Trailblazing Queen: Anna O'Dea, Agency Iceberg

Photography: Courtney King

Photography: Courtney King

Interview by Rebecca Rusinovic

Hi Anna and the team at Agency Iceberg! We are so excited you have joined the Yes Queen project as a YQ Business Ambassador. Together we can future proof workplace bullying and cultivate workplaces that are safe, positive and inclusive. 

Now Anna, you were 30 when you left your job to start Agency Iceberg in 2014. What was the catalyst behind this?

Prior to launching Iceberg, I was working in a major recruitment firm. I was at management level, performing well and earning a good salary. However, I was regularly hearing stories of talent being bullied, mistreated and women being paid less than men in the same role. It got to a point where the money didn’t matter anymore, I couldn’t sleep at night.

I asked my boss if I could start a blog to share these stories, but was shut down. I was excluded from the “big boys table”, which led me to strike out on my own. I launched Agency Iceberg to create my own ethical business. I wanted to shift the perception of recruiters from being untrustworthy to professional experts that don’t cut corners. I started the #LeadingLadies series soon after to profile senior women, bridge the gender divide and discuss real workplace issues, on a platform where nothing is off limits. 

I know that taking the leap to found your own business can be both exciting and daunting. Did you have any trepidation when you started and if so, what did you draw on to keep inspired and motivated?

As a first time business owner I had a lot to learn; I had to up-skill in running a business, going after new business, doing payroll, taxes, designing a website - you name it, I was across it! I had gardening leave which meant any business relationship I’d built over seven years I had to say ‘I can’t help you for six months’. It was a huge risk that I’d lose them. I had to go after new business and build a new network.

I was at home for two to three months and then went to Revolver Lane co-working space, that was a huge relief because I found working from home isolating after working in agencies. I had to get out, socialise and bounce ideas off people. In a co-working space, you’re with people in the same boat, small business owners and entrepreneurs. They were a really good sounding board. 

I stayed inspired and motivated by having the freedom to do run my own business, nurturing new relationships and remembering why I went out on my own, to make a difference in the workplace. 

Agency Iceberg is grounded by the belief of looking beyond the surface, how important is it for companies to dive deeper to find the best talent and why do think this doesn't happen often enough? 

That’s right - only one tenth of an Iceberg is visible above the surface and we believe the same goes for people in recruitment. There is only so much you can learn from a resume or LinkedIn profile, you need to dig deeper to understand the person in front of you. 

Employees can make or break a business. It’s so important to attract and retain the right people for your company, as they impact your culture, productivity and profitability. Often companies rush into making hiring decisions, and can find out once a talent starts that they’re not the right fit, which wastes time and money. Some companies have very high turnover and churn through staff, which affects team morale as well as the bottom line. It’s critical to dive deeper and take the time to place the right person in the right role, to avoid these negative outcomes. 

Women make up 48.5% of the workforce yet only a quarter of women hold senior positions? What impact do you think this has on younger females in the workplace?

There are increasingly more women in leadership positions and men and women fighting to bridge the gender divide in the workplace. Companies are setting targets or quotas (which can be controversial), and more people are understanding the importance of diversity - not only in terms of gender but culture, age, ability and other areas, for organisational success. 

The lack of female leadership can be discouraging for young females, as they may think it’s too hard to reach higher levels, or more difficult for them than their male counterparts. It’s important for young people to have mentors and role models, both female and male, to guide them through their careers. It’s our role as business leaders to give more women opportunities, development programs and training so that they can step up into senior positions. 

I believe this will continue to change as more organisations take positive action to address the imbalance, and as young people push forward in their careers. I designed the #LeadingLadies series which shares the career journeys of Australian female leaders to inspire young men and women to achieve their full potential. 

There is still a lot of cultural stigma around working mums. How should businesses address and support employees with families?

Education and awareness is important. There needs to be an acceptance and appreciation for working mothers and what they bring to the table, rather than perceiving them as a weak link who need to be accommodated for. 

Workplaces need fair maternity and paternity leave policies that encourage staff to take the appropriate time off to care for their families. 

Workplace flexibility is a huge factor. Employers need to have a trusting relationship with their employees and know that if flexibility is offered, it's not taken for granted. Employees should be granted flexibility to work from home or in a style that suits them, as long as they get their work done productively. For instance, if a parent needs to leave work early to pick up their child, they should be allowed to log back on in the evening and complete their tasks for the day at a time that suits them. 

