carsales General Manager Sales Service & Operations, Petra Sprekos, will be empowering women in Ghana this April and is committing to help fundraise $10,000 on behalf of The Hunger Project. As part of a Business Chicks initiative with The Hunger Project, Petra has been selected to travel to Ghana as part of a Leadership program to help women in this country gain courage, strength and drive to better their worlds – transforming them into leaders in the short and long-term benefit to end hunger.
As a female leader in many organisations, mainly in male-dominated industries of real estate, property and now automotive, Petra has reflected on her journey and identified key areas of importance that have helped her succeed as a female leader:
- Resilience and drive to achieve what she set out to;
- Diversity of thought and people, and acceptance of this;
- Learning through experiences and interactions (ongoing) and this helps to grow.
We caught up with Petra ahead of her trip to Ghana with Business Chicks to provide us with more of knowledge and experience in navigating the corporate world.
Can you expand a bit more on the three areas of importance and how you go about (a) reminding yourself of those every day (b) how you go about it?
I am a female leader who wears and has worn a ridiculous amount of hats at home, in life and in the office! While I manage life and still claim to be sane, the three things that drive me and are most important to me in everything that I do are Belonging/connection, Opportunity, and Freedom. These relate to my work, relationships and family. Sense of belonging and connection with my people at work and personal life is key to success and outputs in my role as a boss, colleague, mother, wife and friend.
Working in corporate and a broad Operational role that interacts with a wide range of customers and stakeholders from all walks of life, disciplines, education backgrounds, the need to be flexible, adaptable and responsive is critical to getting anything done. I have also always worked in male dominated industries, so whilst I acted like the boys in the early days, this did not necessarily work in my favour. What is important is that you get along with your peers, understand them and connect. Back when I started my corporate life 15 years ago, I worked for many autocratic bosses, and what they said went. Similarly, my upbringing delivered on these ways of being, as did my schooling. To be put simply, do what you are told! Today it is very different. People don’t trust you if they cannot connect with you. People don’t trust you if they don’t have a say. It is important as a leader that you have your tribe working with you. My leadership style as a result has changed significantly over the years and is centred around trusted relationships and conversations with my people. This has meant I have had to listen, learn and then act. We are a very liner organisation at carsales, where everyone has opportunities to say and deliver. This is important from a staff retention perspective and to encourage longer tenure – in today’s world, two years in any organisations is considered a very long time. This has not been easy though, but sometimes you need to learn that you cannot please or get along with everyone.
Similarly, giving employees the opportunity to belong is also very welcomed in my world of management and leadership. Some people just don’t ask, they just want things.. on a silver platter. It is our role as leaders to encourage our people and make them aware that opportunity does exist, but you need to drive it. Then it is up to them. Connection in any relationship is also about understanding, and sometimes putting yourself in other people’s shoes. We live life from a lens of our beliefs, experiences and morals. Breaking down these walls, or making distinctions between what’s real and what is a belief leads to not only looking at things differently but moving outside of your comfort zone, something I haven’t really done a lot of in my life. Uncertainty and uneasiness makes you grow and evolve. You learn a lot about yourself in times of discomfort; think about what goes through your mind when lying on a beach in Mykonos v sitting in an ice-cold mud bath during a Tough Mudder event?
Back when I finished high school, those many years ago, I had an idea of what success looked like. Moreover, many of those milestones I achieved and continue to achieve having a very successful large role in a very successful corporate organisation. I was good at conforming, and my life to date has pretty much been by the book…I listened, I did what I was told. I did well at school, went to uni, did a masters, travelled overseas, landed a corporate job, became a manager, married my Greek husband and had children, bought a house, bought an investment property, and so on.
