Women in Leadership

  • Share

Penny Wong


EY - WIL - Penny Wong
Parliament is as guilty as the private sector in constructing jobs that are not conducive to taking on a fair share of caring responsibilities.

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your own journey to where you are now.

Whenever I’m asked about why I entered Parliament, I reference my childhood and migration to Australia. I think that experience of difference was such a profound part of my childhood that it shaped a lot of who I am and my desire to see things change. That experience also shapes my view of what life is like for those who are marginalised now. There were many people who had much more difficult childhoods than I - we were loved and well looked after - but the experience that I had when I came to Australia was certainly a formative one.

In terms of how I got to where I am today: I did what I think a lot of young people think they are supposed to do – I studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry and got into Medicine. But I then took a year off and realised that I didn’t like blood and so I revised my choice of careers. I spent a year in Brazil on a student exchange program, came back home and studied Arts and Law in Adelaide. I worked in various jobs, including being a lawyer, and was preselected for the Senate. In 2007, I was appointed to be a Cabinet Minister within the previous Government.

2. The previous Government introduced its BoardLinks program in 2012. Can you tell us a bit about the program and how it is progressing?

One of the benefits of being in public life is that you get the opportunity to make decisions that can effect change. You try and use that opportunity to effect change for the better and that can occur in big policy matters like what’s contained in the previous federal Budget or by introducing DisabilityCare. You can also effect change in different ways, such as the introduction of BoardLinks, an initiative I am very happy to have had the opportunity to do.

BoardLinks grew out of a couple of things – firstly, out of my personal view that we need to ensure that we support and encourage women into all levels of leadership in our society, and, secondly, it came out of an experience that I had as the previous Finance Minister when I was presented with a short list for a board appointment and it comprised all males. I did a very long annotation back to the Department that essentially said: ‘Don't send me a short list that does not have a suitably qualified woman on it’. And, ‘if you cannot find one, you’re not looking hard enough’. It occurred to me that we have to support the changes that we are seeking.

As a Government, we had a target of 40% of board positions to be held by women by 2015. We wanted to ensure that, whatever we did, we worked closely with the private sector and that we didn’t replace the good work that organisations were already doing to try and improve women’s participation at the leadership level.

BoardLinks really has a couple of functions, the most important being to enable people who are looking for their first board appointment. The criteria that is set for many private sector board appointments is prior board experience. This makes it difficult for women with less experience to gain appointments, even though they might have other qualifications. BoardLinks provided people with the opportunity to gain experience on their first or second board.

What we also did was ask high profile business people to nominate people who they think would be effective on a Government board. We had also asked various organisations such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors, as well as a range of listed Australian companies, to nominate potential women to the Network. At the end of 2013 we had over 150 women involved in the BoardLinks program, which broadens the pool of candidates for consideration for government board appointments.

Also, from my experience as a Minister, I tend to see the same names on the lists of potential board members. Through BoardLinks, we had seen nominations of new women who came with a certain amount of backing and I have been very impressed with the calibre of people that have been nominated.

People say to me that there aren’t many women with the right qualifications out there, and that’s just not true. If we don’t know them, we need to do something to get to know them.

3. Women are still poorly represented on the whole in boardrooms and in senior leadership positions. What do you think are the issues and what do you think can be done to try and overcome this problem?

I think that institutions often lag the community in terms of change. I am one who has advocated for affirmative action, which I think helps drive cultural change. But it is not the only way. Programs such as BoardLinks and initiatives such as ‘Male Champions of Change’, as well as the cultural expectation that diversity makes good business sense, all help.

I believe that the Parliament works best when it is representative of the community and I think that companies are becoming more aware too of the importance and relevance that diversity brings in their own governance structures.

4. Rightly or wrongly caring responsibilities are often cited as the reason women don't always progress in their careers. What do you think women can do to ‘child proof’ their career?

I think the first is to choose the partner who wants to share in the care of your children. I think we need to recognise family and caring responsibilities as being not only very significant but there is a reality about the impact they have on careers.

I think we can always do better as a society in regards to how we structure work and how we structure care. There is still the assumption that someone is at home carrying out the full time caring role.

