Forging women’s economic empowerment is part of this year’s United Nations International Women’s Day theme, and creating equal opportunity and access within education and employment pathways for women is one way to ensure this empowerment. 

Mel Kovacs, HR Business Partner is at the heart of this for Canberra and, alongside her team, is actively recruiting, retaining, and developing female talent. 

“We have a good gender balance in our professional staff, but it is more challenging to recruit and retain female academics. Especially in underrepresented discipline areas such as science, engineering and cyber,” Mel says. 

“When we directly target cisgender women and people who identify as women in these academic fields, our support doesn’t end when they get the job. We provide an approach that includes mentoring, onboarding support and advice on how to build their networks, which is always key to retention and ongoing development.”  

This tailored approach taken by Canberra, supported by Mel and her team of HR professionals, is just one of the actions taken to recruit, retain, and develop talented women. 

“The aim is to provide a flexible and supportive environment for people to do their best work, to feel empowered and engaged in pursuing their career goals,” Mel says. 

“By providing this level of support in partnership with our Schools and Units, they will want to stay with us at Canberra for longer, as retaining gender balance in academic roles is very important to us.    

“Working in human resources can be both rewarding and challenging but we continually strive to empower our community, as we want to see them succeed in whatever way that looks like to them.”

When it comes to women and professional development, Mel says managers and supervisors need to be driving a culture of life long learning and ensuring all their staff have ample opportunity to develop their skill set. 

“ is very flexible and offers a lot of opportunities for professional development for all staff, whether it is through an online course that you can do at your own pace, joining the Women in Research Network, engaging with Women@ Canberra or developing and tracking progress of individual goals and achievements through the MyCareer process,” she says. 

While women only make up , Mel was in leadership roles when she took time away from the workforce. 

“When you are in management taking the time off from the organisation to raise a family can be challenging particularly if you want to avoid feeling isolated, whilst enjoying a different pace focussed on your new family,” she says.

“I wanted to stay connected to my workplace and with what was going on. 

“I found confidence in taking time out through continuing to be involved in key milestones whilst on leave. It doesn’t mean I’m checking in every week, it might just be every couple of months to stay connected. This empowered my return to work and strengthened my leadership capability.” 

Working in leadership-based roles for more than 15 years, Mel still faces the feeling of imposter syndrome in her roles. 

“As a woman it is such a challenge to try and combat that feeling, and I think it is a challenge for many people. But I remind myself that I am valid, I do have a voice and my approach is important and meaningful,” she says. 

“Having a champion who backs you and supports you in your career has been very important for me and key to my success.  

“A champion is different from a mentor; a champion is someone who speaks about you to others, lifts you up when you doubt yourself and advocates your ability. A champion connects you to networks and experiences you would not usually seek. For me, this has been a key approach to strengthening my leadership capability.” 

A strong believer in maintaining a healthy work/life balance, Mel gave some tips on what has helped her maintain resilience in the workplace. 

“I tend to draw on the people around me, my peers, colleagues and leaders provide me with advice and support as and when I need it,” she says. 

“It is also okay to have a day off when you need it, it is okay to say to someone else that you are not okay and you need time out to recharge

“We are more than just our work, and if our wellbeing is good then our work/life balance and ability to maintain resilience can become part of our everyday.”