Balance

In their own words - Women in leadership

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Leah Armstrong - Women in Leadership

 

Jen Dalitz - Women in Leadership

 

Cathy Foley - Women in Leadership

Annabel Spring

 


My belief is that most people want to do the right thing, and by opening their eyes to possible unconscious biases that they might hold, makes a big difference.

1. Tell me about your background and career journey.

I’m the Group Executive for Wealth Management at the Commonwealth Bank and have been in this position since October 2011. I look after CommInsure, Colonial First State, Colonial First State Global Asset Management and our advice businesses. Wealth Management accounts for about 13% of the operating profit of the bank.

I came out of University and I knew that I really enjoyed working with people as well as being absolutely fascinated with numbers. Fresh out of an Economics/Law degree at Sydney University, I chose to work for a bank, where I have enjoyed quite a lot of different experiences. I’ve worked in Capital Markets, I’ve worked in M&A, I’ve worked in Asset Management and I’ve worked in Strategy and Treasury.

2. Did you have a plan when you started out?

I didn’t envisage needing a plan, I just envisaged a role that I would enjoy. A role that allowed me to be the best that I could be in and something that took advantage of my love of numbers and my love of working with people.

3. Have you had to make any compromises along the way?

For me, this is pretty simple – there are just some compromises that I will not make. I won’t make compromises around personal integrity, and my view of service to the community. I grew up in a family where these were the fundamental, bedrock principles to life and they have served me well throughout my career. They resonate particularly well with what I do at the Commonwealth Bank.

4. Have you had mentors and role models?

I’ve really been fortunate with the people that I’ve worked around and that I have worked for. I’ve learned from them what to do and in some cases, what not to do. Some I’ve watched and some have given me really frank feedback. Through all of that, what I value most is their friendship.

5. How would you define success?

If you look at every role that you play in life, the three important things are work, family and friends and service to the community. My definition of success sits in these three buckets. At work, success is doing something that has a deeper purpose and that is interesting. A deeper purpose in my current role is easy to explain – we provide advice and we help people think about their future. This is critical.

With family and friends, it’s simple. Happy and healthy family and friends is vitally important. Finally in regard to community, anyone who is lucky enough to have a successful life has a duty to serve the community. I sit on the board of the Salvation Army and this is an important role for me.

6. What do you see as some of the major barriers for women in regard to career progression?

Coming back to Australia after having spent quite a lot of time in America one thing that has struck me is the lack of accessible and affordable childcare. This is an issue for every parent, but particularly women who have already taken some time out of the workforce to have their children. I’m not sure what the solution is, but this is a real problem for the country.

I think that in respect to women particularly, there is also the issue of self-perception that can be a real barrier. A recent UK study that looked at students coming out of University and applying for the same role showed that 45% of the female graduates thought that they had the necessary qualities for the role, compared to 59% of male graduates, even though the women had significantly higher grades that would suggest that they were more qualified. So self-perception and self-confidence can be a real barrier for women in the workplace.

I think that in respect to women particularly, there is also the issue of self perception that can be a real barrier. A recent UK study looking at students coming out of University and applying for the same role showed that 45% of the female graduates thought that they had the necessary qualities for the role, compared to 59% of male graduates, even though the women had significantly higher grades that would suggest that they were more qualified. So self perception and self confidence can be a real barrier for women in the workplace.

7. What, if any, unhelpful assumptions do organisations have about ambitious women?

I think that we have passed that stage now. Very few people hold conscious assumptions about women. The broader challenge in this discussion is about unconscious assumptions and unconscious bias. My belief is that most people want to do the right thing, and by opening their eyes to possible unconscious biases that they might hold, makes a big difference.

A large number of Commonwealth Bank executives have now undertaken unconscious bias training and I think that this has been a large part of our progress towards meeting our gender targets and how we think about filling roles.

8. What is your view regarding gender quotas and targets?

I think it is important that people are free to put the right person in a specific role. There should always be a meritocracy at work and there should always be an environment where the right person is placed in the right role.

But I do think that targets have a value, as a metric and as a measure of progress. Targets need to be paired with policies that support them, so that it is not just a number. In regard to recruitment, it’s about having a woman on the decision panel and at least one woman in the pool of candidates. Targets need to be paired with gender pay equity reviews at remuneration time. Targets need to be paired with policies around return to work and parental leave. Targets also need to be paired with policies regarding flexible work practices in order to be most effective.