Parliament is as guilty as the private sector in constructing jobs which are not conducive to taking on a fair share of caring responsibilities. The discussion about part-time work is still not common place in Parliament. I wonder sometimes if we could recognise the possibility of part-time work. The default is still full time work for many people. Increasingly, we will need to review this, particularly in terms of an ageing population.

I suspect we will get better at it by the next generation, especially with many younger men having a different view of what their fathering role will be than their fathers’ generation.

5. What is your definition of success?

If you ask me what a successful life is, I would say it is where you are surrounded by people who love you and who you love.

If you ask me in the context of work, I have to say doing what you are called to do or what you are asked to do, well.

6. How do you think women can leave a positive legacy for the next generation of women coming through?

I often speak about this issue in terms of intergenerational equity. This issue cuts across a whole range of policy areas, whether its climate change or budget policy, in terms of the implications that your decisions have for the next generation. This is the same ethical position when we speak about gender equity.

As women, we can make sure we are not just the first few but that we are the first of many. That we are not just an anomaly but part of a generational shift that sees more women in positions of leadership. In doing so, we can change the culture which makes it difficult for women to participate fully.

I’ve often shied away from the notion of being a role model because it seemed to be a little self important. However, I remember giving a speech early in my career at a University and afterwards a group of young Asian women came to speak to me and I realised that what was important to them was not me, but what I represented to them – opportunities and possibilities that they hadn’t realised before.

I often say that the important thing about being a ‘first’ is that there is a second and a third. It is not just about what you do but also how you can be one of the sparks that enables someone else to see an opportunity that they may not have otherwise seen.

7. What do you think are the roles that men need to play in this discussion?

Men who believe in equality have an incredibly important role because they speak with a different voice and are heard differently. They have a critically important role in helping to shift the current culture. If women are to be truly equal, men need to help make the space to enable this.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.

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.

Jillian Segal AM


EY - WIL - Jillian Segal
I’ve always advised younger women to outsource as much as they can and stop trying to do everything themselves or be perfect at everything they do.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your career journey.

My career journey has not been a linear one. It started off after I graduated from an Arts/Law degree at UNSW and then worked for a year as an associate to a judge on the High Court. I then took a role at a large law firm in Sydney, currently known as Allens. I applied for and won a scholarship to Harvard Law School and did my Masters of Law whilst commuting to New York where my husband was working. Once I finished we relocated to New York where I worked at a Wall Street Law firm. Knowing that we intended to have children and wanting to be closer to family (both my husband and I are children of immigrants to Australia), we returned to Australia where I went back to work with Allens.

At the age of 30, I became the first female Partner at Allens to subsequently become pregnant and have children. I have to say that their initial response was very positive and I undertook writing the maternity leave policy for the firm! Having returned from my first maternity leave, I became the staff Partner and oversaw the firm’s HR practices including hiring all new lawyers for the firm which was a really fabulous experience. After I had my second child and returned to work, I established a new practice in the environmental area and became an environmental lawyer.

After seven years as a partner, I knew that I wanted to try something else. After stepping down from the Partnership and becoming a consultant for a few years, I took on a role with ASIC and became a Commissioner and then Deputy Chair for five years which was a fascinating time to be there involving policy, new areas of regulation including e-commerce and compliance schemes. Following my time at ASIC, I started to establish a portfolio career and the first board that I was offered was the ASX.

2. What lessons did you learn along the way that you can share with other women?

Firstly, don’t be afraid to take on new opportunities and challenges – even if you don’t feel 100% qualified to take it on. I would also say not to be overly critical of yourself – you have to have enough confidence in yourself to grasp those opportunities with both hands when they come along.

Secondly, you have to be ambitious – you have to want a career and not necessarily just something to keep you busy or work at 9-5. There are a lot of things that you can do to keep busy that don’t require the compromises that a career does. If you want a successful career, however, you have to be resilient, because everything has its challenges and requires compromise and juggling in order to last the distance, so you have to really enjoy what you are doing.

3. How do you think women can become more involved in driving their careers and have a seat at the table?

I think that Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” is a very important read for young women. Obviously, there needs to be a great deal of support from employers in regard to policies, procedures, frameworks and flexibility mechanisms that are often out of women’s hands. But I think there is also a responsibility that women have to shine and the way to do that is to put your hand up and assert yourself appropriately. As Sheryl Sandberg summarises the issue - when you are being shown into a meeting room, don’t take a back seat, rather assume that you have been invited for your expertise and contributions and sit at the table.

