An inkling that paid off

After travelling the world as a classical singer in her teens, followed by stints as an academic and management consultant, Dr Gemma Munro eventually found her dream career.

Munro created Inkling Coaching to help business leaders succeed, before shifting her focus to women, with Inkling Women.

Dynamic Business spoke to Munro about what makes her excited to go to work each morning.

You travelled the world as a trained classical singer, so what led you to psychology and working in the corporate world?

I knew I didn’t want to make music a career; it was something I loved but I always wanted to help people be more successful and happier, and in some ways when you make music you make people happier, but I wanted to be able to push people so I did a BA and studied psychology and was hooked on it from the very first lecture. I didn’t want to stop, I did Honours and did a PhD, and as I was finishing I was a lecturer and was tutoring at the university, and as much respect as I have for academia, I actually found that we were kind of preaching to the converted, in my field of study anyway, and it felt very insular, and I knew that it wasn’t the right environment for me.

As I was finishing I tried to get into the corporate world in some way, and I ended up in recruitment, swapped to management consulting, and then started consulting and that was a eureka moment for me, I knew it was what I was meant to be doing with my life.

You worked for large organisations, including a federal government department, so what convinced you to go from there to starting your own business?

I was pregnant with my second child, and people had always asked if I would ever think of starting my own business, and I would always say, no way, we need the regular income and stability, but we had all sorts of complications with my second pregnancy, and had a 40 per cent chance of losing her, and there was something in that that made me think that life is too short to not be doing what you absolutely love.

I knew what I loved was coaching and facilitating, but in particular coaching and facilitating women leaders, and I really wanted to tackle the gender gap at the executive level and help inspire women to create extraordinary lives and careers, and that became the mission of our business. I couldn’t do that where I was, so I started reading about starting your own business, and thought, you know what, I can do this. I went back from maternity leave and tried to stick it out, but after a while it became very clear that what I needed to be doing was coaching and facilitating leadership programs for women in my own business.

You first started Inkling Coaching and then Inkling Women a year later – how did that happen?

We were always running women’s programs under the Inkling Coaching banner, and we also worked with really blokey male executive teams and really senior CEOs who happened to be males. It was interesting, at that time every now and then I put up an article about women and leadership and I’d get real pushback from the males we were working with – not all of them, of course, but some of them, and I realised that women are looking for a community that is just about empowering other women leaders, and supporting each other, and learning from each other, so at that point we split the business into two, and now Inkling Women is very much our focus.

There are many factors holding women back in business, but through your coaching have you found that there are things women do themselves that are holding them back?

It’s so tricky, because there’s no way I want to put the onus all on women, and the fact is women have to negotiate more difficult barriers and more numerous barriers than men do, just because the workplace has been set up to support a masculine model and generally a patriarchal model. Having said that, I think there are few things women could do to negotiate the current workplace a little better.

I do think we hold ourselves back in terms of our limiting beliefs, so we let our negative thoughts about ourselves get in the way of going for what we really want to do and love to do. Women also tend to put other people’s needs and pleasure ahead of their own, and I believe very strongly that in putting your own needs and pleasures first, you’re actually serving others better, because for me our purpose in life is found in whatever gives us great pleasure, and fulfilling our purpose in life helps us to be of service to others. I think that women, generally speaking, believe we can just do a fantastic job and it will get noticed, and sadly that’s not the case anymore, and we have to go out of our way to develop our brand. Not in a sales sense, but in the sense that people know who we are and know what to expect of us, they know us and our work, and we need to be more forthright about actually speaking up, at work and outside it.

How did Inkling Coaching grow?

It’s grown substantially, it started out as just a lifestyle business for me, and I remember a very good friend of mine, who’s also a CEO of a growing company, said that soon it would be more than just me, and I said, no it’s going to be just me, I’m never going to have any employees, and of course he’s making me eat my words now.

We’re always asking ourselves as a team, what gives us most juice and what gets us up in the morning with a smile on our face? We’ve actually grown our business around the answers to those questions, which means we’re always doing something that we love. Then we ask how we can be of best service to others, and I think that way we’re always having an impact on the women we work with, because we’re doing what we’re great at, what we love, and what we think is of most use to women.

What do you have in store for the future?

We’re doing our first national tour of a program next year, called Speakeasy. It’s a two day program for women leaders who want to communicate with confidence, excellence, and ease, and it’s a practical, energised two days, where women get to practice and get feedback and get new skills. We’re running that across the country in the first half of 2014. We’re also launching our first ever online program in December this year, called The School of Purpose and Passion, and one of the things I love to do as a coach when I’m working one on one is help people find their passion, and I can only take on a certain number of coaching clients in any given year, so I wanted to help other people find their passion and purpose, so it’s an 8 week online program specifically for women.

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