You founded the “#LeadingLadies” series when you quit your role after your boss shut down the idea of a blog for women where nothing is off limits. Now its purpose is to promote women in leadership roles. We’d love to know what a successful leader means to you.

A successful leader to me is one that leads by example, works hard and encourages others to be the best they can be. They’re confident in their abilities and walk the talk. They live and act their values every day, and empower others to do the same. It’s also about being real. Not every day will be a good day, but you need the strength and support to keep going and to encourage your team to do the same. I stand for inclusivity, equality, diversity, transparency and empowerment. 

I read that you were inspired to spearhead change after stories of talent being bullied or paid less than men in the same role. What advice did you give to people who had been bullied and if you have experienced bullying yourself, what did you do to combat it?

Don’t put up with it. Bullying can be very damaging for your morale, self-esteem, and mental health. If you’re being bullied it’s important to speak up, either directly to the person who is bullying you or if you can’t, report it to a manager or HR straight away. Workplaces have a responsibility to take bullying very seriously and stamp it out. 

If you do speak up and nothing is done or you are not taken seriously, you should consider leaving the workplace. It’s unhealthy to work in a toxic environment and can be very harmful to your mental and physical health. It’s just not worth it. There are better workplaces out there. 

I’ve been bullied on numerous occasions. I find the best thing to do is to confront the bully and pull them up on their behaviour. Let them know the way they’re treating you is not ok, and if they keep doing it you’ll have to take it further. I’ve gone to HR and management too.  I’ve unfortunately come across numerous talent and clients who have been bullied as well. One time I had to let a staff member go for bullying. It’s important to take a strong stance. We have a zero tolerance policy to bullying at Agency Iceberg and #LeadingLadies. 

Yes Queen has a strong focus on wellness in the workplace. We believe wholeheartedly that investing in wellness will reduce workplace bullying. You held the “#LeadingLadies” Workplace Wellness Forum this October, how important is wellness in the workplace for your business and what does this look like at Agency Iceberg? 

Wellness in the workplace is incredibly important to us. We prioritise the wellbeing and health of our staff, and are aware of how detrimental burnout can be. 

We finish at 4pm on Fridays, have regular check-ins and team meetings, offer workplace flexibility options and I have an open door policy, I remind my staff that I’m always here for a chat, whether they’re having problems with their work or are going through something personal and need a confidential soundboard. 

Workplace wellness for us also includes giving back to the local community. The team participated in Stand Up Events ‘Move in May’ - an inclusivity awareness walk for the LGBTQI community. 

Agency Iceberg says, “the world is so diverse today and the workplace should reflect this”. Why do you think some organisations lack this ever so important quality?

Some people are unfortunately rooted in the past and stuck in their ways - it could be discrimination, laziness or ignorance. We are no longer living in a world where it is acceptable to have an executive board or leadership team made up of older white males - society doesn’t look like that. 

There are studies that prove diversity in the workplace brings better results, for both your people and the business’ bottom line. It makes business sense to make inclusion, awareness and diversity and inclusion a priority. It has to start from the top down, leaders need to be outspoken in their support for equality and diversity and create the right environment for a diverse and inclusive culture. 

What was it about Yes Queen that made you excited about this collaboration?

The cause! Workplace bullying (or any type of bullying) has no place in our society. The message behind Yes Queen aligns with our values here at Agency Iceberg, so we were excited to support such an important cause.

Yes Queen Trailblazers are ambitious, kind, compassionate and supportive, what values do you look for in a successful candidate for a role? Does it differ from role to role, or are there a few values that every successful candidate should express? 

Our values are equality, inclusivity, and diversity, which we look for in every talent. We want people who are collaborative, enthusiastic, and contribute to our positive team culture. It’s essential they’re hard working but also a nice person. 

To protect our culture, I need to consider how a potential hire will work with other staff members. Often when I interview someone, I will invite another colleague in to see how they get along and to get a second opinion. 

What is a quote you live by and what song makes you instantly shimmy shake? 

“Don’t fuck with your reputation” - Greg Savage. It’s true for both business and life.

‘Shoop’ by Salt n Pepa gets me every time!

Sarah Fritz