“THE REAL question is, is this country prepared to settle for half the potential it has to offer?”

This is the call made to Papua New Guineans by the 2014 Westpac Outstanding Woman of the Year Lesieli Taviri.

The Origin Energy PNG general manager took out the top prize – as well as the PriceWaterHouseCoopers Private Sector award – at the annual women’s awards in October.

Following her win, Ms Taviri recounted her early years in Tonga, to starting out with an IT career in PNG, to eventually taking on the top job at Origin’s PNG operations.

“I never dreamed it when I was a little girl, believe it or not – I always wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer,” Ms Taviri told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after her win.

Ms Taviri said she moved to PNG as a teenager to finish her schooling and after that moved into IT, before eventually targeting a corporate role.

“I realised I had a natural ability for the commercial side of things so I decided to pursue that,” she said.

Ms Taviri was straightforward in her assessment of women’s current standing in business in PNG, but said companies could improve the situation if they worked for it.

“It is actually a man’s world, to be honest,” she said of the current business environment in PNG.

“I think there is a lot more the petroleum industry can do towards empowering more women in technical roles and operational roles held predominantly by men.

“With a lot of corporates it is about building a conducive environment that women can excel in.

“I think more women are starting to grow into more management roles.”

Ms Taviri discussed her chairmanship of the Business Coalition for Women and its work in promoting opportunities for economic development through empowering women.

“We are actually looking at empowering more women in the private sector and looking at more practical solutions that we can help businesses to be able to create that conducive environment for women,” she said.

“That’s looking at things like workplace policies, procedures, having tailored training for women to be able to transition into leadership roles, and working with other stakeholders and bodies who share the same value stream.

“In my organisation I provide transportation for my female staff because of the issues around security and lack of reliable transportation.

“I think businesses can actually proactively develop and implement such solutions.”

When asked about how life for women in PNG has progressed in recent years, Ms Taviri said progress was slowly but surely being made.

“Education has a big role to play in that,” she said.

“I think it is becoming easier but maybe at a slower pace than you would hope for.

“But I think it is really starting to turn. I think the private sector has a great role to play in that – it is about influencing them and them then going out and influencing their communities.”

Ms Taviri said there was a particular connection between women and a need for greater and more reliable energy in the country.

“In terms of my business in energy I think women are one of the biggest users of energy, being domestic and running households and being mothers – you cook using energy, to nourish your family you need power for electricity to be able to look after your family,” she said.

She said greater access to energy would ease the burden on women in their domestic duties and allow them to contribute in different ways.

“Currently energy is underserved here. It is about providing mothers and women a convenient way of living so they can engage into other productive activities,” she said.

“I think having access to energy provides women with that opportunity to engage into other productive activities and ways of making income so they can look after and nourish their families.”

Other winners included Esther Roibete Apuahe, who took out the Steamships Public Sector award; Christina Josephine Cragnolini, who won the SP Brewery Entrepreneur award; Penny Sage-Embo, who won the Community responsibility award; and Mazzella Maniwavie, winner of the IBBM Young Achievers award.