Sonia is the founder of the Women in Commerce and Politics club. Since graduating from the University of Melbourne, Sonia has undertaken several legal internships and the role of executive director for her family business. Sonia is a determined and inspirational woman, who pioneers for change through championing female involvement and support within Commerce and Politics. Her involvement at the University has undoubtedly had a lasting impact, with the legacy of WCP continuing to champion gender equality in these fields.
What is your current job and your day-to-day responsibilities?
Upon graduation from the University of Melbourne in 2018, I held numerous positions. I managed and advised my family business in manufacturing, undertook legal internships and participated in pro-Bono work. I have now begun the Juris Doctor program at Monash University.
As an executive director of my family business, I have to collaborate with directors, designers, and the marketing and operations team. All of this is to ensure that the day-to-day tasks are well run. Mainly, I advise the board on important business decisions and am responsible for building both client and network relationships.
Meanwhile, I interned at several law firms including at Lucy Wayne MBE & Associates, Allen & Gledhill and CMS Law where I was responsible for conducting legal research in Corporate Law, Investment Law, Dispute Resolution and assisting solicitors with their cases.
On a part-time basis, I work with several non-profit organisations to speak about cyber policy (women empowerment) at a variety of events, workshops (e.g. TedX) and conferences. I also collaborate with different experts to write articles on the topic. I recently volunteered as a Presenter for Earth.Org, an environmental think tank with up to 1 million viewers online.
Currently, I am interning at Payne Claremont Velasco (Litigation) whilst completing the Juris Doctor in Law at Monash.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
This question is quite loaded, but I find immense satisfaction in efficiently resolving client issues and enjoy building networks. Over the past four years, I've collected over 500 business cards, relishing the opportunity to connect, share, and execute ideas with like-minded people. I’m a people person!
Continuously exploring and pursuing our passions is crucial. Personally, my enthusiasm for business law, nurtured during my undergraduate studies at The University of Melbourne, is still present.
Embracing our true passions, despite external pressures, is rewarding. I've faced discouragement, like many other women, even from my conservative family, who suggested I abandon my legal aspirations and pursue their expectations of me. However, staying true to myself and my ambition to become an international commercial lawyer brings unparalleled fulfilment. Refusing to compromise on our dreams leads to genuine contentment and success.
What advice would you give women in University at the start of their careers?
Arrive at 8:30am if the contract states a 9am start time, and stay until the last person leaves if the contract stipulates a 6pm end time.
For young women aiming to advance in their careers and maintain long-term productivity, it's crucial to prioritize your support system. This includes sufficient sleep, a balanced diet, nurturing friendships, and a strong work ethic.
While workplace expectations often focus on professionalism and high-quality output, it's essential to remember that we are only human. Establishing disciplined routines, such as an early bedtime and regular exercise, lays the foundation for sustained success at work. Much like plants, if we nail these foundational elements we have the practical capacity to excel. No matter how ‘strong’ plants want to be or how much they want to grow, none of this matters unless they are provided with enough water, oxygen and sunlight.
Selecting friends and family who provide moral and social support is paramount. Allocating time for these relationships enhances overall happiness and well-being.
What is one change that you would like to see for women in your field?
Even though there is quite a good presence of Women Empowerment initiatives globally, I do not think it has helped substantially in the workplace. I still hear about many incidents of sexual harassment and ‘‘talking over women’ at work meetings. I think this happens because many still brush it off as something that is ‘not important enough’, compared to the business matters at work.
At an individual level, I would want to see more women support each other than tear each other down - which is what I often see at the workplace. I’d also like to see more women ‘break this stereotype’ that women are ‘not meant to be in patriarchal fields’, and I think it starts with how women talk about each other, how we talk to ourselves about what is possible or what is not in life, take ourselves seriously and be willing to work extra hard and be confident in what we believe in.
Why did you want to create the Women In Commerce and Politics club?
In April 2016, while writing an article on Women Empowerment, inspired by Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In," I conceived the idea for a club addressing gender biases in career advancement. Sandberg's research highlighted the double standards women face in leadership roles, perceived as either "iron maidens" for assertiveness or "too weak" for displaying feminine qualities. My own experiences, including leadership roles in various student organizations, reinforced these observations. Her research data found that as women climb ‘higher’ in their career ladder’, they are more likely to be seen as rude. However, when men ‘become leaders’ at their work, they are more likely to be seen as ‘the ideal type of man’ to be celebrated.
As Vice President of the Melbourne International Relations Society and involved in campus politics, I encountered gender disparities firsthand. Despite efforts to address underrepresentation, women were still disproportionately absent, both in academia and leadership positions across business and politics.
A little fun fact about the name of our club. I was uncertain about my career path but passionate about both business and politics, I named it the "Women In Commerce and Politics Club". The club aimed to empower women in both fields, recognizing the importance of qualifications in securing desired career opportunities. By recruiting ambitious and like-minded co-founders, we successfully launched the club to provide support and opportunities for future female leaders.