Super Informed Radio episode #13: Our 2018 International Women’s Day edition
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Rob: Hello and welcome back to another episode of Super Informed Radio, the podcast where we help you wade through the deep waters and the complexity of Super and the broader world of finance. As always, I am Rob.
Lyndon: I'm Lyndon.
Marta: And I'm Marta. Hey guys. Do you know what week this is?
Lyndon: I think I know what it is, Marta, but you tell us. Come on.
Marta: It's International Women's Day.
Lyndon: Very good. Woohoo.
Marta: Yaay! So this year's theme is ‘Press for Progress’ and so all around the world, people are celebrating the achievements and progress of women, including us here at UniSuper. Our dedicated website, actually, has got some really interesting member stories. You can check it out at unisuper.com.au/women.
Lyndon: So, with that in mind, Marta, what do we have lined up for this special International Women's Day edition of Super Informed Radio?
Marta: It's an excellent question, Lyndon. But I thought we could bring in some special guests, so two of our executives here at UniSuper, Anna Leibel and Lee Scales, to talk to them about International Women's Day, their careers, smashing the glass ceiling and what press for progress means for them.
Lyndon: Cool, but before we jump into it if you like what you're about to hear or have an idea or question for us to explore in future episodes, don't forget you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We like hearing what you think about the podcast and your suggestions, so keep them coming.
Rob: All right. Well, let's check out that interview.
Marta: So the past year and a bit has seen somewhat of a shift in the gender equality debate, with movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp really ramping up in their activities. It means that more people are being publicly accountable for long-hidden issues and more people are also feeling braver and safer to speak up about their own experiences of inequality.
So in a time where the word ‘feminism’ was Merriam-Webster's most looked-up word last year and the colour violet, historically associated with gender equality, if it's chosen as this year's colour of the year by the Pantone people, I wanted to know or I was wondering whether are we actually making real progress or is this just gonna be a passing phase?
Luckily, I don't have to wonder alone. So with me in the studio, I've got Anna Leibel, who is UniSuper's executive manager for technology and Lee Scales, UniSuper's executive manager for member and people services to take a deep into these issues and more. Lee, Anna, welcome to Super Informed Radio.
Lee: Thank you, Marta.
Marta: In 30 seconds or less, could you both tell me what you do at UniSuper?
Lee: Okay, so my role is a really interesting hybrid role, Marta, and I feel really privileged to have such a hybrid role. I get the best of both worlds. So, for half of my life I'm working with my member services team, which is all about servicing our members and doing a great job in doing that, having genuine care for our members...
: So that's like...that includes the contact centre.
Lee: The contact centre. Yeah. So we have the inbound team, the outbound team, email correspondence, the Live Chat team. And then, for the other half of my role, I have people services, which is all about the employee experience. So, I'm pretty passionate about having, you know, great people with great skills building a great culture because then we'll be able to service our members better.
Marta: Cool. Anna?
Anna: And I lead our technology team here at UniSuper and I'm really excited to be looking at ways of adding values similar to what Lee just described with member services, but through different technologies. So we're working together to make sure that all of the decisions that we make are actually having a line of sight back to our members to make sure that we're adding value to them and giving them the highest level of service that we can.
Marta: Yeah. Very good. And this year's theme for International Women's Day is ‘Press for Progress’. And so what does that mean for both of you?
Lee: Well, it's a great theme. And I've been around the workforce for a very long time. Probably at least 10 years longer than Anna, so, you know, for me, I've seen a lot for change. I've grown up in financial services, which has been a very male-dominated business to be or industry to be in, so I have seen a lot of progress, but there still needs to be a lot more. So to have a theme Press for Progress, I think it's very relevant.
Marta: And for you, Anna?
Anna: Very similar to Lee. So, I've always worked in technology, so always worked in a more male-dominated industry, which I've always really enjoyed. I'm really focused on how I can or how I am different and provide diversity of thought through that. But similar to Lee, I definitely think we need to continue with our focus.
Marta: Breaking the glass ceiling as it were.
Anna: Yes. Absolutely.
Marta: Do you think we're any closer to getting there?
