Penelope Twemlow – back yourself

Penelope Twemlow served for more than 10 years in the Royal Australian Navy, first as a Warfare Officer, then transitioning to become a Naval Police Coxswain Officer. 

22 November 2019

Penelope Twemlow served for more than 10 years in the Royal Australian Navy, first as a Warfare Officer, then transitioning to become a Naval Police Coxswain Officer. When it came time for Penelope to transition out of the Navy, she found it was hard to secure a position outside of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Royal Australian Navy officer studying maps with navigational instruments in the backgroundPenelope is now a successful business woman with a host of titles including Co-Founder and Chairwoman of Women in Power; Vice President; Entrepreneur; Principal for Environment, Health and Safety at WSP Global; Ambassador for various mental health and domestic violence charities; Speaker at Saxton Speakers Bureau and ICMI; mentor and author. In 2016, Penelope won the Telstra Business Women's Award for Social Enterprise and Not-For-Profit for her work as the CEO of Energy Skills Queensland, and in 2018 she was a finalist for Veteran Entrepreneur of the Year, in the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Awards, for her work at Women in Power.

Join the Navy, travel the world, and get paid to do it

After I finished my senior schooling, I remember sitting at home and this incredible advertisement came on the TV saying, “join the Navy, travel the world and get paid to do it”. This hooked me in straight away and I ended up serving in the Navy for more than 10 years.

I joined the Navy on the 18th of January 2001 and discharged on Anzac Day 2011. I remember the day I joined because it was two days before my 18th birthday, so I had to get my parent's permission to join. I signed on the dotted line and the next year I was on my way to the Gulf.

Time to move forward

When I joined the ADF, I felt like I was a small fish in a big pond, but by the time I left, I was a big fish in a small pond because I felt that I had achieved everything that I set out to do. My father was also unwell at the time so I had requested to be posted back to Brisbane, but unfortunately the postings for the Navy in Brisbane were few and far between so I was unsuccessful in gaining a position in the location. For me, family takes precedence over everything, so I made the decision to leave the ADF.

I began applying for roles prior to my formal discharge from the Navy and it probably took me a good six months to secure a position. It wasn’t easy; I received somewhere between 80 and 100 knockbacks before finding a consultancy position. I was really lucky to land the consulting role and I commenced full time work shortly after my last day in the Navy.’

I was fortunate enough to be accepted to work at a global consultancy. I was hired by an ex-army officer who understood the calibre of skills that veterans bring to a workplace.

Over the years I have undertaken several roles including two CEO roles, a role as a General Manager and numerous directorship roles. I have worked in many industries, both nationally and internationally, from construction, to mining, oil and gas, energy and utilities, aviation, manufacturing and more. Roles that required the technical and strategic skillsets of risk and project management and leadership, and those which were involved in high-pressure situations were the ones that I was drawn to. From the day of enlistment, these skillsets are ingrained into every service members mind; they are integral to everything we do in service life and they become second nature to our daily operations.

It wasn’t easy transitioning though; I found it quite difficult and daunting because a lot of the skills, the experience and even the qualifications that I gained in the forces didn’t correspond to or compute for people in the civilian world. Because of the language used and the sometimes daunting nature of the work we do in the Forces, civilian personnel didn’t understand what I could bring to the workplace.

However, what I learned in the forces is what I now use every single day in my professional life and even my personal life. Things like time management, communication, working in a team, and also being a leader. All of these skills and abilities I learned in the forces, and I use them every single day.

Striving for the right balance

I have four priorities: family, health, education and travel.

My working life is extremely busy, so I live vicariously through my family and friends to get some semblance of a work/life balance. I absolutely adore animals, particularly dogs, and my family have four so I don’t need much of an excuse to take them and runaway – I call it a ‘puppynapping’.

My two sisters and my brother all have kids and I love seeing them and spoiling them. I spend as much time as I can with family as they are my number one priority in my life.

I am one of those insane people who needs to tick a marathon off her bucket list so I am currently training for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon. I have always wanted to visit New York and I thought what better way than to run through four of the Boroughs and tick off my bucket list item at the same time - two birds, one stone.

Education is the one tool that we each have to better ourselves and the world in which we live, so I willingly take any and all opportunities to upskill myself. I think next on my list will be neurolinguistics programming or law!

I think travel is one of the greatest forms of education we have! I would quite happily spend the rest of my life exploring foreign worlds and learning about new cultures. I have a particular love affair with Asia at the moment and have trips planned for Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand in the next year.

It takes a tribe

One of the things I am constantly harping on about is the need for a ‘tribe’. If you think it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a tribe to raise a successful person, and my tribe consists of personal and professional people.

My family are incredibly supportive and helpful, particularly when it comes to my mental health and wellbeing. They’re the ones who keep me grounded and offer the support I need.

Within my tribe I also have professional people who coach and mentor me in various aspects of my career. Anything from business management to finance, all the way through to health and safety, compliance and governance.

I rely heavily on my tribe and I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

Use your voice

There are two key things I live by – one is every breakdown, can be a break through.

Adversity and challenges are a natural part of life; it's how we deal with these and overcome them that sets the precedence for our future. So, use that breakdown as a break through, to be bigger, better and stronger in the future.

The second key thing is particularly relevant for females – these days you have to be loud to be heard, so back yourself. Nothing you ever say is wrong if it’s being said for the right reasons.

If this story has raised any issues for you, please contact Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling, on 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). This free and confidential service provides support to current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For information about Open Arms and the services they provide visit Open Arms.

For tips on transitioning successfully, visit the Leaving the ADF on the Defence Community Organisation website.