How Wollongong born Paula Stevens-Dunn found her voice after being bullied at school and work and won global recognition for helping others

When Paula Stevens-Dunn was a young girl growing up in Wollongong she was bullied at school because she looked different.

Then years later after establishing a successful career she found herself being bullied in the workplace.

But Mrs Stevens-Dunn has risen above the all self-doubts that stayed with her into adulthood, gained confidence and found a voice that is helping her help others so much she recently won global recognition for a leadership program she developed for young girls at school and women in the workplace.

The work she is doing with No Limit Consulting was singled out at the largest gathering of women entrepreneurs and leaders in the world.

Mrs Stevens-Dunn was presented the Exceptional Women of Excellence Global Award at the World Economic Forum in India for her 10-week initiative designed to help Year 10 girls thrive through their senior school years and beyond.

The World Economic Forum is a non-profit organisation with 100,000 members in 150 countries.

It exists to enable women and leaders from all walks of life to expand business opportunities and enhance personal influence through networking across borders.

Acknowledgement at WEF is considered enormous. And is a very timely boost for the founder and chief executive of No Limits Consulting.

The award coincides with Mrs Stevens-Dunn embarking on talks with Illawarra high school students.

Her leadership program for adults and students focuses on five foundations of confidence, conscious inclusion, cultivation of curiosity and a growth mindset.

She wanted to create a forward thinking approach to life goals as well as a collaborative, compassionate and courageous leadership identity.

And is now encouraging the implementation of the program into the school curriculum.

Positive voice: Paula Stevens-Dunn is delivering a message to Year 10 school girls in the Illawarra globally recognised for building confidence and self belief. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Positive voice: Paula Stevens-Dunn is delivering a message to Year 10 school girls in the Illawarra globally recognised for building confidence and self belief. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Ms Stevens-Dunn grew up in Towradgi.

It was a birth defect that resulted in her being bullied in her early years of school.

Things improved dramatically when she went to St Mary's and the University of Wollongong where she achieved good academic results.

But after establishing a successful career she found herself being bullied again in the workplace which triggered all the same feelings she had experienced as a young child.

Mrs Stevens-Dunn was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate.

One thing that gave her hope and courage as she grew up was seeing Wendy Harmer's success.

Harmer became a role model because she showed it was possible to overcome such a challenge.

Now Mrs Stevens-Dunn channels her personal experiences into being a mentor who helps others break through similar challenges.

She has become a motivational speaker on bullying, diversity, inclusion and gender equality.

"I now see my birth defect as a superpower, using it to help kids deal with bullying, helping them to create self-confidence, courage and resilience despite adversities in life," she said.

Mrs Stevens-Dunn never intended to start a business.

Her career background is in medical research and the pharmarceutical industry where she worked for more than 15 years. But three years ago she experienced bullying in the workplace by someone at a similar leadership level. When she tried to raise the verbal abuse it was blamed on a differing management styles.

It was a similar response she received as a six year old when she raised the teasing and torment was getting at school with a teacher and was shown the door and told "go away and don't tell tattle tales".

"That was a turning point in my life where I realised that I was less than anyone else, that I wasn't good enough, that my feelings were to be discounted, that my truths were considered lies and that people in authority turned a blind eye," she said.

But three decades later having a blind eye turned to her raising bullying in the workplace made Mrs Stevens-Dunn determined to do something to help others in similar situations.

She resigned and started No Limits Consulting.

She felt it she couldn't make the impact she wanted to as a leader in that workplace she could help change workplace culture for others.

"I thought instead if I couldn't shape and influence culture from the inside out. I could do it from the outside in. So I started focusing on workplace bullying and conflict resolution," she said.

"And in the last year I have also started focusing my attention on high school girls. I realised there was a stronger calling for me".

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This story From bully victim to confidence builder Paula wins global recognition first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.