Woman Bennett, Carol

Occupation
Chief executive officer and Consumer health activist

Written by Kate Moore, Australian National University

Carol Bennett was born in 1968 and grew up in Canberra - a town where she was surrounded by politics, in a household where issues of equity and social justice were important. She was educated in the public school system and went on to study for a health science degree at Canberra University, followed by a Master of Public Policy at the Australian National University. She is now the Chief Executive Officer of the Consumers' Health Forum, Australia's peak health consumer organisation, a role which draws on her strategic skills, courage and passion about social justice. Married with a six year old son, she successfully juggles her personal and professional life, with help from her family who live nearby. Carol's experience has included working policy and advocacy roles in Canberra and Melbourne, in non-government organisations advocating on a range of health issues. She also briefly worked in government, but realised that she could make more difference by influencing government through advocacy in the non-government sector.

Under Carol's leadership the public profile and standing of the Consumers' Health Forum has grown. Leadership in this sector is not without its challenges as the increasing strength and influence of the health consumer voice is not always welcomed. Dealing with the responses from some professionals and industry has not been easy - 'you are vulnerable, particularly when you are putting at risk powerful professional and commercial interests. You are putting yourself on the line and it does make yourself vulnerable to retaliation when you are having a go at them' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/carol-bennett/). However, Carol is not deterred by this pressure. She says, 'its holding the line, holding your nerve and believing in what you are doing and why. Those groups are used to challenging and standing up for what they believe in and they need to know that we are also going to do that and that they need to respect us for doing what they do - I keep reminding myself that I am here for a purpose, and that purpose is to represent the interests of the people who are the members of CHF, and who rely on us to advocate strongly on their behalf. As an advocate, you have to be prepared to follow things through. Once you've put it out there you have to keep going with it ... When you can say that we've influenced things, we've made a difference we contributed to that then that is incredibly motivating' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/carol-bennett/).

Carol believes that her career has prepared her well for her current role. She has not had formal leadership training, but argues that 'you can do all the training you like, but you really need to learn by doing and by learning from mistakes'. The people she has worked with demonstrated good leadership and taught her a lot. In turn she acts as a mentor and encourages other women to take on leadership roles. She sees leadership patterns as gendered. 'Men compartmentalise their lives - they see work as a role and are more matter of fact about it. Women do their job as the person they are. Assuming leadership in the non-government sector, she argues, is a 'fabulous opportunity ... But you need energy and resolve. There is no smooth road - it's about balancing the role with other parts of your life' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/carol-bennett/).

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