The One Message I Learned From The Glass Ceiling Awards

It's the secret all successful people know
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A couple of decades ago when I started on Marie Claire (for the first time), I stayed back one Friday night to proof-read a few pages. It was 10pm and I was deep in concentration when I noticed a large, looming figure on my right. Silently standing there (with a somewhat bemused look on his face) was the big-shot owner of the company. His name was Matt Handbury. A legendary figure in publishing, Matt was famous for his avant-garde management style as well as being the eccentric nephew of Rupert Murdoch. He held “circles” where we sat cross-legged on the floor and unpacked office problems “to help clear the air”; he flew us to Vanuatu to trek through the jungle, Survivor-style, for team bonding; he hosted wild, exorbitant Gatsby-esque parties which media still reminisce about today. 

 I didn’t really know Matt, but that Friday night we exchanged a few pleasantries before he disappeared out the door. I thought nothing of our encounter until a week later when my then-boss, Jackie Frank, called me into her sumptuous office to hand over a plain envelope. Inside was a cheque for $5000 – a spot bonus from Matt thanking me for my hard work and dedication. That was 15% of my salary in one, sweet hit. Bonuses are the norm in many industries, but not publishing. This was a big deal. 

The reason I’m relaying this random story is I was reminded of Matt’s spontaneous act of kindness last week during our inaugural marie claire + Bumble Glass Ceiling Awards, which celebrated trailblazing women and companies breaking gender boundaries in the workforce. The room was packed with some high-profile, powerhouse women who have either smashed glass ceilings, or put a few chinks in that invisible barrier. There were countless valuable takeouts from the day, delivered with verve and vigour from our two key speakers, former Olympian and newly elected Independent MP Zali Steggall and highly respected MP, Tanya Plibersek. But there was one clear, simple message that cut through the rest: don’t underestimate the importance of kindness.

Glass Ceiling Awards
marie claire editor, Nicky Briger and MP, Zali Steggall

Reminiscing about her friend and mentor, Julia Gillard (who won the day’s main accolade, The Ceiling Smasher Award), Tanya said she admired the former PM’s kindness just as much as her efficiency and effectiveness. 

“One of Julia’s drivers once told me that he picked up Julia from Canberra airport really late one night returning from a trip to King Island, and she handed him a bag of cheese to give to his wife. What’s incredible about that is she’d remembered a conversation from much earlier, where he had told Julia that his wife was a cheese-lover, and her instinct was to pass on that little bit of kindness.” 

OK, if this sounds like new-age mumbo-jumbo, let’s resort to good old-fashioned scientific facts. Countless studies have proved that kindness releases feel-good endorphins that ease stress, anxiety and promote good health; in the workplace, research shows kindness fosters happiness, loyalty and diligence which leads to the golden egg of business – profits. 

If you’ve ever toiled under a dark cloud of fear and paranoia (like I have) you’ll know it kills productivity. People waste energy worrying about their jobs; they build allies and bitch in corners; it causes stress, mental anguish and illness. 

Last week, Tanya told the crowd that she brought her 14-year-old son, Joe, to the Glass Ceiling Awards to see female empowerment in action, but instead he walked away with a different learning. Afterwards, she emailed to say Joe was impressed that “so many successful people could be so kind”. She signed off: “Learning moment successful!” 

Tanya Plibersek
MP, Tanya Plibersek and son, Joe

So, here’s my takeout: whether you’re a leader or not, be kind, show respect, and you’ll reap the rewards. It not only gives everyone “the feels” but makes sound business sense. 

I’m living proof. More than 20 years after that random act of kindness, I’m back at Marie Claire with the same passion, positivity and devotion to the brand. Did Matt’s generosity solely cement my loyalty to MC? Probably not – but it certainly helped. 

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