I’ve lived the privileged life thanks to the beginning and learnings of my beautiful mother and father where I have never went without. Whilst this was the case, they did teach me from a very young age that you had to fight to be good, and work hard to get what you want. The sacrifices I made playing tennis at a state level at the age of 12 together with the copious amounts of sporting commitments I had on every night of the week, meant I couldn’t have lots of fun after school at the train station with my friends, or eat McDonalds almost every night of the week! Then being thrown in my dad’s real estate office as a permanent part time receptionist by the age of 16 each Saturday meant I learnt that discipline, commitment and results were part of every day life.
With all of this, I haven’t really moved or deviated much from the norm, or what I perceive as acceptable and successful. I have lived in my comfort zone, and I have loved it. Living a somewhat rigid life can somewhat limit your beliefs. It can limit creativity and opportunity. It can limit the understanding of others and how they add value to you and vice versa. This is particularly important in today’s world of corporate, new challenges and the new age of people coming into the workplace; together with what our children are faced with social media and the internet. The world is the same, but people are different, behaviours are different and as leader in the home and in the office, we choose to keep on top of this. And it’s hard!
What are your tips you can share with other women when they encounter challenges and blockers?
Saying yes when you don’t have all the skills or experience. So often men apply for jobs when they satisfy only one key attribute required for a role. As women, we feel that we need to satisfy all attributes required. As woman we know what we need to do, we are sometimes afraid, possibly afraid about failure or what people think. Just get in there and give it a go.
We need to support and encourage other women more, whether it is in meetings or in achievements. So often, the blokes are fist pumping in meetings and then I see a comment made by a female, and no acknowledgement is given or made by anyone let alone the woman in the room. Always make a special effort to encourage other women, it’s the small things that mean the biggest.
Be yourself and relax about comparing yourself to others or trying to be like others. We see women trying to act tough in front of men. We also see women copying others (aka Instagram). Just because someone likes to exercise doesn’t mean it works for others. Women add so much value to conversations, we think differently, we execute findings in unique ways. We need to recognise this in ourselves and show this off. This is about not only being honest and authentic with others, but it’s about being honest with one self. There is no issue with being direct or different, we don’t need to emulate the men or any other female. I have personally just realized this at the age of 40!
Do what makes you happy. Don’t make other people happy. This is all about integrity and life purpose, for you. For me this has evolved and changed overtime and is still evolving and changing and I am still discovering, which is what my Ghana trip is all about for me. You create your own path
and story, we need to stop complaining about what we don’t like, and get on with what we can influence. Some battles will be lost along the way, but once you know what makes you happy and you are working towards this, any challenges can be turned around. To me, this is my definition of freedom.
What can you tell us about what you’re going in Ghana and what are you most looking forward to?
There are a couple of things I am looking forward to with my upcoming trip to Ghana. The first is about learning about others. Understanding another culture and country – about the people and what drive them every day. I want to understand their challenges, their beliefs and ways of approaching everyday life. I have always loved reading and watching biographies and learning about people and what they have gone through to achieve / be where they are today. Understand the woman and men of Ghana will add richness to my life. The second is about learning about me. I mentioned before about living in and out of comfort zones. After achieving so much in my life to date with family and career, I have got to the point that I am itching to find what is next for me. I want to learn what else I am capable of, and I know this experience will open my eyes to many things I have never seen. I am excited what it will give me, the people around me, my children, husband, colleagues and staff. This also connects with freedom for me, freedom to continue on my journey of what’s important for me, freedom to contribute to the community and freedom to act.
How can people help with your work in Ghana?
There are a couple of ways.
First is through my official fundraising page
Second is through an event I have organised which will include a discussion with some of the amazing woman I know around topics of women leadership, empowerment, life challenges, and general health and wellness. My three passions in life are woman empowerment, tech, and health and wellness. Speakers will share their stories, experiences and interactions with business, life, social issues and justice, and leave the 100+ in attendance something to think about in their own lives on how they can help to achieve their own personal goals around purpose, equality and opportunity.
50% of the ticket price will go to my fundraising target of $10,000. As at today, I am almost half way. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/96032364387
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