2023 International Women’s Day – Insights beyond the Couch

Chatting with IPAA Queensland’s President and Vice President


IPAA Queensland hosted our inaugural IWD Stewards on the Couch on 8 March 2023.

This event saw three impressive and innovative public stewards take the couch for a candid and thought-provoking discussion about leadership, career journeys, challenges, overcoming barriers, catalysing change, and leading with courage and authenticity. We were privileged to host our diverse panel from State, Local and Commonwealth Government shared their thoughts and wisdom with the next generation of public purpose emerging leaders.

We sat down with two of IPAA Queensland’s own formidable women leaders, our President Deidre Mulkerin and our Vice President and Secretary Tanya Hornick, to discuss their thoughts and reflections on leading in the public purpose realm.

Take a moment to challenge your thinking with some fresh and insightful reflections from our leaders.


  1. What attracted you to work in the public purpose sector?

Tanya – For me, it is very much about the type of person I am. I am here on the shoulders of my parents, who were very active in the communities of Blackwater and Comet, and the old Duaringa Shire, and had a strong focus on stewardship and community.

This servant leadership model, where the most effective leaders strive to serve their stakeholders is something I am familiar with and passionate about. This model has formed the basis of my career. It is the serving and contributing to communities and making a difference in people’s lives, in my case, the Australian community, which attracted me to work in the public purpose sector. The role public purpose work plays in stewardship was very attractive to me. By that, I mean the role of public purpose work in looking after and serving the community, or in Professor Glynn Davis’ words “how public servants maintain the vessel for this endless voyage”.

Further to this, was the opportunity to develop my career in an organisation considered to be one of the world leaders in its field.

Deidre – I grew up in a family that valued community service and volunteering. I always knew that I wanted a career where I could be in service to the community. After completing a Social Work degree my first job was as a frontline child protection and youth justice worker. I knew very early that I had found my ‘why’; and I have been very fortunate that I have been able to build a career honing my craft and being of service to the community.


  1. What are the qualities you see as being most important for emerging leaders to develop?

Tanya – Curiosity – that intrinsic motivation to explore ideas and ways of doing things for the purpose and goal of seeking information, improving understanding, learning and discovering the new. So as to help improve the delivery of public services and better serve our communities.

Linked to curiosity is being open to learning, growing, and the unfamiliar. Especially in areas of importance, which include uplifting our cultural intelligence and professional capabilities aligned to public services reforms and being a contemporary public purpose worker.

Ethical leadership – being centred by your core values and acting in a way upholds the public service code of conduct and values.

Deidre – I think finding your ‘why’ – what interests you? What draws you? Following your ‘true north’ or purpose is the road to an interesting and full career.

And secondly approach your work, career, colleagues, challenges with an open and curious mind. Being open to hearing and understanding other people’s perspectives and views leads to a richer understanding of the world. No one person ever solves a big challenge or creates a new solution or delivers an excellent service on their own. Work and life are a team sport.


  1. What career advice would you provide your 25 year old self?

Tanya – Be brave, don’t automatically say no to the opportunities that you are presented, because you don’t think you have the right level of skill etc. If someone else believes you can – believe that you can. Oh and ask questions, you might not always like the answer, but keep asking why.  Don’t be afraid of the unfamiliar, the public purpose ecosystem is big and diverse, but similarly small, so take the opportunities to network across and within, it will enrich your career and understanding of the sector and public administration.

Deidre – Be open to the many different opportunities that will open up to you. Your life does not have a predetermined path.


  1. What is your approach to work-life balance?

Tanya – I don’t necessarily subscribe to work-life balance as a notion. I subscribe to the philosophy of scheduling my priorities and what gives me the energy to be my best self wherever I am and wherever I need to be. Over time, my priorities have shifted and they continue to shift, but what this means for me is that I am making sure that I am putting myself and the things that are important to me on my “to do” list. It might mean achieving a deadline that requires me to work early/late, or being at an event that is important for my husband or daughter, or going for a swim, but I have learned over the years that I can’t have everything and do everything at the same time, but I can create the systems and put in place practices that support me doing what I need to do and to go in the direction I want to go. I have many roles, including wife and mother, daughter, public servant, IPAA, CEDA, etc, so I have had to come to terms with the fact that I can keep everything imperfectly balanced, and it is ok to say no to things, to not putting things on my “to do” list in order to ensure that the things that matter, including myself, are higher on that list.

Deidre – I don’t believe in the concept of work-life balance – it implies that we should strive at all times for all parts of our life to be in complete harmony. What has served me is to think about my whole life. There are times when I need to lean into work more and give it my deepest focus and other times of my life when I have needed to be very present for my family. And I hope that when I need to lean in more one way than the other that I have enough support and grace from others to understand and support that.


  1. No doubt you all believe that the public purpose sector is vitally important – but what value do you believe the sector provides the community?

Tanya – The public service models for society what is expected, and what is deemed to be the gold service in best practice.  From tackling some of the largest social issues in our time, including equity, diversity and inclusion (a topic that is of great importance as we approach IWD), I think the public service behaves as a role model to the broader community as to what is expected.

Further to this, the public service lives and breathes the ‘no one left behind’ concept.  All workers in the public purpose space endeavour to provide access with the view of achieving social justice.  A place and space where everyone belongs and everyone has access to what they need to live an empowered life.

Deidre – Australia has a strong tradition of a professional public service delivering services for the community. That value is often most on display during major events such as the pandemic or natural disasters. However I think the true value is in the services provided to the community quietly and with respect every single day – doctors, nurses, teachers, police, engineers and my own colleagues working with the most disadvantaged children and families in the community. In a time of global disruption, every community has relied upon the dedication and professionalism of public purpose agencies.


  1. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the public purpose sector?

Tanya – We are facing multiple challenges, including economic uncertainty and pressures, political changes and geopolitical instability and changes, climate resilience, and implementing public services reforms, etc. The biggest challenge that I see for the public purpose sector is trust – being a trusted public purpose sector. Thodey – A trusted APS, united in serving all Australians. So, what do I mean by trust being a challenge. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, Australians trust in government, government leaders and CEOs fell. Yet trust is an important part of our compact with governments, the communities and people we serve. The challenge is how we build, develop, and renew where required, that trust compact at a pace much quicker than on old rusty tricycle that it arrives on, to at least arriving on a electric bike, and how we do that the individual, organisation and sector levels.

Deidre – Like every sector, recruitment and retention of our people is a big pressure point. And thinking about how to adapt to the big disruptive factors present – post pandemic world, moving to a modern digital environment and  giving life to the commitments to Voice to Parliament, Path to Treaty.


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