How M’boro woman became Queensland Integrity Commissioner
She's been told she looks like a fat version of Madonna and like an "ageing Ukrainian mail order bride".
When Queensland Integrity Commissioner Nikola Stepanov has to say no to people, it doesn't always go well.
On Sunday, she addressed a crowd of people at Maryborough Zonta Club's International Women's Day event at the Brolga Theatre.
Ms Stepanov is the first woman to fill the role for Queensland Integrity Commissioner, and is constantly being asked for advice from government officials, weeding out corruption and being called in on a range of matters, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Stepanov is also a Maryborough State High School graduate, although she says she spent much of her education forging her mum's signature so she could wag school.
She trained as a nurse at Maryborough Hospital before life took her down a different path.
Ms Stepanov works for parliament, not the government.
Her role is to provide independent and impartial advice, helping to ensure public money is well spent.
In the years she has been in the role, there has been a six-fold increase in advice requests, although her staffing has not increased in that time.
Ms Stepanov works to ensure decisions are made in an impartial manner, free of corruption and without undue influence from lobbying.
When asked by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Ms Stepanov revised the ministerial code of conduct.
She is also involved in public speaking, raising awareness about the role she plays in keeping corruption out of Queensland.
She has advocated for sick children, come up against both women and men's rights groups when it comes to her work in that space, and been drawn down "many different avenues" in the course of her career.
"That's what's made my life so much fun," she said.
Describing herself as "very good at failure", Me Stepanov said she had learned to take it on the chin, to keep going and reflect on what she has learned.
As a woman in a regulatory space whose job it is to say no to people, most accept her instructions and move on.
But some don't.
In addition to the aforementioned insults, she's been called a c***, a cow and much more, generally by men, but not always.
"I still say no," she said.
International Women's Day is an annual event on March 8.
This year's theme is "women in leadership".