Thought leaders: an hour with Debra Tegoni

Debra Tegoni doesn’t believe in the “glass ceiling”. After 24 years in the corporate world she is frustrated that we continue to have the same discussion about women in leadership over and over again. I recently sat down with Debra, Executive General Manager (Legal & Regulatory Services) and Company Secretary at Crown Melbourne Ltd, to reflect on her career and her thoughts on the future for young female professionals.

Debra TegoniLike many of us, Debra graduated knowing what she didn’t want to do, but no clear idea of what she actually wanted to do.

After enjoying her legal studies, Debra decided to try practicing and accepted a graduate position at a commercial law firm. At the time, a job after the graduate year was by no means guaranteed, but Debra’s abilities and interest were immediately recognised and she was offered a permanent position. It wasn’t long before she was snapped up by a partner at another firm who was impressed with her ability to handle a large deal almost autonomously as a first year lawyer.

Debra quickly became able to identify the opportunities that would provide her with the experience that she needed to develop her career. These days, she is directly responsible for all Legal, Risk, Insurance, Gaming Integrity, Surveillance, AML and Responsible Gaming Compliance at Crown and over 80 employees.

Debra says “what goes around comes around” and she really means it.  It was so refreshing to hear Debra speak about the importance of being generous, and supporting others to create a workplace where people are not afraid to ask for help and not afraid of not having all the answers.

While Debra likes to think that people have changed, she recognises that a competitive culture still pervades the corporate world and can become ingrained in environments where information is key, and disseminating information in a way that empowers people to have multiple skills is perceived as putting individuals at risk of being made redundant.  She went on to express her disappointment with this culture as opposed to one of working collaboratively to gain a competitive edge.

For Debra, empowering teams to share information and learn about new aspects of the business is not only a key KPO that she requires from her staff, but also makes her team a nicer place to be - resulting in good advice and good feedback from the business.

Despite Debra’s obvious talents as a lawyer and leader, she readily admits that she is still learning herself. Debra is acutely aware that hard work is not enough; opportunities that you are working towards may be taken away, without any form of malice, if you are not forthright about where you see your future. Debra promotes open dialogue with colleagues to ensure that the team is on the same page, and proactively discussing career plans and ambitions with senior leadership.

With this in mind, Debra suggested that we all take the time to think about what things may come to pass in our organisations. Don’t underestimate the potential opportunities that can come from politicking, thinking broadly about your next steps and “planting the seed”. Debra’s experience has taught her that you have to have the confidence to put yourself in peoples’ awareness, reiterating not only that you are excellent at what you do, but also what you can do. You must be responsible for championing your own career.

Before I left Crown, Debra and I returned to the notion of the glass ceiling. While openly acknowledging the obstacles and challenges that women have to overcome in their careers, for Debra the “glass ceiling” is a patriarchal concept which perpetuates the notion that women have something to “break through”. The glass ceiling has no place in the modern workplace.

Its time to change the debate. Even in the corporate world, where profit is central, stakeholders are demanding more. Not only is diversity on the agenda, it is publicly reported and becoming a measure of an organisation’s success.  For Debra, increasing diversity throughout businesses, and in executive positions, will be achieved by embracing flexible working practices, and focusing on an employee’s output, as opposed to time.  As we change the way organisations recognise and reward their employees’ value the future for young professional women is bright.

It’s exciting to know that we have women such as Debra leading the charge.