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Breaking down barriers: women pioneering diversity in male dominated industries

Penelope Twemlow.

Penelope Twemlow.

In the first of our Q&A series, we speak to an epic boss lady who is pioneering diversity in a male dominated industry.

Meet Penelope Twemlow, CEO of Energy Skills Queensland. She is also the Founder and Chair of Women in Power - a NFP organisation providing assistance to women in the Electrotech industry, the Chair of the Queensland Government Electrical Safety Education Committee and a member of the National Association of Women in Construction.

She was also recently awarded the 2016 Queensland Telstra Business Women's Award for Social Enterprise and Not For Profit due to her work in the energy, mining, gas and telecommunication industries.

Adding to that she was recently named a finalist in the Brisbane Women in Business Awards, the National Association of Women in Construction Awards, the Australian Institute of Management Awards and the Lord Mayors Business Awards. WOW!

On a personal note, she is a survivor, and now Ambassador, of domestic violence and mental health. Her advocacy work provides assistance to much needed community groups and people.

In our opinion, Penelope is a resilient and inspiring business woman. We can all learn a lot from her.

Here is her business REAL story and we thank her so much for enabling us to share it with you. You can also check out the Energy Skills Queensland website here - http://www.energyskillsqld.com.au/

1.    Please tell us a bit about your company and your background

Energy Skills Queensland is the leading, independent, not-for-profit organisation providing innovative solutions to enable a skilled and safe energy industry. Supporting the electricity, oil and gas, mining and telecommunications sectors, Energy Skills Queensland engages, researches and develops products and services that align to the current and future needs of our stakeholders. 

Energy Skills Queensland support industry, government, training organisations and other stakeholder groups through:

  • The provision of industry intelligence, including workforce planning, research and analysis
  • Sourcing funding to deliver skills development and employment programmes
  • Educational design and programme development
  • Facilitation of engagement activities such as industry leader and training groups

Energy Skills Queensland prides itself on delivering the following benefits to the people we work with:

  • Innovative and agile solutions that add value
  • Deep technical knowledge and industry subject matter expertise
  • Networking and collaboration opportunities.


I am a high calibre executive with 16 years of operational and strategic management experience in national and international high risk environments. I have strong performance in the operational management of large and diverse teams and in-depth program management experience. I drive cultural and behavioural change through exceptional stakeholder and communication skills and have a strong ability to influence thinking, forge strategic alliances, and build consensus.

My career commenced in the Australian Defence Forces where I was involved in projects and deployments around Australia and the ASEAN region, including the management of the United States President visit to Australia. Subsequent to the Forces, my risk and management skills were repeatedly sought out by companies involved in the mining, oil and gas sectors including positions of General Manager and Director. In 2015, I was named Chief Executive Officer of Energy Skills Queensland.

I hold two Masters degrees, two Graduate Diplomas, an Advanced Diploma and a handful of other accredited qualifications. I am a Graduate of the AICD and a fellow of AIM and the Chair of Women in Power and a committee member of the National Association of Women in Construction. 

This year alone, I have been nominated for the Brisbane Women in Business Award, the ACLW 2016 Diversity Awards, the Telstra Business Women’s Awards and the AIM Excellence Awards.

In my spare time, I enjoy anything that is outdoors. I am in training to complete my first half marathon and hope to complete the New York marathon in the near future. I live vicariously through my family pets and I enjoy travelling, dancing, singing and cooking, even though I am not good at many of them.

Due to my family history and life experiences, I am heavily invested in providing assistance and support to the following charitable and community-based organisations:

  • Domestic Violence
  • Heart Foundation
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Soldier On
  • Walking Wounded
  • Beyond Blue.

Last but not least, I am dedicated to continuous improvement so I am studying neuro-linguistic programming so that I can understand how humans work better.

2.    What are some epic achievement highlights in your career?

I have had many proud moments in my life, from blitzing my beam routine in gymnastics when I was a young girl to defending and representing my country in the Australian Defence Force. However, in the last five years, my proudest achievement has been two-fold as they are interlinked: the first was attaining my five-year goal of the CEO position; the second was graduating from the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) whilst being employed full-time as a CEO.  

