They say you cannot be what you cannot see. But for Dr. Nikki Stamp, there were few role models who’d already forged a path that led where she wanted to go.
For her to achieve her childhood dreams of one day becoming a heart surgeon, she would have to pave her own way, and simply be the example she was looking for.
Brave? Yes. Fearless? Incredibly so.
It was at the age of eight that Stamp first remembers writing her ambitions in her diary.
Three decades, endless hard work, many late nights and countless long hours later, Dr. Nikki Stamp is now one of the country’s leading heart surgeons, living her dream as a trailblazer for women in the medical profession.
She is one of just 13 women in Australia who currently hold the highly respected position. It is an odd dichotomy in this country’s health sector that while the workforce itself is dominated by women, they are also grossly underrepresented when it comes to the highly skilled, high-paying positions in the industry.
“I’ve never been someone who sees something that needs fixing and then just lets it go. It goes against every fibre within me to ignore problems,” the surgeon says.
Instead, she has a 'yes' mentality that's defined the trajectory of her life.
“I [knew] I was going to have to carve out my own path. And I’m OK with that,” she tells Mamamia.
The issues were obvious early on, because when Stamp was just starting out as a junior doctor, all her mentors were male. The hours were grueling, and the personal sacrifices immense.
“In my training, I would work more than 100 hours a week all over the country and I was isolated from family and friends,” she reflects.
While it took a toll, Stamp also decided that she had no choice: if she really wanted to effect change, she had to lead by example.
“Gender bias is a real issue,” Stamp adds. As well as the health sector, she cites it as rife in the corporate world, as well as politics, the trades and engineering. In all these areas Stamp says “women are by and large a minority group”.
Stamp soon realised that not only was she committed to a career in health, but also to creating more space, and less stigma, for other female surgeons to follow in her footsteps.
“It’s about changing perceptions and expectations and encouraging young women from all backgrounds into a profession that we all love,” Stamp says.
That optimistic attitude, and that tendency to grab every opportunity that comes her way, has paid off.
“I’ve had little girls send me letters saying they want to be heart surgeons when they grow up. And I cherish them.”
Not only has Stamp’s success fundamentally changed the course of her own life, but also the lives of others.
"The way I see it, it’s my responsibility to use my knowledge and my privilege to advocate and make change where I can. We can’t change everything at once, but we all have the ability to do a little bit."
And it starts with setting our expectations high, and not being afraid to pursue them.
“I really believe that an ambition that may sound impossible can be achieved, one little step at a time… It just takes a lot of little steps by a lot of people and suddenly the impossible doesn’t seem so out of reach.”
From one inspirational woman to another, Ellia Green has similarly built an impressive career - one she manifested as a little girl who simply loved sport.
“Growing up I would write my goals and hang them up on my walls. They would be next to pictures of all the fastest women in the world,” she shares with Mamamia.
Today, Green has turned those early dreams into gold - green and gold in fact, as she represents Australia as a professional Rugby Union player.
But it wasn’t an easy process.
Green, born in Fiji, was adopted by her parents when she was four years old, along with her brother. The family moved to Australia shortly after, but life in her new homeland was challenging. As one of the only children of colour at her school, she was relentlessly bullied by her peers.
Thankfully, Green had sport - and quickly discovered it was one of the few ways she could make friends.
But when times were tough, it was her mum who was her greatest support. “I was obsessed. From my first athletics carnival where you would see my huge afro running down the track, my mum could see how much I loved it and she continued to provide me with opportunities to excel.”
Crossing paths with rugby, though, was a happy accident.
Her hugely successful career, she says, is all down to one simple word that changed the course of her life. That word was 'yes'.
Green was already excelling at sport, and showing signs of becoming a great runner. “My cousin asked me if I wanted to go with her to try out for the Rugby Sevens. I initially said ‘no’ but she needed a lift so I went anyway…”
“I went there with no boots and no idea what was going on. But I thought to myself, what do I have to lose? These girls didn't really know me. These coaches didn't know me.”
So, Green decided to give it her best go.
The rest, as they say, is history. And in Green’s case, her success is written firmly in the history books.
“Now I’ve not only won gold at the Olympics, I’m one of the best female rugby union players in the world.”
Green says it’s taught her to say ‘yes’ more often, and she carries that mindset with her every time she steps onto the field.
“I have talent but you also need to put in the work. Hard work will beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard. I came from being a sprinter into Rugby Sevens, and all I could do was run fast. I knew I had to do a lot more than that to stay in the team and be successful.”
Green has now travelled the world, represented Australia in the Commonwealth and Olympic Games, and made a career playing professional Rugby for more than eight years.
Her philosophy, she says, is very simple: “Every time you say ‘yes’ to a new opportunity, it’s another way that the next opportunity is going to be around the corner.”
And Green has also done the work. “I didn’t go into rugby with any expectations but it exceeded anything I could have imagined,” Green reflects.
Her advice to others? “Take the risk and don’t be afraid to fail. I’ve failed a lot. But all you can do in life is just give it a go, because you never know what might come out of it.”
Growing up in the Northern Territory, and with her sights set on a big career in law, Calvert packed up her entire life and headed to Sydney for what she thought was her “dream job”. At the age of 28, it looked like Calvert had it all.
It was then that a catastrophic incident upended her life, and she realised that everything she had worked for wasn’t necessarily what she wanted. In 2015, Calvert’s brother passed away.
“After a big moment in your life, I’ve found you have to take a step back and reevaluate your life and how you live it. For me, that was my brother’s death.”
The confines of her intense corporate life was the first thing Calvert questioned.
So, she quit her job as a lawyer and once again made the move - this time to Byron Bay, and did something no one, least of all Calvert, could have predicted just a year before. “I launched my own swimwear business, called Marvell Lane.”
“When I said I was going to throw away my career in law and start up a business with zero experience, everyone was shocked,” she tells Mamamia. “But that little voice inside told me, ‘I have no option but to jump into the deep end.’”
Calvert says she just had to silence her fears, and say 'yes' to the opportunity in front of her. “I had to ignore the niggly voices of doubt. Not let that fear get the better of me.” Calvert says that a lot of it was about making a choice.
“You need to choose to move forward.”
Calvert admits it was hard to find the courage to start anew, but called her new coastal home of Byron “an inspiring place full of female creators”.
“It encouraged me to run my own race,” she shares, adding she did extensive market research and found a gap in the market before she launched her mission to fill it.
“I discovered it was impossible to find a swimwear company that catered for fuller busts, that weren’t conservative. I wanted to celebrate my body, not hide it. And I knew a lot of women felt the same way.”
She adds: “Creating swimwear that women feel comfortable and excited in was something I needed someone to make. It just turned out that someone was me.”
Calvert began drawing patterns and designs and researching artists, suppliers and manufacturers.
“The ball just kept rolling. I would consult endless experts and ask a lot of silly questions.”
The process was rigorous, but even more rewarding. She accepted every challenge - no matter how overwhelming - as it came.
Indeed, it was a brave and bold move - but one she would do again in a heartbeat. Saying 'yes' to a career change gave Rachael the life she wanted.
“The learning curve is so incredibly steep but the gradient becomes less daunting and things get easier. Before you know it you have a new life, a new skill set and it's incredible.
The careers of these women are as different as they are impressive; as fearless as they are fulfilling.
But it was their determination to move beyond the bounds of their comfort level that saw them achieve incredible things.
And it all started with a simple word: ‘Yes.’