Leading Women
Leading Women
Feb 21, 2021
Anna Marsden, Managing Director of Great Barrier Reef Foundation on leadership for purpose
Play • 29 min

This episode, Shadé Zahrai interviews Anna Marsden, Managing Director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. Anna was previously the CEO of the Queensland Ballet, Director of the Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art and General Manager of the Institute of Modern Art.


Valuable Discussion Points

(01:39) What is Anna’s leadership journey?


Anna started her leadership journey in the industry of her passion - the arts. As a teenager, Anna’s dream was to be on stage, however she decided that her personality and interests were also suited towards arts management so she began pursuing this as a career. For the first 14 years of her career, Anna worked in art galleries that took her around the world and unlocked a passion for connecting great brands, great work and great people with fundraising and investment. After a stint in corporate communications and consultancy, Anna became the CEO of the Queensland Ballet where she remained for seven years. Today, Anna is the Managing Director of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.


(03:39) How does Anna see women activating leadership in male dominated industries and environments?


Whilst Anna has worked with a lot of powerful women throughout her career, she still sits at many top leadership tables as the only woman which is something she believes has to change. Anna recalls one moment, around 15 years ago, when she was attending a women's lunch with some amazing guest speakers who broke various glass ceilings in Australia. One of the speakers commented that once you have children, you start climbing the ladder and progressing up. This spurred Anna on later in her career after having children herself to work harder and continuing progressing her career as a working mother as she strongly believes there is no more productive, empathetic, powerful or purposeful creature on this planet than a working mother. Anna comments on the importance of women being able to quieten the voice in the back of our heads that evokes a feeling of guilt or uncertainty as a working mother, particularly when holding a leadership position.


(09:04) What are Anna’s insights into people generally being more aware and focused on their purpose?


In 2020, we faced bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and various other challenges. Not only did the the world stopped but it was completely disrupted. People had to confront the fragility of life. Anna believes what it did do is to make people realise they only have one life and one community so it’s important to understand how we can be purposeful and make it count. Anna states that we are currently in a transition where people are trying to find a more purposeful life in a more purposeful vocation.


(25:27) What is on the horizon for the Great Barrier Reef?


Anna strongly believes that when we talk about collective impact, one of the big aha's and oversights for all of us is to truly understand the role and the necessity of this bio culture stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef and its protection and that can only be done with deep, authentic relationships with the First Nations people. Through some incredible investment from the Australian Government, and working closely with the traditional ownership communities, Anna is excited and proud of the work being carried out to manage, protect and love these beautiful ecosystems forever.


Key Learnings

  • Some women have a tendency to listen to the voice in their head that tells them to feel guilty about being in leadership roles. Anna suggests that women disregard this voice because it can hold them back at critical times and make them think they are not good enough.
  • Anna added Dual Psychology to the Leadership Toolbox. She uses this to stay authentic to herself, and be positive and optimistic. This thinking has been picked up and applied to COVID to look at how business leaders and community leaders can handle the brutality of life and still remain resilient, optimistic and powerful.


Quotable Quotes

“There is no more productive, empathetic, powerful, purposeful creature on this planet than a working mother and I don't have the psychology or the data but I will fight anybody on that fact.” – Anna Marsden


“The world didn't stop. The challenges didn't stop but people did have a disruption. They had to confront the fragility of life.”– Anna Marsden


“We will prevail because we will get the right combination of great brands from around the world to work this and we will leave nothing in the tank and so that's my drive is that team Australia will prevail.”– Anna Marsden


“We're all learning together but I have to say, out of everything that I've done in my life and a few of the executives share this with me, this is the work that we think we'll be most proud of is how we work together with First Nations communities to protect a special part of Australia.” – Anna Marsden


Important Resources and Links

If you would like to learn more about how CommBank is ensuring women are advancing their growth in business, visit https://www.commbank.com.au/women-in-focus.html.


Host of the Leading Women podcast, Shadé Zahrai helps women hack their careers to advance faster, overcome their limiting beliefs and confidently create the life they deserve. She is featured in Forbes, the New York Times, TED, Daily Mail and other media. If you’re interested in learning more about Shadé and the issues she’s currently discussing, visit https://www.shadezahrai.com


If you’re interested in connecting with Anna Marsden or viewing her professional portfolios and achievements, visit her LinkedIn via https://au.linkedin.com/in/anna-marsden-b10b892b 


The Leading Women podcast is produced by Nicole Hatherly, recorded at RadioHub Studios with post production by Cooper Silk and Iain Wilson.

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