4. How do you think women can better combine careers and children and other caring responsibilities?

This can be very difficult and everybody will do it differently – there is no right way or wrong way to organise your life around your combined responsibilities. I have always said to younger women to outsource as much as you can and don’t try and do everything yourself or be perfect at everything that you do. If you are a keen cook, then keep doing that, but outsource your cleaning or vice versa or outsource it all! Spend your free time with family rather than doing domestic chores. Get as much help as you can, even if this means that for a period you are spending almost all your salary on help – you are progressing your career and you are fulfilling your potential and you are enjoying your relationships.

A number of women have said to me that they philosophically don’t like having someone else cleaning their house or doing their ironing. I never had any of those qualms – where I could employ someone to relieve me of something I did not need to do or did not enjoy doing, I did it.

What is also very important is to realize that you are not going to be perfect at everything that you do, so you have to forgive yourself occasionally for not performing something perfectly.

Women have to recognize what the balance is that they need in their life and at what stage they need that balance. You will go through different cycles in your life and your career, and sometimes you will have to step back from certain things, so you need to have a strategy. You may never be the epitome of an earth mother if you have a career and neither will you be like the male executive who has a wife at home looking after the running of the house. You will need to realize that it’s a juggle and you have to be organized with what you do.

You also need to choose your partner well. You need to take your partner on the journey with you. If you choose well, they will be a great support to you.

5. What do you think successful women can do to assist those coming up behind them especially younger women?

I think that successful women can be role models and they need to tell their story, which is part of the reason that I agreed to be involved in this project.

Mentoring and sponsoring younger women is also important as is giving them advice, advocating for them and helping to bring about systemic changes in the organization that you work for. We need to change the cultural dynamic of each company, the business community as a whole and the country so that it is viewed as important to employ and promote women and it is seen as important to provide women with meaningful opportunities. Men also need to step up and help influence other male leaders to recognize the potential of women and promote them.

6. How would you define success?

Success is what you define it to be for yourself. For me it was being able to have an interesting life which combined having a family, including a great husband, grounded and happy children, loving relationships with my parents and a satisfying career.

I also always wanted to contribute to the community and I have been lucky enough to be able to do that as well. I have done volunteer work for community organisations and charities. I am also involved as a director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, as Vice Chancellor of the University of NSW, and as Chairman of the John Monash Foundation which is a national postgraduate leadership scholarship organization for young people. I have gained a huge amount of satisfaction out of contributing in areas I am passionate about including mentoring young people and trying to make the world a better place.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.

Carmel McGregor


EY - WIL - Carmel McGregor
I tell women to put their hand up first and work out the details later.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are now?

I had the opportunity to be one of the lead Executives appointed at the creation of Centrelink in 1997. It was a wonderful experience to work on something so groundbreaking and important for the Australian community.

After a few years there I moved to Paris as my husband was posted to the OECD delegation. It was a great time with our kids as well, and an unforgettable time of living in another culture. I also had the opportunity to work in the Public Management Service of the OECD on the important agenda of modernising government.

On return from Paris I led Centrelink’s People and Corporate Performance where I re-engineered the human resource, leadership development and organisational design functions.

In 2004-5, I worked on the Welfare to Work reforms in a whole of government context where we made some major inroads to the participation of people with disability, single parents and long term unemployed.

I was then promoted to Deputy Secretary Client and Corporate Services in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship where we undertook a global client service reform and a major organisational and cultural change program. This was a very testing time as most of our work was about rebuilding at a time of great external scrutiny and volatile policy environment.

In 2008 I moved to the role of Deputy Australian Public Service Commissioner . During this time I was a member of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration (Blueprint) and made input on the human capital agenda, workforce skilling, leadership development and the role of the Australian Public Service Commission. During 2011, I was seconded to Defence to lead a review of Pathways for APS Women in Defence – one of six cultural reviews within the Department.

I am now the Deputy Secretary Defence People in the Department of Defence and oversee a $10 billion payroll and a workforce of around 100,000. Key responsibilities are the implementation of the cultural reform, importantly the role of women, implementation of shared service reforms and workforce development.

