Group Captain Sue McGready's life of Logistics and Supply in the Air Force

Group Captain Sue McGready wanted to be a truck driver before opting for a life of logistics and supply in the Air Force. She's never had much desire for the 'sexy jobs', as she calls them, preferring roles that reflect her best talents and can take her to the next big thing.

"A lot of people get stuck chasing the sexy jobs. You need to work out what's right and wrong for you," McGready, now one of the most senior women in the Australian Defence Force, tells Women's Agenda. "Don't' be dazzled by the lights. It's you who has to live with the outcome, not the organisation."

It's just one of the many career lessons McGready's taken on since joining one of 12 female Air Force cadets in a class of 160 back in 1987. Now, as Commander of the Defence National Storage and Distribution Centre, she says she knows to never take a new job before exploring all the variables, to always keep plenty of career options on the table, that life's too short to work for somebody or something you don't like, and that no profession or role is too 'masculine' for a woman to pursue.

"I've taken opportunities, assessed them, and made deliberate decisions to go with them or not," McGready says on getting to where she is today, including managing all supplies going in and out of the Middle East. She does this by having conversations with mentors and considering the possibilities of every new opportunity: whether she'll enjoy it, where it will take her, who'll she'll be reporting to and what alternatives to the job exist.

She believes keeping three or four options on the table has been key to developing her own robustness and resilience around her career – knowing that if she misses out on one thing, or if that one thing turns out to be the wrong option, there are other pathways still available. It's a lesson she takes to her current staff, encouraging them to build a 'career tree' to help determine how different jobs can open new branches and lead to new things.

McGready believes women in and out of the Defence Force would be wise to realise there's no one path to where they want to go and that we should all innovate around how we can meet the requirements for a new job or career. She adds that picking a good support network you can trust – at home, work and via good networks – will help.

Asked about life for women at ADFA back in the 1980s, she says that while the boys in her class said plenty of "stupid things" -- most of which she could put down to them being away from home for the first time -- she never knew of any of her female friends being sexually or physically assaulted. She says she heard more stories of such abuse from girlfriends outside of defence, especially at city-based university colleges.

But she adds that the early years were difficult. "There were lots of times when I was going to resign, when I thought I wasn't cut out for it. Gentle encouragement from Dad kept me going. Friends at ADFA [also helped], you all pull together."

Much has changed in the Air Force since McGready was a junior officer. For instance, there was no such thing as leave without pay, part-time roles or working remotely when she started work. "It's those flexible measures we've introduced that have made it easier in particular for women to stay and to have a long career flourish. We've also done a lot to break the mindset that 'you have to do this job and this job and this job' to progress. We're more about pathways ... It's a different world to someone starting out today as it was 23 years ago!"

In 10 years, she worked 11 different jobs in eight different locations including Somalia. Later, deciding to have a family, she and her husband made a deliberate decision to establish themselves in Canberra on a more permanent basis. McGready's proud to say her 13-year-old daughter has never lived anywhere else, despite McGready currently commuting to work in Sydney. Her husband supports her career as the sole parent for their daughter Monday to Friday.

As such, she believes picking a great life partner is another essential for a great career, particularly those women looking to raise a family.

"I've had many girlfriends who had partners who believe that one of them must be at home full time looking after the children, or that their wife would never work once they had children. I never had that. My husband's mother was a strong role model to him and he believed in partnership in raising children."

Always ambitious, McGready's plans from the beginning have been to keep going for as long as she was having fun.

"That's been the last 23 years. I look for the next job, go after it and if I get it then that's great. I've been lucky to have fantastic mentors and great support from people."

Article by Angela Priestley.

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