New rules for identifying a good leader or entrepreneur

Employers need to widen their “circle of consideration” when filling senior positions and handing out awards, says 40 Under 40 Awards judge and Harrison McMillan CEO Dani Cuff.

May 09, 2023, updated May 11, 2023
Photo: Morgan Sette

Photo: Morgan Sette

Harrison McMillan CEO Dani Cuff said an attitude change is needed to address the gender imbalance in corporate Australia’s leadership and to change ingrained perceptions around who makes a good leader or entrepreneur.

Cuff’s recruitment firm Harrison McMillan is the sponsor of the inaugural Inspiring Female Leaders Award in the InDaily 40 Under 40 Awards, which will be announced on June 8.

The new award recognises an outstanding female who leads, inspires and pushes the boundaries of the business community.

“I’d like to believe this award will play a small but significant role in changing the perception about entrepreneurship and leadership, and put it out there that leaders don’t come in just one form,” said Cuff, who is also a 40 Under 40 Awards judge.

“We need to widen our circle of consideration – there are still, relatively speaking, so few women in leadership and senior roles. This needs to change.”

Australia’s Gender Equality Scorecard highlights the under-representation of women across almost all our industries, with women occupying only 35 per cent of key management positions and 22 per cent CEO positions, while comprising half the workforce.

This is despite targets helping to deliver slightly-above gender parity in the public service (52%) and on government boards (51.4%).

For Cuff, the InDaily 40 Under 40 Awards present an opportunity to confer the recognition and prestige that can contribute to career advancement and appointment to executive positions.

“We know that women do not receive awards at the same rate as men,” she said.

“I hope the Inspiring Female Leaders Award winner will feel her work is valued and that [in having her] excellent work recognised and rewarded … she uses it as a platform for her career and future goals.”

Cuff is, herself, a boundary pusher – at age 26, she founded Harrison McMillan with the view to change the way recruitment was viewed and engaged by clients.

In the 10 years since, the company has grown to almost 30 employees and last year placed more than 2500 people in jobs Australia-wide.

In 2021, while Covid was still significantly impacting industries and workers, she launched an apprenticeship program, upskilling and cross-training people from other industries to work in recruitment with her company.

The driving force was to offer people a better work-family balance plus career advancement – two outcomes that are often viewed as mutually exclusive.

One of the women who joined was a neonatal nurse who Cuff said was “struggling with the shift work, with a young child and a FIFO partner”.

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Cuff has also implemented an initiative to eliminate a hidden impost on part-time workers, who account for almost one in three women in Australia’s workforce, but just over one in ten men.

“Over the years, I have seen women who work part-time or around school hours, take a part-time salary but still produce the same results as a full-time employee,” she said.

“I never felt this was fair. If you are producing the same results why are you not getting the same pay?”

Consequently, employees at Harrison McMillan choose their hours, but work to outcomes while having a client and candidate-first approach.

Cuff’s advice for women taking up a leadership role is to move beyond the fear of failure, embrace self-assurance, stay curious and constantly push to gain further knowledge.

“Your mantra should be: always question the status quo. It may turn out to be right, but at least you’ve tested it,’ she said.


The InDaily 40 Under 40 Awards will be announced at a gala night on June 8 at Adelaide Oval.

Tickets are $191.90 for individuals and $1801.35 for tables of 10 (including booking fee) and include a three-course meal paired with premium South Australian wines.

The night will also provide plenty of opportunity for networking before and after the ceremonies, while enjoying premium local wines and spirits.

Buy tickets

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