Lee: Oh, dear. That's a really tough one. If I think about financial services, there are some amazing women that have reached fantastic heights within their careers, but I just don't think enough in the financial services sector. To be honest, I think it's very difficult for women to juggle all the things that they want to achieve in their life and I think we need to provide a lot better opportunities for women to come back into the workforce and continue to grow their career. So, as I said, I've seen some progress, but I don't think we've made enough progress.
Marta: Do you think, more broadly, to point about helping people come back after taking a break, do you think that there has been a shift in thinking and organizations are being more open to the different types of opportunities that people can come back to work within?
Lee: Yes and no. So I do think that there is a lot of women that are coming back and being able to avail of part-time opportunities, flexibility, but I still think that there is some biases around women in senior positions doing that.
So that's where I would like to see further change. I would like to see a lot of senior women working flexibly and men. It doesn't have to be just the women. I think if the men were doing it more so as well, and perhaps sharing some of the caring responsibilities, whether it's for children or whether it's for, you know, elderly parents, that then we'd start seeing more change at the top. I still think there is a lot of pressure on very senior women to be working fulltime.
Marta: From where I'm standing or sitting really, you're both at really impressive points in your careers...in your both respective careers and I'm a little bit intimidated, but were there any particular challenges that either of you faced in getting to where you both are? Maybe let's start with you, Anna.
Anna: Yeah. I suppose for me it was in my 20s, working in a really male-dominated industry and I was extremely shy in my 20s.
Marta: Wow. I would not have picked that from you at all.
Anna: And so for me, it was really finding my voice and getting more confident in my ability and actually looking at how I added value to the team. I didn't need to be like everyone else that I worked with. So I was really working on myself as much as really focusing on what I wanted to achieve out of my career. And obviously, as I've got older and worked through my 30s and now into my 40s, I've now found my confidence. And I really do focus on having a diverse team as for me, that's representation of our member base. And so it's about having different thoughts and opinions and ideas. I mean you only get that through diversity.
Marta: How about you, Lee? Any particular sticky or icky points?
Lee: Look. Absolutely. And I think it was in the 20s and so I was doing some additional study and I went to speak to back then the state manager of human resources for the National Australia Bank in South Australia where I was working and I was just wanting to get some guidance about the course that I was doing.
I was actually at TAFE and I had been accepted to do a university course and, you know, the first thing he said to me was, "Oh, look, you don't need to transfer into that university course because you would only need to do that if you're aspiring to my job." And followed it up, "Which, of course, you wouldn't be."
So, you know, I was pretty happy that about five years later I actually had his job, but that was a really interesting time for me because I believed him. And, you know, a few things happened in my life after that that helped me build confidence, as Anna said, and resilience. But I think for me, I realised I didn't have enough sponsors and mentors at that point in my career, so I did go out and actively seek some additional counsel from other people, which was probably the best thing that I could do.
Marta: So on the topic of mentorship, is there anyone in particular that has inspired you both in your professional working lives or in your personal lives?
Anna: I've had a very large number of people inspire me. Throughout my career, I've watched people and learned from people through the way that they lead. So it's not even a formal mentoring relationship, it's more watching people as they actually lead large teams and lead people through change. And for me, I've always had mentors both within the organizations that I've worked for and outside. So I think one thing to consider is also it doesn't need to be one mentor. So I usually have about four.
And then at different times of my career, and one example is when I moved out of an internal technology delivery role at Telstra and I moved into a sales role, so a global sales role. I actually then sort the expertise of an external coach. And I did that off my own back because I knew I needed that to be successful and I had to have a relationship with someone where I felt safe, asking what could have been perceived as silly questions and I actually had that. And it worked really well.
Marta: That's good. I guess you kind of create that safe space for you to ask whatever you need to.
Marta: And learn no matter how silly or stupid you might perceive it to be even though it's not. But just so you can do as best you can. How about you, Lee?
Lee: I agree. I think that it's horses for courses, so sometimes it might be a coach that you need, sometimes it's a mentor, sometimes it's just a sponsor, somebody who can actually just advocate for you and speak for you. Someone that's respected and is in the organization that you're in and they can be really helpful to, you know, help you progress your career. So, I think it is a mix. Like Anna, I think you can learn from the leaders that are around you, above you, below you. Reverse mentoring I think is a really great thing to do.
