Inspiring Australian women: Australia’s female CFOs give advice on how to drive your career

Inspiring Australian women: Australia’s female CFOs give advice on how to drive your career

According to the latest report by the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, women are still under-represented in management roles, with just 16.3% of CEO and 37.4% of manager roles held by women.

To help broaden the community of women in leadership within the finance industry and nourish their careers, Robert Half, in association with LinkedIn, invited fifty business women to a panel discussion on how to drive a career in finance.

The panellists included Alison Harrop, CFO at Dexus, Kellie Egan, APAC HR Manager at Atlassian, Anna Harper, CFO at Society One and Stacey Brown, Deputy CFO at News Corp. These inspiring Australian women discussed a variety of topics, from self-managing one’s career to the role of mentor and coach. The conversation also turned to the demands of balancing family life with work life, and how to navigate through potential bias and set oneself up for success in a male-dominated world. Here, we share the insights:

What attributes do you value in a leader?

The panel of inspiring Australian women reflected on the types of leaders who have helped guide their career.

“A leader who will push you, just enough,” said Egan. “That moment when you are operating at 110%, with a feeling of nervous energy in the pit of your stomach? That’s the best part, that’s the part where you learn.”

“Respect, loyalty and leading by example,” said Harper, of what she looks for in a leader.

For Harrop, authenticity was the attribute she valued above all others. “I want to see a leader as a person first, and as an executive second. I believe it’s important to show vulnerability at work. Women do it naturally. I love working with people who can be themselves - warts and all. You can get better outcomes if they are honest and true to themselves and there is no barrier between you.”

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s August 2016 survey, women hold 14.2% of chair positions. As inspiring Australian women in leadership roles - how have you built trust and relatability with a mostly-male board?

The panel agreed that building trust came down to knowing your audience and doing your research. “I find out the board members’ particular points of interests, and I ask questions about them,” said Harrop. “Know your audience. Know what is going to interest them. Build a personal connection first. The work stuff can come later.”

Brown added: “It’s about doing a little bit of homework and finding out what each individual is interested in. With the board being mostly male, it might mean that you have to read the Daily Telegraph sports section once in a while!”

 

How do you deal with a potential bias towards males when recruiting for leadership roles?

The panel was in 100% agreement that when it comes to recruiting for leadership roles, competency should come before diversity. They also agreed, however, that there weren’t enough women in senior leadership positions – and it wasn’t an easy fix.

“My board embrace diversity but they aren’t sure how to make it happen,” reflected Harrop.

Egan offered some guidance as to how businesses can see more women in decision-making roles. “In our business, our two co-founders are really passionate about becoming a company that is highly desirable for inspiring Australian women to work for. We are aware of our statistics and our recruitment teams report on the metrics around female candidates and recruitment. Every quarter we look at it, and have a lot of conversations. We aren’t yet where we want to be, but there is momentum.” 

How do you retain a demanding senior finance role and have a work/life/family balance?

Brown identified that it is important to set aside time for family and be open and communicative about it. “I identified that I wanted to spend, for example, one hour per week for a term reading at school for each of my children, and I would commit to that. I would schedule appointments around those commitments, be really open with my workplace as to where I would be, and I wouldn’t answer the phone during those times.”

Harrop made deliberate choices about identifying companies to work for who would support a work-life balance. “I have left companies that didn’t offer flexibility. And when I’ve done that, I’ve found excellent senior roles elsewhere. Stand your ground: if people won’t support you, find someone who will.”

How do you create a work/life balance within your team?

The panel of inspiring Australian women were in agreement that the key to encouraging a work-life balance within their teams, was through communication. Egan reflected that she had seen many people in her business go through the burn out stage. Said Egan: “I’ll tell people in my team to find something that they are passionate about that isn’t work – exercise, painting, reading a book, time with family – and give yourself a break.’

Another key way to foster a balanced environment was through setting a good example oneself. Said Harrop: “As a leader, the most important thing is role modelling. I measure people on the outcome of their work versus time spent in the office. If I’m leaving at 4pm for a family commitment, I’ll be open about why – it gives people permission to do the same.”

In addition, the panel were in agreement that workplaces who offered incentives like yoga, team sports and mindfulness sessions, were setting the right example. 

Does technology play a big role in work-life flexibility for you?

The issue of technology, and whether it is an enabler or a hindrance to a work-life balance, was a hot topic. “There is a lot of negativity around technology, because the line between work and life becomes blurred,” acknowledged Harper. “I look at it differently as it does enable me to work from home a lot. The technology allows me to get a lot done, uninterrupted, away from the office.”

Harrop took a different approach. “I don’t take my phone to the bedroom, and if I’m working from home, I only work in my designated study. After about 9.30pm, I close my laptop and I don’t open it again until I’m in the office the next morning. If it’s really urgent, the CEO will call me. If it’s not him, I’m not interested.”

Discover more leadership advice

The 'Leading Ladies’ panel discussion, led by these inspiring Australian women in finance, was the first in a series of events to take place in the coming months. This article is part two of a two-part article covering the event and providing helpful tips for women to drive their careers in finance.

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