Women In Industry Awards: Speaking up for a future worth fighting for

Penelope Twemlow, CEO for Energy Skills Queensland (right), receiving the Mentor of the Year Award

Women In Industry Mentor of the Year award-winner Penelope Twemlow speaks candidly about life as a successful CEO, managing mental health issues, and fighting a gender divide in the workplace.

Penelope Twemlow is a manager, mentor and motivational speaker. In her day job, she says surrounding herself with people she can trust to be honest is one of the main drivers for her success as a CEO.

Under the surface and polished exterior, the 34-year-old advocate for gender equality also speaks openly about her battle with mental health issues, which stem back to her time working in the defence sector addressing the realities men and women face on the frontline.

Rather than locking these demons away, she explains why – as an award-winning mentor – her experience working for the welfare of Australia’s armed forces personnel for more than a decade has driven her to succeed as a businesswoman.

“I talk with a lot of my mentees about how to build emotional resilience and how to make your mark on a career,” she told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“For me, there are several stories while working with the military that have stuck with me and still affect me today – particularly around deaths in the industry.

“In my position, it is about understanding what my trigger points are and how to deal with them properly, so that it doesn’t affect either my professional or personal lives.”

Twemlow was named Mentor of the Year at this year’s Women In Industry awards, held in Melbourne.

Since June 2015, she has been the CEO for Energy Skills Queensland (ESQ), based in Brisbane – a move that followed a massive learning experience working closely with her mentor and mother for the family business, a consultancy firm called General Manager Pty.

“I know they say never go into business with family but my story is a positive one,” she said. “My mother was the one who coached and mentored me and I can safely say I am the person I am today because of the way my parents raised me.

“I have been mentoring and coaching for nearly 10 years, so to be recognised for the work I do was great. For me, the most important part of mentoring anyone is being able to give a little back.

“I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without the people who mentored me and, likewise, it is my job to ensure that we pass on that expertise and experience to improve and advance our future workforce.”

Before joining ESQ, there were options to work overseas, she explains – to gain more international experience and enhance her depth of vision, but she opted for a role closer to home.

“One of the things that I speak with my mentees about is to get across the point that, if you don’t keep up with the industry, you are already behind the eight ball,” she continued.

“It’s about understanding what’s going on in the era of digital and disruptive technology.

“Once you understand how to leverage these technologies, that’s when you can become a bigger and better version of yourself. It is therefore vital, if you want to raise a successful person, to have people around you who can relate to you both professionally and personally.”

At ESQ, Twemlow explains why a frank and honest culture has been one of its pillars. To be able to look to a peer, whether on a professional or personal level, she wants to know that her colleagues work in a safe space, where speaking openly is a core value.

“From a personal perspective, there needs to be people who can challenge your ideas and give blunt advice – so I can then put myself in their position and understand the situation.”

In addition to her role skilling Australia’s energy sector, she has also made it her duty to raise awareness around gender inequality, and is one of the reasons why she felt honoured to be part of an award ceremony that champions women in the workplace

Having founded the non-for-profit Women in Power in September 2015, the group has worked to empower and advance women in industry by helping them to achieve personal and professional goals.

“From a management point of view, roughly 25 per cent of boards around the world have a female voice, which means the decisions that are made in the majority of businesses lead to gender inequality when it comes to wages and pay growth,” she said.

“These awards assist and recognise the achievements of phenomenal women across the spectrum.”