When Laura Stokes became the youngest person accepted into UQ's Master of Business Administration (MBA) program in 2014, she knew her studies would give her the tools overcome the challenges of being a woman in business.
Having already brought TedXWomen to Australia at the age of 24, Stokes was on a huge upward trajectory.
Completing her MBA in 2015, aged 27, she quickly exploded onto the international business scene, taking up strategic roles at Virgin and Microsoft in London.
Stokes is now the Chief Marketing Officer for national charity Orange Sky, where she leads a team of 12 fundraisers, marketeers and sales individuals.
But her success hasn’t come without a struggle.
She remains one of many successful women fighting for equality in business and is committed to the cause like former government staffer Brittany Higgins and Australian of the Year Grace Tame.
“I think we are still a long way off equality,” Stokes said.
“This is reflected by the lack of representation at core decision making tables in politics and business, right through to a societal level with different rules for how women are treated in day-to-day life and in forums such as the media.
“I do have hope though, because more women and men than ever before are stepping up, stepping forward and acting for change.”
Equality has again become a key focus after former Federal Government staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was sexually assaulted by a colleague in Parliament House in 2019.
Grace Tame was also unexpectedly thrown into the spotlight when she campaigned to have Tasmanian laws changed so that she could publicly reveal how she was sexually assaulted by her former teacher.
These women have provided inspiration for Stokes, who wants all Australians to feel safe, be treated with respect, and create an impact, regardless of their gender.
But for that to happen, “everyone needs to do their part”, Stokes has warned.
“I’m in awe of Brittany and Grace – what incredibly strong and brave women,” Stokes said.
“The only way progress will be made is by brave individuals like these women stepping forward and us as a community standing alongside them.
“Women like Brittany and Grace are role models for anyone who wants to create change."
Australian Government statistics show men are still earning on average $25,534 a year more than women, with only a minor drop in the gender pay gap.
Meanwhile, women are still considered five times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than men.
Stokes said the study she undertook during the MBA program gave her the skills to overcome challenges such as inequality and conflict.
She has encouraged other business-minded people to consider enrolling if they’re interested in taking their careers to the next level.
“My MBA experience was one of the most positive investments I could have made in my future career,” she said.
“I graduated in 2015 and, with the knowledge gained, community formed, and credentials under my belt, I was set on a pathway to progress opportunities and explore possibilities."
Of equal importance to Stokes was enrolling in a program and undertaking research that encouraged the growth of confidence in the professional world.
“I learnt to back myself further, my confidence in self grew, I was armed with the necessary methodology and critical thinking to tackle relevant business challenges, and it expanded and developed my view of the skills I needed to hone and develop for the future,” she said.