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Community Vision Chief Executive, Michelle Jenkins. Picture: supplied

Shining a spotlight on women leaders in aged care: Michelle Jenkins

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.

Michelle Jenkins, chief executive of Community Vision, WA

Michelle Jenkins' move into the aged care sector was an exercise in stretching her capabilities.

After a career in finance and having done a masters in business leadership, she wanted to see if her skills would work in a completely different sector.

That was back in 2012, and Michelle hasn't looked back since.

Based in Western Australia, Michelle is now the chief executive of Community Vision Australia, a not-for-profit entity, as well as heading up Community Vision's for-profit arm, Fortis Consulting.

And although her career in finance is, for the moment, behind her, she sees parallels between her old line of work and what she is trying to achieve in aged care.

"I think there's two aspects to it and one is that it's a business just like any other," she says of the care sector.

"And you have to look at the organisation as a business. If you don't, if you're losing money year after year, you're not going to be sustainable. So you're not going to be able to provide services to consumers.

"You've got to have some business drivers in there that you're managing and that you're reviewing and that you're looking at. And that's not to say that you need to rape and pillage the balance sheet because you absolutely don't. But you do have to have an eye over what your business drivers are. You've got to have a strategy."

And that outlook should filter down through the organisation, she says, because that is one of the best ways to put the clients first.

"You've got to allow your staff to have a certain amount of autonomy, but also to understand the impact of that. So for example, if they want to provide some extra services to somebody and not charge that person for it, then they need to understand there's a financial impact on the balance sheet of doing that," she tells Aged Care Insite.

"So it's about educating your staff. It's about training your staff to understand those sorts of things, as well as then looking at the needs of the consumer. So in times of crisis, as we've been through for the last two years, you've got to go back to your mission and you've got to say, 'Right, okay. We need to make sure that we're looking after those customers.' 

"And one of the things that I've always done is said to my staff, 'We have to put the customer at the centre of everything that we do, because if we do that, we'll never ever get this wrong.'"

Education comes up a lot in our chat with Michelle. A voracious reader with a big appetite for upskilling, ever since she got her career start in financial planning back in her hometown in Yorkshire, through her banking career in the UK and here in Australia with the likes of St George and Westpac, knowledge has been at the centre of her rise to the top of whatever she throws her hand to.

As she navigates the aged and wider care sectors Michelle continues to look for that knowledge which will help her deliver the best for consumers. She's kept busy during the pandemic with a course at the Stanford Business School, and more recently with studying a masters of counselling.

And for any women looking to progress in the aged care sector, her advice – learn.

"I would say educate yourself. Don't wait for your employer to do it. Don't believe that it's your employer's responsibility to do it. Do it for yourself. Trust yourself. So understand your value, understand your worth. 

"And I would say pitch yourself. Pitch yourself well, because I think women are not good at making a play for what they want. If you think that you can do it, you've got skills to be able to do it, then back yourself and do it.

"Females are just as good. Females can make the change that the sector needs, and females can be dominant and I think should be dominant and should be given equal consideration."

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