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Shining a spotlight on women leaders in aged care: Carina Robinson

Women make up the absolute majority of the healthcare workforce in Australia. It is not even close.

At last check, of the 366,000-odd aged care workers, nearly nine in 10 workers in aged care were female (87 per cent of those in residential care, and 89 per cent of those in home care or home support).

In the broader healthcare space, women outnumber men by nearly three to one, with a total of 440,000 women and 146,000 men registered and employed in Australia’s health workforce.

But still too few women rise to the upper management echelons in these organisations.

A study by US consultancy firm McKinsey found that in the US for entry level healthcare positions women outnumber men by a 66 per cent to 34 per cent split. By the time it gets to senior management level men make up 51 per cent of the positions, and by executive level men make up 70 per cent of positions.

In Australia, women only hold 14.6 per cent of chair positions and 28.1 per cent of directorships, and represent 18.3 per cent of CEOs and 32.5 per cent of key management personnel.

Over the next six weeks, Aged Care Insite will profile six women who have firmly established themselves in the aged care industry.

From educators to chief executives, these stories will uncover how these women have navigated the traditional barriers that affect the advancement of women to leadership.

Carina Robinson, NSW Tafe Program Lead for the Aged Care Centre of Excellence

During her decades long career in aged care, Carina Robinson has worn many different hats. 

The mother of two entered the sector as a university student, working as a casual outreach worker in a residential care facility in Canberra.  

Since then, Carina has pursued a variety of roles ranging from disability and community services to leading one of the first pilots of consumer directed care in Australia.

“​​You can't tell me this industry is boring or two dimensional because it is so dynamic, and there are so many different types of work,” she told Aged Care Insite. 

“​​I think it's about a lot of the work involving business acumen skills, and whether you're able to gain skills in finance and projects and compliance, and all of those areas.

“My motivation to push myself into that space was in wanting to have more influence and have a different voice heard.”

Carina currently works as the program lead for one of NSW's largest education training centres to help develop the future of the aged care workforce.

Most recently, she sat on a national technical advisory committee to inform the training design of the next generation of community services qualifications.

Helping to upskill and mentor the future workforce, she says, was something that came organically to her.

“I've sought out opportunities to give back and contribute because I've always been so cognisant of the difference and the benefit that's made to me over the years,” she said.

“I think I was also really fortunate to have some great mentors and supervisors who encouraged me to extend my skills and to seriously consider a longer term career in the sector.”

As a mother of two small children, Carina says she has been fortunate enough to have worked for employers who were supportive and gave her flexible hours. 

When her first child was born she worked during the night while her husband stayed at home to juggle the difference in shifts.

With currently more mothers working full time in Australia than ever before, ensuring that women receive adequate support in the workplace will be critical to filling the gender imbalances in senior roles.

“In direct care work, whether that be in some of the allied health or clinical professions, shift work is not the most conducive with early childhood care,” says Carina. 

“That's a real barrier and a challenge because we still have very traditional models of childcare.

“I think that's something that we are going to have to continue to work on in terms of what some more contemporary models might be to support women.”

In recent years, Carina says she has found herself attracted to positions that push for systemic contributions to the industry. 

Her next endeavour will be presenting at an Asia Pacific economic corporation workshop in Taipei around national approaches to digital skilling.

According to Carina, fostering relationships with people and learning skills outside of clinical care has helped her to veer off a linear career path.

“I think in terms of those higher-level positions and career development opportunities, I think we should prioritise being able to move across, backwards, sideways," she said.

“It's not necessarily always about moving into a more senior position, but maybe you want to step sideways and specialise in something more niche that you're absolutely built for.”

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