EY - In their own words

In their own words

Women in leadership – Further insights

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Belinda Hutchinson AM


EY - WIL - Belinda Hutchinson
The fundamental problem is we just don’t support women enough. We put so much effort into training women, getting them to a position where they are incredibly competent, capable and effective – and then we let them go. From an organisation’s stand point, this is just a terrible waste.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself as well as a brief overview of your career journey.

I started by completing an Economics Degree at Sydney University majoring in Accounting and Political Science, at which point I had no idea what I wanted to do. As this was a time of economic uncertainty in Australia and the job market was suffering, I took on a role in audit at Arthur Andersen. To be honest, while I learnt a lot, I really did not want to continue working in audit so I spoke to one of the Partners and he kindly arranged for a transfer into the consulting division for six months. I ended up staying with Andersen consulting for seven years.

I worked in Management Information Systems for three years in Australia and another three years in the United States at which time I returned to Sydney. It was a time when Management Information Systems was coming into its own and I was recruited into Citibank. I then moved into Corporate Finance with Citibank and worked there for 11 years. I moved to Macquarie where I was asked to head up and build a new business which was the Equity Capital Market business which I did for six years and then started on my path of Non-Executive Director.

I have been working as a full time Non-Executive Director for the past 15 years. I have had some terrific opportunities working on boards including Sydney Water, TAB, Energy Australia, Telstra, Coles, AGL Energy and QBE.

2. What role have mentors and sponsors played in your career?

I have had both mentors and sponsors who have been incredibly supportive of me over the years. I often quote the CEO of Citibank who, when I was running the Corporate Finance business for NSW, approached me and asked me to become his Chief of Staff, which was really a Chief Administrative Officer role. I was concerned in taking the role as it wasn’t a line position, but he said it would be a good experience for me after which I could return to a line role if I wanted. He was absolutely right. The role provided me with a great opportunity and gave me exposure to Citibank around the world and broadened my understanding of the running of a business as a whole rather than being primarily transaction oriented. He then delivered on his promise and offered me the role of heading up the Financial Institutions group which was an area that was developing well and I was able to grow with the business.

When I was considering moving my career into the Non-Executive Director path, the CEO of AMP at the time really provided me with great advice. He asked me to really consider whether this was what I wanted to do and to weigh up the positives and negatives of taking up such a role. We met for several months and he provided me with some great advice and food for thought.

3. What do you see as being the major issue regarding the under-representation of women in senior leadership roles?

I think that the issue remains what it has been for a long period of time. There are many female graduates from Universities who are doing incredibly well. They are recruited into the corporate environment and thrive. Organisations spend a lot of time and money developing them. The women then hit their late 20’s and early 30’s and decide to start families. Most find it very challenging to manage a very challenging corporate career with having a family. Somehow, organisations need to create an environment whereby these women can continue to be engaged in the corporate world and yet still have enough time to be able to balance their family commitments. When I was having my children, I didn’t have maternity leave – it simply did not exist. I was lucky enough to be senior enough to afford a live in nanny. I could not have done it without that assistance. I was working from 8 in the morning until 7 at night and sometimes it was even later than that. A lot of women get to this stage and think that they just can’t do it. We have to be able to put in place mechanisms to support them, so that they feel that if they want to continue in that career, they are able to. The fundamental problem is we just don’t support women enough. There is both conscious and unconscious biases at work in organisations. We put so much effort into training women, getting them to a position where they are incredibly competent, capable and effective and then we let them go. Many women return to the workforce in other ways such as setting up their own business. From an organisation’s stand point, this is just a terrible waste.

A lot of companies are doing some really great things – paid parental leave, care giver’s leave, part time work, working from home and the like. It is still a challenge. We have to get women confident that business is really committed to supporting them.

When I was the President of Chief Executive Women, it was absolutely clear that many women did not feel that they were getting the same opportunities that their male colleagues were getting. From our research we found that both men and women believed that women did not get the same opportunities as men. We have to change this mindset and it’s not only a workplace issue, it is also a community and social issue.

4. What can women do to ‘child proof’ their careers or prepare themselves for some of the challenges they will face?

To start with, every woman should read “Lean in” to which I wrote the forward. The book contains the same advice that I give to women. My career has not been a straight line, it has been extremely opportunistic. I have been fortunate enough to have been offered opportunities that I have taken. Many women feel that they can’t take advantage of the opportunities that are offered them due to other things that they want to do in their lives, like having children.

I was six months pregnant when I was offered the role at Macquarie. I told the CEO that I was expecting a child and that I didn’t think I could take on this role. His response was that he was happy to wait for me and he did.

Confidence is a very big issue and having women join programs that support and develop their confidence in themselves is a very important step. Women need to feel confident about sitting at the table. A recent chat with a very respected CEO showed me that this crisis in confidence can effect anyone at any time. This CEO confessed to me that from time to time, he realizes that he doesn’t have all the answers but decides to “fake it, till you make it” which is not a bad thing. At least go out there and try.

5. How can women better engage with men on the topic of gender equity? Or is this about men talking to other men to help drive change?

I think that it’s a two way street – it’s about women engaging better with men and men engaging with women as well as men engaging with other men like the Male Champions of Change. People need to come together and acknowledge that we have an economic problem here and a financial issue for organisations and come up with a solution.

When I look back on my career, I was able to make the most of opportunities because men said to me that I could do it. They told me that they believed in me and sponsored me into those positions. Men are like women in that they need really capable people around them and they are constantly on the lookout for talent. But this is also where unconscious bias comes in. Men tend to look at people who are like themselves – who went to the same school, have the same sort of background and have the same mindset as them. We need to get out of this mindset and provide men with the opportunity to sponsor women through an organization.

What we also have to do is set measurable targets and focus attention on issue of diversity more generally. The ASX Corporate Governance Principles is a great start to this conversation and getting organisations to focus on reaching diversity through measurable targets.

6. What is your definition of success?

I think that it’s about the equality of opportunity rather than just equal numbers. I’m not sure if we will get to equal numbers because I don’t know if the world can change that much. At the end of the day, women will still be the ones having children and we have to be realistic about this. I think that it is fantastic that there are men who stay at home and take on parenting responsibilities and the community as a whole should encourage and support them. Equality of opportunity will hopefully drive a much more balanced outcome for women in leadership roles. I would like to see a greater level of women in senior leadership roles, not just in business, but in Government and across the board in different sectors of the community.

I am much more optimistic about the opportunities that women have today than even five years ago and I believe that there is a significant recognition of the problem. The debate has now opened up, but we have to stay focused and keep the issue on the agenda.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.
“The fundamental problem is we just don’t support women enough. We put so much effort into training women, getting them to a position where they are incredibly competent, capable and effective – and then we let them go. From an organisation’s stand point, this is just a terrible waste.”
Belinda Hutchinson, Non-Executive Director.

As Australia enters 2014 with little real progress in addressing workplace gender inequity, 12 more female leaders have added their ideas to what we need to do to stop this waste of talent.

In this candid supplementary report to In their own words, they reflect on the responsibilities of:

Individual women


Women in leadership

We thank them for being exceptional role models and for their ideas on how Australia can realise the productivity benefits of using the talents of its entire workforce — not just 50%.*

* The view of third parties set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms. Moreover, they should be seen in the context of the time they were made.