How women can thrive in a male-dominated industr


As Corporate Services Manager at Port of Tauranga Limited, Global Women member Sara Lunam is a rare creature: a senior female in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Sara took time out of her day to talk to Global Women about how her upbringing and approach to work enable her to thrive, and offers advice to women starting their careers or considering governance roles.


Strong female figures

Growing up surrounded by strong women, Sara was raised to believe she could be whatever she wanted to be. She also had an inspirational figure in her mother, who was the only one of her nine siblings to go to university and who later went back to education while raising four children. ‘You can’t help but be inspired by that environment,’ Sara reflects.


Advice for young women

Young (and not so young) women who don’t yet know what they want to do ‘when they grow up’ can take comfort that Sara herself didn’t have a career trajectory neatly mapped out. ‘After university, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,’ she recalls. ‘I never really thought about having a “successful” career.’


Rather than focusing on a specific goal, she counsels, ‘Have a guiding plan, but be really open to adapting those ideas. Look out for and embrace opportunities. Be prepared to follow your heart, your real interests. If you don’t like an industry, find one you do. If you don’t like a particular discipline of business, find one more suitable. Be open and receptive to change. Have courage and be bold; be sure to put yourself forward for roles that interest you.’ Crucially, she advises young women to ‘make yourself as tech savvy as you can. Technology is certain to disrupt almost every industry and every business discipline in future.’


A nose for opportunities

Sara appears to have taken her own advice. And it has paid off. ‘When I started working for [mineral, oil and gas company] BHP that was a game changer for me. I was recognised for the work I was doing and encouraged onto the company’s advanced management development programme. From there I’ve followed opportunities as they’ve arisen.’


Those opportunities have included governance roles in Australia and New Zealand. Her advice for women looking to step up to board positions? Ultimately, it’s really about networking. If you have governance ambitions, it is important to put your name and accomplishments “out there” through social and business interactions in a positive way.’


Thriving in a male dominated workforce

But for anyone thinking it’s all been plain sailing, think again. ‘Let’s face it, some men, especially in Australia at the time, really struggled with the concept of women in the workforce, let alone in senior positions. Dealing with a large multi-cultural workforce and the unions there, especially around port and labour reforms, was at times unbelievably challenging.’ Looking back on the setbacks and road blocks she has faced, Sara reflects that she ‘must be very resilient, or possibly just tenacious!’


When it comes to making New Zealand businesses genuinely equitable, Sara’s focus is on removing the barriers that women face, then making appointments based on merit. It’s no small challenge in ‘what is inherently an “unattractive” primary industry,’ she acknowledges.


The myth of ‘having it all’

So how does she balance a demanding career and taking care of herself? Is it possible to ‘have it all’ in life?


Quite frankly, Sara says, ‘sometimes I feel like I just don’t have any energy!’ But it comes down to a bit of push and pull. Sara works hard during the week, but ensures that she makes full use of her annual leave to travel and that she gets plenty of exercise out and about in Mount Maunganui to recharge. ‘Being inspired by the work and knowing you are contributing to the positive outcomes of a very successful company is in itself energising.’