At a very young age, McCann began what was – at the time – her dream job as a film and continuity specialist.
“It’s the glue that holds the entire production together,” said McCann who has worked on iconic shows from Mother and Son and Play School to Commonwealth and Olympic Games broadcasts.
“We make sure the footage will be cut together to ensure continuity, but also every department needs something from you and at the same time we are giving all sorts of information to them. Ultimately we solve problems before they even happen.”
From the head of props wondering if the door was open or closed in the last shot, to the Director needing confirmation of the last rehearsal time, McCann would have it all covered. How?
“You have to be focussed, determined, be a good planner and you have to be very well prepared.”
“Television is a tough, tough, tough environment. I was very young when I began and I was often the only female on a very male-heavy crew. You need resilience to start, but you also build resilience on the job.”
Comfortable being the outlier, McCann shares her secret to successfully gaining respect and cut-through in that male-dominated environment.
“I was the best at the job in the business,” she says simply.
But being the best didn’t mean McCann would stay put. In fact, from a very young age her parents – who undoubtedly sensed her focus and determination – had said to McCann ‘you just have to imagine the impossible is possible’.
So she did.
Her journey has taken her from program making to influencing decisions at the highest level. She now chairs Grant Thornton’s board, and also sits on boards of a diverse and eclectic portfolio including ASX, public and private firms across the technology, media, health, education, accounting, financial and professional services sectors.
“I didn't ever imagine this when I began working in the television industry all those years ago,” she says.
“But I think what helped me along the way were the skills learned early in my career ... they proved very useful along my journey.”
McCann then quotes fellow Grant Thornton board member Andrea Waters.
“You cannot be what you cannot see.”
She uses the quote in reference to something else that was crucial for her to make the move from “moving out of what was considered a support role to where I am today.”
“I was lucky to have a mentor who helped me see that with my skills and capabilities I could do way more than I was then doing. By making it visible to me, I could then really believe it,” she said.
“When I think about this against the backdrop of diversity within organisations – not just gender, but broader diversity – this element of visibility is so important.
“If you can't see it, then really believing you can do it is actually seriously hard.”
McCann is one of four women on the nine person Grant Thornton Board – take the CEO out of the equation and there's gender parity. Not only that, but the backgrounds of the Board are all so diverse which, McCann says, sends a strong message to employees, potential employees and clients.
“Diversity is critically important. When we talk about diversity, it’s beyond gender, it’s about diversity of thought.”
“One of the great things we see when we have diversity, is it enables really robust discussions. It brings about enhanced and better outcomes. Having diversity visible makes a huge difference to the people within the organisation, and that’s ultimately good for people and good for business.”
Contrasting the number of women around her today with the lack thereof in her early career, McCann says indicates a significant shift.
“I’ve had the experience of being the only female in my television days and then the experience of being the first female on a number of boards … and it is challenging! But when you get the second and the third it changes the dynamic.”
Whilst there has been a significant change from my early career there is still a long way to go. The challenge remains in how to keep talented women and other carers in the workforce as they have families and take on parenting responsibilities (which realistically impact for 15 years until children have a level of real independence). Governments need to think cleverly and innovate as to how some form of free universal childcare could make a significant difference. This could be a solution for productivity gains or alleviating the skills shortage – they need to be brave and see it as an investment in the future by building an asset for the nation, and not view it as a cost.
Now the diversity ball is well and truly in motion, McCann offers a piece of cautionary advice, which if followed could see greater, faster and deeper traction in achieving diversity into the future.