Throughout my career, I have liked to chase the “next big thing” – big policy issues, big programs and change and major Government initiatives. Equally I have also sought out people I wanted to work with – those worth following and from whom I could learn.

2. What kind of lessons do you think you have learned about yourself along the way?

I like to be involved in issues and make things happen. I tend to get irritated when things don’t happen quickly enough.

I have some good skills but, like everyone else, I also have weaknesses. Some people are better at things than I am and the challenge for me, as a leader is to ensure that I build a diverse team around me with complementary skills. I think that is absolutely critical in building a successful team. I always encourage my team to speak up, have lots of opinions and be part of the solution.

I feel very strongly about fairness and justice and that is why I became involved in issues around Human Resources – to ensure that there existed opportunities for everyone, not just the elite few.

I have a real commitment to public policy and public service and am privileged to have had a great career. I get very energized being around people and I enjoy sharing ideas with other people around the table. This explains my academic background in psychology and sociology and interest in what makes people tick and how they work.

3. What do you think women can do to gain more confidence in their own abilities?

The issue of confidence amongst women is a major factor in Defence. We have the challenge of really focusing on this issue – it is not something that will fix itself. I think that we need role models, and they need to be both women and men. Role models help women to have the confidence to put their hand up. I tell women to put their hand up first and work out the details later. This will lead to a ripple effect and more women will have the confidence to do the same by seeing someone else succeed.

In Defence, we have focused on providing mentoring and coaching opportunities for women. I sometimes get challenged that by giving women these opportunities, I am not fostering a merit based environment. I completely disagree with that view – men are being coached and mentored during motorbike rides and golf days every day. What I want to do is create a comfortable space for women to be mentored and coached. Many men don’t need additional confidence training, whereas many women do. However, where that is an issue of course men should have similar assistance.

4. Are you a supporter of quotas?

This is a contentious issue. When I did a review in 2011 looking at the pathways for women in the public service, I used the word “quota”. I couldn’t believe the vitriol around the word and I found the discussion was being de-railed by the term "quota" rather than the desired end state of gender equality. So I started referring to our goal as targets.

I am hopeful that if we talk about and set targets and people understand what we are striving for and why, it will lead us to a more effective discussion rather than being hung up on the word “quota”.

The important thing is to set a goal, and hold people accountable for reaching that goal.

5. Caring responsibilities are often cited as one of the reasons why women are not progressing in their career. What do you think women can do to balance the different responsibilities in their lives?

I think this is about being very clear at the outset of what you can offer. If you need to leave early on a Thursday afternoon, you need to have that conversation right from the outset. I find that when there is a clear conversation about requirements, most people are very reasonable about personal needs. You also have to be very upfront about your contribution and not being apologetic about it.

The issue of flexibility is becoming more gender blind particularly with young men who seem to want the same flexibilities that women do. Flexibility needs to be a team based conversation as well because often people feel resentment when they don’t understand the needs of other team members and what conversations have been had.

Often women say to me that they will never tell their employer that they have children and I get why they say that. But I think the conversation needs to be had and people need to be open about that they need and what they are able to contribute.

I remember having a discussion with my boss when I took on the job in the Immigration Department, saying that I had children and although my record showed that I had never let anyone down in regards to the work that I did, I sometimes had to do things differently as I had other responsibilities. His response was that all he asked was for me to have my phone on in case he needed me urgently and he was true to his word.

People need to be educated about flexibility and shown that the default position can be saying yes to your employees who need flexibility. Also, there needs to be a focus on job design to ensure that the individual is being given a job that they are able to do within the framework of their flexible work arrangements.

6. What do you think successful women do to help those women coming after them?

I think that women do need to look out for one another and I hate it when I hear women say other women are the worst bosses that they have had. If women are not treating other women well, that behavior needs to be called.

Successful women also need to talk to other women and sponsor them to meetings, take them to events where they will see how boardrooms work and have them shadow them in those meetings. This will allow other women to feel more comfortable in that environment before they are themselves put in the hot seat. Women need to push the window open and as they go through it, reach behind and pull another woman through after them.

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

Mentoring programs can be quite a contrived arrangement where people are matched by someone else. Mentoring works best when people come together, with mutual respect and who have the courage and wisdom to walk away from the arrangement when it is not working.

There needs to be a differentiation between mentors and sponsors. I have had people who have sponsored me in my career and took steps to advocate on my behalf. Women can really help other women to progress.