Since I was a young girl, I have known that I was destined to lead and manage teams and organisations. I have worked diligently and tirelessly throughout my career to position myself, both experience and qualifications-wise, to attain the CEO position. In 2015, I was recognised for my efforts in the energy industry and my abilities for leadership and management, subsequently gaining the title of CEO of Energy Skills Queensland. I am unbelievably proud that I have reached this position, particularly in the high-risk and male-dominated industries in which I have worked.

Since 2010, I have wanted to complete the AICD course so that I could achieve my goal of remunerated Board memberships. In early 2016, after five years of dedicated on-the-job learning and coaching/mentoring from experts, I graduated from the AICD.

Most recently, my greatest achievement has been winning the Telstra Business Womens Award for Queensland for the For Purpose and Social Enterprise category.

3.    Who do you look up to in the business world?

My business mentor is the Chairman of my Board who provides ongoing leadership and management advice, ensuring that I am able to be a more effective leader and CEO. I also look up to strong women in leadership positions, much like Rosie Battie, Elizabeth Broderick and Michaliea Cash.

4.    What is your business REAL moment? Because, let’s face it, business is not glamourous all the time – we want to know your real stores and how you overcame your struggles.

In 2001, I was at sea with the Royal Australian Navy as a Warfare Officer in command of a warship and its’ 300 people. On September 11, the terrorist attacks occurred in the US. On this day, my mother and twin sister were on a plane headed to the US.  

This situation was a time of unknown information and possible ramifications. Without knowing the whereabouts and confirmed status of my family, I was still required to maintain my position on the warship, navigating the ship and ensuring the safety of all on board. I was also required to provide counselling and advice to my troops on similar matters, without knowing any information about my personal situation.

5.    What is the best advice you’ve ever received and how do you apply this every day, month or year?

Never compromise on your integrity.

Integrity is a choice, and while it is influenced by a myriad of factors such as culture, upbringing, influences etc., it cannot be forced. Our standards of integrity are our core principles and values that guide our behaviour. If you have strong and well-defined standards of integrity, you lead by example, and you behave with honesty and do right by yourself and others. 

Those who are guided by a strong sense of integrity fare much better in professional life, and will be successful where others fail.

6.    What is the one mobile app you can’t live without?

I probably have two apps that I cannot live without. The first is my calendar as it lets me know where I have to be and when. The second is CAMCARD, which allows me to quickly capture new contact details by taking a photo of a business card.

7.    What is your best tip for time management?

Write lists! I am a list person, and without them, I would be lost. I write a new list out each and every day to ensure that the tasks that MUST get done that day are able to be achieved.

8.    What are your favourite things on your work desk RIGHT now and WHY? 

I have a pink stress ball/tension ball in the shape of a pig called ‘Pamela’ which my EA gave to me. I love Pamela as she makes me laugh during the day when I catch a glimpse of her and she also helps me when I am stressed by letting me take out my tension on her.

I also love the photos of my twin sister that remind me of her each and every day and my UK mug and Harry Potter coffee mat. We all have a little child in us somewhere! J

9.    What are your growth plans for your business?

I am a high achiever and I set myself both personal and professional goals.

Professionally, I hope to achieve further government funding to provide additional training and employment programmes through Energy Skills Queensland to further assist disadvantaged community members. Having recently graduated from the Australian Institute of Company Directors, I am also seeking further Board appointments to gain additional experience and grow her Board portfolio. With the committed assistance from the State Government, I hope to officially launch ‘Women in Power’ later this year and grow it into a community that holds a national existence.

10. How do you ‘work-life balance’?

In achieving work-life balance, I always try to make weekends ‘my own’, that is, I try not to arrange any work requirements over the weekend period. Sometimes this cannot be achieved due to operational requirements. I also have a very loving and supportive family who let me know when ‘enough is enough’ and to take some time out for myself.

11. Let’s future gaze – if you could see yourself in the next 10 years, what would your life look like?

In ten years’ time, I would like to see myself in a CEO position of a larger, multi-million or billion dollar company, achieving success both nationally and internationally. In ten years’ time, I will hopefully be able to slow down and settle down with a family of my own. 

12. Lastly, what is your favourite thing to do in your downtime?

My favourite thing to do when I have some time to myself is catch up with friends or play with my family dogs. I also thoroughly enjoy running and working on my physical fitness.