The importance of authentic leadership with Jane Pickering

Throughout her 25-year leadership career, Jane Pickering, Eldercare’s Chief Executive, has remained true to her values and committed to maintaining her femininity even when boardrooms were dominated by men. 

Beginning her working life as a registered nurse and midwife, Jane progressed into nursing administration roles in public and private hospitals before joining the ‘C-Suite’.

Now, having spent 10-years at the helm of one of South Australia’s largest aged care providers, Jane is responsible for leading more than 1,800 staff, working across 20 locations, to provide care for 1,200 older South Australians.

As a recent guest on the Levelling up: Your leadership podcast, Jane had an open, heartfelt and honest chat with host Ali Clarke about the immense privilege — and pressure — that comes with holding such a title, the importance of gender equality and her journey to becoming an authentic leader.

Jane Pickering

Eldercare Chief Executive, Jane Pickering

Privilege and pressure

The enormity of the job – caring for 1,200 of South Australia’s most vulnerable people – is not lost on Jane, who describes being a CEO in aged care as "a particularly privileged position to hold".

"We’ve got 1,200 residents that have contributed enormous amounts to our society…they’ve seen a lot happen over the past 100 years, and they’ve created a society that makes it much easier and more comfortable for us, so they deserve to be looked after," she said.

"It’s important to remember that they’re also incredibly vulnerable people, with families, friends and the community…so, if we stuff up, or if we do something wrong with an older person living in one of our homes, it’s not just one person that has an impact on, it’s the whole community sometimes."

On gender equality

Working in a female-dominated field and experiencing gender inequality first-hand, Jane has always been determined to use her position of influence as a force for good. She’s now Chair of SA Leaders for Gender Equity, and a member of the South Australian Gender Pay Gap Taskforce.

According to the Australian Government’s Department of the Premier and Cabinet, in 2022, 79 per cent of employees in the health care and social assistance industry were female, with the industry experiencing a gender pay gap of 22.2 per cent — well above the national average of 14.1 per cent.

"When I was nursing, you were very sub-servient to the doctors…and that just pissed me off," she said.

"There weren’t many men in nursing at all when I started, so that’s when I began to realise that gee, this is a gender thing.

"Once I became a Chief Executive, even a Director of Nursing, I could see the real difference in the way women were treated in management roles than men.

"I thought, as soon as I get into a position of power of position of influence, I’m going to use it for this, and I decided that early on in my career."

Another decision Jane made early on in her career was to be an authentic leader, and true to herself as a person – and woman.

"There are some very distinct characteristics of females that make them good leaders…being gentle, and firm when I need it, being kind and caring and understanding, and being fair and listening to both sides of the story," she said.

"I’ve always said I’m going to be myself, I’m going to be authentic and I’m going to be kind and look after people, and use my role to actually genuinely care for people rather than tread all over them to get what I need and to progress my career."

Experiencing the journey

As Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, once said: "change is the only constant in life." And this couldn’t be truer for Jane’s leadership journey, and the industry she’s chosen as her own.

"Particularly in the last four or five years, I’ve seen confidence in my own ability grow, and I don’t worry so much about what people are thinking of me or how they’re judging me for doing my job," she said.

"In the sector, there’s been so much change in the last 10, 20 years…but I think we’re in a really good position now.

"I’m feeling more confident and optimistic about the future of aged care right now than I ever had previously."

As for lessons she’d like to pass down to new leaders, or future leaders, Jane’s advice is simple:

"Don’t be so caught up in being successful.

"Just go on the journey, enjoy each day, and celebrate your achievements along the way."

Level up your leadership like Jane by enrolling in a Professional and Continuing Education course or program at the University of Adelaide – or listening to Jane’s episode of Levelling-up: Your leadership podcast.

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