I also think that you need to be realistic when seeking out a mentor. People shouldn’t expect that a six month conversation with someone older and wiser will suddenly result in a big office and a powerful role. My mentors and sponsors have been there to help me through certain situations or to get me to wake up to myself.

8. What is your definition of success?

Women comprise 51% of the population and around 60% of University graduates. We comprise 46% of the labour force and yet we are only at 2% of CEOs.

Success will come when women are able to contribute at their optimum level and they can determine what that is and to be taken seriously in their efforts to thrive and grow in senior leadership roles. Success will also come when the language of the conversation is equal. Why is it when you talk about a leader you more often than not say “he” and when you talk about someone helping in the canteen you say “she”. It’s a subtle thing but it either deliberately or unconsciously excludes people from certain roles and conversations. It doesn’t really matter if this is done consciously or unconsciously as long as we are able to change the tone of the discussion.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.

Jane McAloon


EY - WIL - Jane McAloon
Obviously, there needs to be a great deal of support from employers in regard to policies, procedures, frameworks and flexibility mechanisms.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are now?

I started off with some technical training in Economics, I taught at University for a while, I finished a Law degree and work for a while as a lawyer. I have always been interested in what people do and why they do it. My two motivators have always been learning and gaining insight – so if I got the opportunity to learn something new and grow, that really interested me and if I could influence an outcome, that was a powerful motivator as well.

I’ve moved around a lot – I worked out that I have had 16 different jobs with 13 different employers over the past 30 years. Currently I am the President, Governance & Group Secretary at BHP Billiton. I ended up in this line of work because it brought together a number of areas that were of interest to me in terms of communication, governance, how decisions get made, influence, challenge, judgement and performance. It is an extraordinary privilege to be in this position where I get to influence the way people make decisions and take responsibility in ensuring that the integrity of the decisions that are being made is robust. Ultimately, I support the relationship between the Chairman and Chief Executive as the two most important roles in the organisation.

2. What do you think were the biggest lessons you learned from your professional experiences?

The number one thing that I learned is that you have to work really hard and be proud of your accomplishments. If you find yourself in an environment where there is an opportunity to learn and grow and challenge yourself, then you have to step up and give it a go.

Secondly I learned that you have to look for opportunities to engage with people and to learn from others. You need to surround yourself with people who can teach you and challenge you and check what you are doing. That is how you will grow in a role.

Thirdly, is to stay transparent. The days of information being power are long gone. Today, you are more influential if you share information and give credit where credit is due.

3. Women are still poorly represented in senior positions in corporate Australia. What do you think the issues are?

I used to think that women could conquer the world. I grew up in an environment where I was constantly told by the nuns who taught me that there was nothing that we girls could not accomplish. I continued to think that right through my 30’s. I didn’t believe that there was any need to any structural or policy or regulatory intervention because women could do the job – particularly in a Western democracy like Australia.

I don’t particularly think that any more as I believe that there are clearly barriers along the way blocking women from reaching their full potential. Structural solutions are required to balance the field for women. We can no longer assume that inequalities are going to self-correct, because they are not going to.

The approach taken by the ASX that requires public listed companies to report on their gender statistics, is a start but there is more that needs to be done. One of the key issues is that families and women are so time poor that we make judgements about our lives every day – what we are prepared to do and what we aren’t. These trade-offs get harder the more senior you are in your career. That is why so many women drop out because they see that there are more important things in life that the trade-off just isn’t worth.

4. Caring responsibilities are often cited as the reason women don’t progress in their careers. Can women “child-proof” their careers?

Organisations need to be mindful and respectful of the needs of women who choose to have families and then return to the workforce. They may need a bit of flexibility to get the job done, but the job will get done well. Organisations need to trust that women will deliver on their responsibilities – they just may deliver them after the kids have been put to bed. From my observations, when women return from parental leave, they guard their professional achievements and strive to get the job done.

Organisations need to challenge their culture to embrace flexibility and we will be all the better off for it.

5. What roles have mentors played in your career?

I am a keen observer of people and I always watched senior people and always tried to learn from them – about the way that they approached a topic, or an interesting comment that they made. I was always naturally curious about how senior people made decisions and how they influenced others. The people that I learned from where all senior and more experienced than myself. But a senior person and a mentor are different things and I never really saw anyone as a mentor even though that’s exactly what they were doing. They were generous with their time and informally taught me a lot. One of the things that I learned from these senior people was to be robust at work which was very helpful.

