Appointed in 2012, Cynthia Gebert is Victoria’s second Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWO). A driven, dedicated, and respected leader, Cynthia’s role is all about listening, assisting, and resolving complaints between Victorian customers and their electricity, gas, and water companies.
Cynthia is also a director of the Thriving Communities Partnership, a cross-sector collaboration with the goal that everybody has fair access to the modern essential services they need to thrive in contemporary Australia: including utilities, financial services, telecommunications, and transport.
The Thriving Communities Partnership aims to build more resilient communities and stronger organisations. Their important work includes support for those experiencing hardship such as family violence, economic abuse, the 2019–20 bushfires, and of course the many impacts associated with COVID-19.
So, who better than to speak to about this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Choose to Challenge’? An accomplished leader and passionate businesswoman, Cynthia’s roles are all about challenging for what’s fair.
Cynthia’s work plays to her self-professed “strong sense of fairness” and motivation to right a wrong, but she is also extremely passionate about ensuring that fairness extends to all parties.
“As Ombudsman my goal is to make sure all sides of an issue or dispute are treated fairly. While we are about realising consumer protection, what we really want to achieve is a re-balancing of powers, and more importantly, ongoing learnings for both companies and consumers. We work hard to ensure that issues between consumers and their providers are resolved as efficiently as possible, with outcomes that all parties are comfortable with.
“I am committed to working for a more inclusive and accessible community,” she says.
As part of her work, Cynthia comes across Victorian’s experiencing stressful and difficult situations, many at a particularly vulnerable point in their lives.
The 2020 COVID-19 experience was challenging for many and highlighted for her how important her role as Ombudsman is and how special it is to work with the Thriving Communities Partnership.
“During 2020 we found that anyone can become vulnerable at any point in time. That is why it is important that the well-meaning bodies trying to help consumers actually come and work ‘better together.’ We can achieve so much more that way”.
When talking about her team at the EWO Cynthia explains that they are currently made up predominantly of women with specific skill sets. A fact that she is immensely proud of.
“My team deal with people facing hardships and difficult situations daily. We rely heavily on communication and problem-solving skills to find solutions for those appealing for help. We look after the whole person, not just the issue they are facing because often that’s just part of their story.
“It can be emotionally draining for my team and I am so proud of the way they handle themselves. My team’s mental health is also extremely important to me. It is so critical that they feel supported”, she explains.
When reflecting on her career path, Cynthia describes it as a bit of an “exploratory journey”. After working in corporate law, she took some time to go backpacking around India. On returning to Australia she tried her hand at several different positions before studying a Masters of Dispute Resolution that set her on the path to becoming Victoria’s Energy and Water Ombudsman.
However, it wasn’t without its challenges and Cynthia explains that she has often found herself as the youngest female in the room wrestling with opinions and egos of more senior males.
“One of the most important things you can do for yourself as a young female is find your people in the workplace. The people — both male and female — that will support you and help you to challenge your own self-talk when you start to tell yourself that you’re not entitled to be here,” she says.
Cynthia believes that nurturing the next generation of female talent must be a priority for all of us.
“This is not just about women supporting women. It is so much bigger than that. This needs to be about all of us acting for a better tomorrow for everyone.
“It is up to all leaders, males and female, to do this for future generations of women in the workforce. We all have a role to play here to continue what we have started. I personally play this role for young women. We all must,” she says.
When asked about what advice she would give young women in celebration of IWD 2021;
“Always remember that you don’t have to be the most experienced or even the smartest person in the room to make an impact.
“The real value is the contribution you make to that room. Focus on what you can contribute, not what you are lacking. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and those around you.”
Let’s all choose to challenge.
International Women’s Day — March 8, 2021 #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021
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About International Women’s Day:
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. IWD has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people.
Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.