Written by Rebecca Ryan

A career sponsor is a person who takes an active role in your professional development, using their influence to directly advance your career. Dunsborough raised, Linda Adnyana discusses the importance of sponsorship throughout her career and her experiences as a regional woman navigating a career path which has been anything but linear

Linda was the born the youngest of four – born in “two rounds”, a brother and sister 9 -10 years older and a second sister only 15 months older. Being the youngest in the family she was often left to her own devices which suited her just fine.

The family lived on 160 acres of land just outside Dunsborough. Linda recalls fond memories of watching Countdown on GWN and building cubbies out in the bush. Her father ran a small business as a carting contractor throughout the South West, and her mother stayed at home to look after for kids and run the household.

It was an ideal childhood in a time where Dunsborough was vastly different to the tourism hub we know today.

“When I tell people I grew up in Dunsborough, it’s the current Dunsborough the comes to mind, but when I grew up, it was a third of the population, you knew everyone, you knew all the cars in car park at shops”

After high school graduation, there was never a direct discussion with her parents around attending university, but it was strongly implied. At age thirteen, Linda’s mother was forced to leave school to support the family when her father died, and Linda’s dad was never one for study so left school at age fourteen to pursue an apprenticeship.

“My brother was already on a career path with his apprenticeship; however, my sisters and I were only ever on a university track. My parents were so limited in their opportunities, I guess they didn’t want the same limitations placed upon their kids”

Unsure where or what to study, Linda elected to study a Bachelor of Business and Asian Studies double degree at Curtin University. At the time, there was no school career counselling or real meaningful discussions with her parents.

“I had no idea where to start, the only real options I thought were on offer where teaching and nursing. I couldn’t see any identifiable pathway to a career outside those options – I wasn’t keen on nursing or teaching, so business made the most sense to me at the time.”

Linda was lucky enough to be able to live at her parents’ Perth house with her sisters at the start of her time at university. The accounting major she had signed up for wasn’t working out, the call of Student Night at the Coronado Hotel on a Thursday was too strong – accounting classes the next day were a casualty. Linda switched to a major in HR and Industrial Relations – she found it a good fit with easily identifiable career outcomes.

A working holiday to Japan for nine months, and dropping to a single stream Bachelor saw Linda graduate in the early 90’s. She soon landed a 3 month contract job in HR at the WA Department of Health which would begin a thirteen-year long career at the department. However, it was not long before Linda surmised that HR was not the place for her

“Despite all the things I had learnt and been exposed to in my degree, my perception when I started working of what my career would be or what my degree gave me was very narrow, I quickly realised that it wasn’t the job for me. I was unsure of where to go next”

A critical juncture in her career came when she was first ‘sponsored’ for a position by a senior colleague. Sponsorship is an informal, but direct method of putting someone forward for a position, essentially advocating for a staff member and encouraging them to apply. Linda found that this explicit level of support was so beneficial, especially for her confidence and future career growth.

By her early 20s, some semblance of a career path was forming in Linda’s mind. In her interactions with the Director General’s chief of staff, she considered that this might be the role for her, however the strategy that she developed to achieve this goal wasn’t centred on promotion, but rather skill building and a broadening of knowledge to support her career aspirations.

“I started to think, yes, I think that’s where I want to be – close to where decisions are being made, it seemed exciting – I’m not even sure I was conscious of this decision at the time, but upon reflection, I did give myself that goal. I made a kind of strategy, promotion wasn’t front and centre – it wasn’t about the money, but rather moving out and then up, developing breadth before depth”

The value of building strong working friendships and learning from intelligent sharp minds was also important.

“Connection at work has always been important for me, being linked up to interesting and smart people who challenge you and you can learn from; being engaged in interesting work alongside these incredible thinkers was energising”

Linda’s time at the department was punctuated by period of considerable reform within WA’s health system. She thrived in the busy environment – exposure to high-level discussions and strategy was a valuable learning experience and the political intrigue was exciting, but the feeling that she was contributing to something was incredibly fulfilling.

It wasn’t long before Linda did achieve that role that she had set herself up for in the early years. However, it wasn’t without doubt at her own abilities, that loud voice in her head which told her she wasn’t the right fit for a job was annoyingly persistent, leading her to even question a Director General’s decision to appoint her, asking “are you sure??”

“I think it’s particularly true of women, we are conditioned to believe that we aren’t quite good enough or someone is going to find you out. While I have become much more confident and adept at silencing that doubting voice, it does still rear its ugly head for time to time”

A husband and one child later, and a year-long secondment as a hospital Operations Manager in WA Country Health Service South West, Linda took up a new opportunity through (yet another) career sponsorship to work on a project at Curtin University.

The work was at a lower level than previous roles at Health, but she appreciated the slower pace. After working to establish the Curtin Medical School, she soon gave birth to her second child and found the flexibility she had in her position was exceptional, particularly the on-site childcare facility which made it possible to walk down on her breaks to feed her son.

Again, she formed strong connections with those types of clever people she had experienced at Health and another sponsorship saw her in a new strategic position in the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic portfolio, eventually leading to her current role as Director Regional Engagement and Inclusion.

Linda’s role at Curtin offers her the opportunity to support the education journeys of other aspiring regional and remote students. Drawing upon her own experiences as a regional woman, she strives to shine a light on the importance of education in the growth and sustainability of regional, rural and remote communities and looks to build partnerships and opportunities for students to be successful.

“I think I was quite privileged to have parents who could provide me with accommodation in Perth – I was also helped along by my sisters who had already attended university, so it wasn’t such a foreign concept. I know that others aren’t as lucky and I’m now in a position to help those who may not have this level of support. Curtin has an incredible mentoring program for those new to study, scholarships for regional and remote students and we have just built an amazing new student residence, with accommodation guarantees for those from regional communities.”

When it comes to advice for other women who may be feeling unsteady in their own career or study, she offers the following advice:

“Sponsorships are important – build connections where you can and get to networking. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who has said they love networking, but you can do it authentically if you have a genuine interest. Ask more questions and look for a connection – find a common thread and welcome others into the conversation”

She also calls out a comment made by RRR Women’s Network’s CEO Kendall Galbraith, which really resonated with her

“Something that Kendall said recently is don’t just look inside your region, don’t just think about what you can see. Find ways to think and know about everything else. Allow yourself the opportunity to cast your eyes further afield, if you just look at what’s around you, you will forever only see what’s around you”

Linda feels that critical to her success was all the opportunities and support given to her from those invested in her career through sponsorship. A favourite author of hers on the subject is Jennifer De Vries, who stresses the value of sponsorship in addressing gender diversity and equality within the workplace. Though Linda emphasises that it’s not without hard work

“That’s not to say that I haven’t worked incredibly hard or applied for opportunities, but I wouldn’t have done it unless prompted by sponsors. They would say, I’ve spoken to this person, and I know you can do this job. It’s almost like an antidote for the imposter syndrome, quietening that voice that says you aren’t capable – it’s to have someone confirm that it isn’t true and recognise your potential”