9. What do you think organisations need to do better to attract, retain and promote women?

It’s about long term, multi-pronged commitment – and that commitment needs to start from the most senior levels of the organisation. The commitment also needs to convey the message that this is a business imperative that is about attracting diversity of thought and perspectives; reflects the diversity of our clients;realises the potential of our talent; and makes people happy to work here. I want people to be able to bring their whole self to work every day.

I think that organisations play a role in ensuring that there are policies and practices in place to assist women. One thing is to ensure that organisations have a diverse representation of candidates applying for roles as well as having a diverse selection panel when reviewing applicants. This forces the conversation about what the organisation is really looking for and who could possibly perform the role. It forces organisations to look further afield for quality candidates.

10. What advice would you give young women starting their career?

Have a go. Stick your hand up and say “I’ll do that”. Assume you can do it and then find someone who can help you do it. There are opportunities everywhere if you are willing to give it a go.

  The views expressed in this article are the views of the author, not EY.
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Like Annabel Spring, most women see corporate achievement as just one facet of a successful life. “Work, family and friends, service to the community – my definition of success sits in these three buckets.” She sits on the board of the Salvation Army, believing “anyone who is lucky enough to be successful has a duty to serve the community.”

It’s not enough for corporate culture to merely tolerate family, cultural and community obligations – we have to recognise these things are just as important as paid work, and value them appropriately. Today, women who come back after parental leave and take up part time roles are frequently treated like second class citizens: excluded from meetings and social events where business is often conducted, kept out of the communications loop and rarely put on a succession bench.

This is the point at which so many talented women disappear from the leadership pipeline. Having reached a relatively senior role in their 30s, they stop to have children, only to find that, despite parental leave programs and part-time options, their career advancement grinds to a halt.

Many companies will tell you, hand on heart, that these women no longer want a career – that their lack of advancement is their choice. But that’s rarely true.

“There’s an unhealthy assumption that, if women have a family, it will have a huge impact on their career aspirations and objectives,” says Leah Armstrong.

The irony is, women with caring responsibilities and personal commitments are prepared to put in the hours, as many do in their own businesses – if they feel their work is sufficiently important.

As a scientist seeking solutions to big, national problems, Cathy Foley, the CSIRO’s Chief of Material Science and Engineering, has always worked night and day. “It’s a vocation, not a career.” She put all three of her children into long day care, five days a week, at just 12 weeks old.

This is not to suggest that this is the answer for everyone. But it does paint a picture of working mothers that contrasts sharply with the suggestion, still perpetuated in some corporate cultures, that people returning from parental leave no longer pull their weight or maintain their level of ambition.

The issue is not that women take time off to have children, it’s how we view this biological fact. A career is a marathon, not a sprint. In what should be a 30 year career, why should it be viewed as career suicide if someone is away for a year or so? Why does it take years to recover from a period of extended leave? Why do all career paths have to be linear to lead to a leadership position?

As Jen Dalitz, Sphinxx Founder and CEO, says: “Men’s careers are often linear, whereas women’s usually are not.” Both individuals and organisations need to get used to this idea – it will only become more common.

We need to re-evaluate how we handle career interruptions. Yes, those returning to the workplace lack the corporate experience of those who stayed ‘on track’, but what else have they learned? What new skills have they acquired that are useful to the corporate workplace? Becoming a parent is a massive piece of personal development. It makes us question our values, teaches us humility and frequently puts us under more physical and emotional stress than we imagined possible.

Those returning to the workplace from this baptism of fire are exhausted, but they also bring with them new capabilities, insights and emotional intelligence. The exhaustion fades; the qualities don’t.

We also need to question why, as a society, caring responsibilities are largely a female-only domain. With many women opting to return to the workforce, child care costs are still being calculated in terms of the impact they have on second incomes, rather than the overall impact to the family.

Equally, if organisations assume family commitments are the shared responsibility of both parents – especially after the initial physical requirements of child rearing are over – we would see changes to work hours to support school and child-care logistics.

Most importantly, we need to understand that caring responsibilities are just one driver of the need for balance. Regardless of why people need or want flexible working hours – to combat stress, to reduce the time and cost of travel or even to suit their most productive working hours – organisations should grant them, because of the massive engagement and productivity benefits that ensue.

We need to challenge the assumptions we make about people who take career breaks, or move to part-time work – for whatever reason.

  • Do their careers really need to stall?
  • Why do we feel they no longer add as much value as their full time colleagues?
  • Why don’t we respect their outside achievements and value their personal development – whether through having a baby or climbing a mountain?