6. What is your view of stewardship? What can women in positions of influence do to help the next generation of women who are coming through?

One of the most important things to remember is that you can’t assume that what you have done and how you have done it applies to younger women. Things are done differently now and there are things that you need to accept that will be different with the new generation of women – and that is OK.

The advice that I give less experienced women is that you need to push yourself, you need to be resilient and you need to challenge yourself but you also need to not be so hard on yourself.

When I talk to younger women, it becomes a mutual sharing experience. Women talk about what kind of workforce they want to work in. Some of the younger and least experience people in organisations give you the most guidance and direction. In order to challenge your own work, you need to make the time to exchange ideas with others. There are sometime assumptions that because someone is less experienced, you need to teach them – when, in fact, you should be learning from each other.

In holding positions of influence, men are often the keys to a woman’s success. How do you think women can better engage with men to help them drive change or do you think it is about men talking to men on this issue.

When you are talking about the issue of gender diversity on boards, for example – it’s not about men talking to other men or women talking to men, we need to talk about this issue together. What are the skills that we are looking for? What are our commitments to improving gender diversity on the board? What is the process that we need to engage in to make this happen? How can we find the right women?

One of the issues is the lack of creativity with head hunters and recruitment agencies. The people on any given board only have their own personal networks that they can call on for new board members. We have to reach more broadly than that and we need head hunters to scan for applicants more broadly and be more lateral in their approach.

In order to drive the outcome that you are looking for, you need to promote the discussion across the whole organisation. Diversity needs to be put in the context of economic benefit as well as social justice.

7. How do you define success?

Life has a way at throwing at you what it knows that you can deal with. I think about success as knowing who I am and knowing that I have a responsibility to reach out to others. I don’t think of success in more complex terms than that.

Success happens on a daily basis. I don’t define y life as an overall successful one – I don’t think that way.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.

Rachel Slade


EY - WIL - Rachel Slade
I see younger women being a bit more hesitant in taking on opportunities, because if they can’t imagine themselves doing something, there is an inclination to say ‘no’. I tell them: if they’re not feeling a little afraid and a little sick about a new endeavour, then it’s probably not stretching them enough.

1. Could you tell us about yourself how you got to where you are in your career?

I have had quite a diverse career. I started studying to be an Electric al Engineer and out of a class of 237 students, there were only 7 women. I guess I was exposed to the challenges of being in the minority right from the beginning of my education. I decided not to finish the Engineering degree and I moved to study Economics where I realised that being an Economist was not for me either.

I went into management consulting with Andersen Consulting in financial services and then moved to Westpac. It is now my 14th year with Westpac. For the first 7 years I was involved in many different areas of the business from corporate strategy to running the program office for the bank. I moved into product management in the institutional banking area running the International Payments and Trade area. I spent a year running the Diversity and Flexibili ty strategy for the bank which was one of the best jobs that I’ve ever had. We put in place gender targets for women in leadership which made a big impact on our diversity strategy. I then moved into the area of business architecture and process management. I now run transformation and project delivery. I run all of our distribution planning as well as the productivity agenda across the company.

2. What are the things that you have learned along the way?

I have learned a lot on the way. When I was considering taking on the Diversity role, I wondered whether I was the best suited to take on this responsibili ty. I had not given a great deal of thought to any challenges or barriers that I may have faced in my career based on my gender. However, I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity through Westpac’s program for supporting high potential women, to attend the Harvard Business School’s Women in Leadership Program for a week. I found this opportunity to be a real eye opener. The wonderful faculty articulated the challenges and opportuniti es for women and how that related to business strategy and outcomes and this approach really turned on some lights for me. When I came back I started to think about whether if some things had been different, I may have progressed further in my career or had done it sooner.

I may have been a little lucky, with some incredible opportuniti es opening up for me in my professional career - but I’ve taken some personal risks in taking on those opportuni ties as well. I see younger women being a bit more hesitant in taking on opportuni ties because if they can’t imagine themselves doing something, there is an inclination to say ‘no’. I give young women advice that if they are not feeling a little afraid and a little sick about a new endeavor, then it is probably not stretching them enough.

