my life, I was ruled by fear of failure. It drove me to work hard. However, I realized that my perception of failure was overly narrow. I used to gauge it solely by my performance in specific tasks—be it a subject, a skill, or a job. Yet, this approach proved restrictive in the long run. 


At school, if I put in the effort and time, I saw results. In our careers though, there are a lot more variables and it will be impossible to avoid stumbling — sometimes, because of things that are outside of our control. Other times, because we are not spending our time and effort in the right direction. To combat the constant fear of failure, I learned to broaden my definition of it, which meant expanding my goals. 

 

For example, instead of defining your success by your performance in your current job, imagine your goal to be an entrepreneur and/or industry disrupter. Any mishap you experience is one fewer mistake you might make with your own business. Instead of fixating on your colleagues’ opinions, aim for the national or even global stage. Every topic you're not well-versed in today presents an opportunity for growth, preparing you for more significant meetings ahead.

Seeing the world that way allows me to see any stumbling block today as a valuable, but ultimately just a small part of a much bigger puzzle that leads to my end goal. The beauty of this is that each time I feel cornered, I can simply make my puzzle bigger!

Q4.

What is one change that you would like to see for women in your field? 

I would love to see more women at work lean into what makes us ‘feminine’. When I first started out, whether it was in consulting or government, I felt the need to blend in, particularly as I was often in boardrooms with more senior, Caucasian men. I felt that I needed to talk like them and dress like them (I wore a lot of blacks and greys). It sounds silly, but when I saw a senior female executive wear bright colours and eye-catching outfits to work, I found it inspiring. When my female supervisor left in the middle of a meeting to deal with a school emergency for their kids, it felt empowering. When a female colleague chairing a divisional meeting set aside time to discuss culture and sentiments, I was making internal fist pumps. In short, I think women should bring more of themselves to work.

Q5.

How does working in the public sector compare to working in management consulting? What would you say to students who are trying to choose between the two?

Working in management consulting was exhilarating. It was intense and high-pressure, but you get exposed to incredibly smart people, fantastic experiences and problems. The work demands dedication and resilience, but you will learn a lot and grow fast. 

 

The public sector is just as challenging and rewarding but in a different way — Many public servants, myself included, bring a sense of personal commitment to their roles, driven by beliefs in positive change and societal impact. While this brought a profound sense of purpose to my work, it also exposed me to the complexities and challenges inherent in serving diverse stakeholders with competing interests.

 

For students weighing their options, I would advise gathering as much information as possible. Reach out to professionals in both fields for informational interviews or coffee chats to gain insights into the day-to-day realities of each role. 

 

Have a clear idea of what you are getting into and what you want out of it, before making a decision that is best suited to your needs at this time.

14.05.2024

If you have any questions for Effie Tan, please:

1. Leave a comment under our Woman of the Week FB post, or

2. Email us at wcp.unimelb@gmail.com

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