When I worked in the Diversity role, I tried to encourage leaders to be more overt in pulling out the aspirations from women and not assuming what they would or wouldn’ t do. When I had the opportunity to go to the Harvard Business School program, I had just returned to work after my third parental leave break and I had a baby that was less than a year old. Instead of assuming that I wouldn’ t be interested in the opportunity, I was offered all the support I needed – this was a great symbol from the organisation about their commitment to my development.

As Sheryl Sandberg said in her book, “Lean In” – you deserve a seat at the table, and you deserve to be seen and you deserve to be heard, but you have to put yourself out there.

3. What do you think organisations can do better to support women having a seat at the table?

It’s about fixing the structure around the women that work for an organisation – it’s not about fixing the women. Men need to understand that there is an inherent hesitation that women have in putting themselves forward and men in positions of leadership need to draw women out and encourage them to have the confidence to sit at the table.

We should encourage women to be more forthright and ask for what they want. Organisati ons also need to stop making assumpti ons on behalf of women.

I often get asked how I can juggle three children and a challenging job and I am brutally honest with people and let them know that it’s really hard. Women need to be honest with one another and say when things are tough so that we can support one another.

Job design is also a very important piece in encouraging women who work part time. When someone is on a flexible work arrangement and working

and getting paid for three days per week, but is actually doi ng 50 or 60 hours a week, then no one is happy. Women often take a step down to a more junior role when they take on flexible work arrangements and seem to be satisfied with that. I ask them, why are you fine with that? - because later when you are ready to ramp up your career, it is going to be difficult.

4. How would you define success?

I think feeling in control and not feeling overwhelmed by all the different aspects of your life. I also define success when I’m not feeling guilty about my children. When I start feeling guilty I know that somethi ng is amiss. I rarely feel guilty as I know my children are either with my husband, my mother or they are at school where they feel safe and happy. So success for me, is when everything feels right.

5. What can women do to make organisations a better place for those coming up behind them?

One thing is to make the time to work with younger women – there is this beautiful naivety in younger women that you don’t want to destroy and at the same time, you want to be able to prepare them for the challenges ahead. Women need to encourage younger women to express their ambition and to put their hand up and take some risks with their careers. I find having the conversation about what is the worst thing that could happen if you take a risk, a good place to start.

6. How do you think women can better engage with men to drive change?

You definitely need both men and women talking openly about what is required to drive change. However, until you get a critical mass of women in leadership, men remain the key to women’ s success. Initiatives such as the Male Champions of Change are fantastic, but one of the problems is that they are the same men talking about the issue of gender equity. We need different men, new men talking about this issue as well as senior women champions to help drive the change.

It’s also about finding a hook to engage current male leaders in this discussion. Social justice is not the hook for senior men in corporate Australia. However, younger men seem more engaged in the issue and the social justice aspect seems more important to them.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.


As part of EY's Women in Leadership series, we speak to some of Australia's successful and inspirational business women who have made a difference in their chosen fields and in their communities. We hope you enjoy their stories.

EY - WIL - Penny Wong EY - WIL - Sharon Cook EY - WIL - Belinda Hutchinson
Penny Wong Sharon Cook Belinda Hutchinson AM
Labor Senator for
South Australia
Managing Partner,
Henry Davis York
Non-Executive Director
EY - WIL - Jillian Segal EY - WIL - Carmel McGregor EY - WIL - Jane McAloon
Jillian Segal AM Carmel McGregor Jane McAloon
Deputy Secretary,
Defence People
Group Company Secretary,
EY - WIL - Rachel Slade EY - WIL - Elizabeth Ann Macgregor EY - WIL - Kate O'Reilly
Rachel Slade Elizabeth Ann
Kate O'Reilly
General Manager,
Transformation and Delivery, Westpac
Museum of Contemporary Art
EY - WIL - Ronni Khan EY - WIL - Carol Pollock EY - WIL - Val Duncan
Ronni Kahn Professor Carol Pollock Val Duncan
Head of Renal Division,
Sydney Medical School
Managing Director,
Energy Action

The views expressed in these articles are the views of the author, not EY. These articles provide general information, does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Liability limited by a scheme approved under the Professional Standards Legislation.