Marta: What is reverse mentoring?
Lee: So that's when these people that aren't necessarily more senior than you, perhaps not even a peer of yours, but they could be one or two or even three levels below you in the organization, but they're insightful people, they've got their ear to the ground, they know what's going on and they often...if they're, you know, brave and courageous and skilled at giving feedback upward can be really good to get information from about, you know, how you're leading and how you're perceived.
So I think reverse mentoring is a really good opportunity for any leader to tap into. And, you know, I think you need to look at the leaders that you don't look up to I suppose as well. And look at, well, what are the things that they're doing that you don't wanna ever do in your career. So, you can learn from the good leaders, you can learn from the not so good leaders.
Marta: Of what to do and what not to do as well.
Lee: Absolutely. And, you know, you said, have there been people that have inspired us and I know this is gonna sound really cliché...
Martha: There are no clichéd answers here.
Lee: Thank you. But I have to say my mum. So, my mum was a single mum. And I think she was on her own from when I was about four and did three jobs to keep the family going. So, I think for me, right from the start, having that really work ethic and just having someone that could, you know, show how you can juggle a number of different things and achieve was really important for me. So I had to get the plugin from mum.
Marta: Of course. mums are always the winners. So turn a bit of a shift to something more zeitgeist-y. Anna, I've noticed in recent years or at least in the news there has been a shift to focusing on encouraging women in the field of STEM, so that's science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Why do you think we've seen that recent shift or aside from the obvious and, in your view, are we making...is there progress in that area?
Anna: I actually think the disappointing thing here is that we're going backwards...
Marta: Oh, really?
Anna: And so we're saying that everything now centers around technology, so most companies now are technology businesses. It's gone from a back office function to now being at the center of everything we do. And even if you think about the interactions that you have in your personal life, there isn't really a service provider or a retailer anymore that you don't interact with in a digital fashion.
Anna: And so, for me, it's making sure that we have that pipeline of talent, and it's actually gender neutral, coming through our schools. So if you sort of think about what's the curriculum that we have in high schools today to make a career in STEM look appealing? So I've got a 14-year-old goddaughter and I keep asking her about her technology classes at high school, and she's actually bored. And so the other challenge, on the flip side, is that the teachers...or the students actually know more than the teachers about technology...
Marta: Because they've got their finger on the pulse more so than the teachers.
Anna: Yeah. And we see it with children today. They can swap to screen of an iPad or an iPhone under one, before they're walking. And so, for me, it's how can we help as corporates? How can we help educate those teenage students to help make a career in STEM real for them? It's not sitting in a desk and coding. There are so many different aspects of that. And then once we do see people and it's generally women come through into a career within technology. I have seen people leaving the workforce to do other things around about a manager level, and they're doing that because of the lack of flexibility I suppose that Lee talked about before and the expectations of always being available, being able to travel...
Marta: Being on call...
Anna: Spot on. And so for me, I think there's two different areas we need to focus on. It's that pipeline of talent coming through our schools and then retaining the talent once we actually have it within our workforce.
Marta: So shifting back to sort of about your respective careers and that kind of thing, do you think that luck has anything to do with a woman's career success? I know it's a bit of a curly question, but I was reading a book a few weeks and with people tending to use #blessed or #lucky, #grateful and people attributing luck to their success, I wanted to know what you thought about that.
Lee: I've read the book as well. Jamila Rizvi, you introduced me to the... Not Just Lucky is it?
Martha: Yeah! That's the one.
Lee: And, you know, that was really thought-provoking because I know that there has been times in my career where someone has complimented me or congratulated me and I have used that terminology. I've said, "Oh, you know, right place, right time. I think I was lucky." I've really downplayed it. And, you know, books like that are great. And, you know, I hope that a lot of younger women read that. Because it's actually not luck. And if you boil it down to why you've got that opportunity, really luck had nothing to do with it. So, words, we have to rethink some of the words that we use. I think videos like #LikeAGirl. Have you seen that video?
Martha: #LikeAGirl, yeah.
Lee: You know, things like that are very thought-provoking as well. And, you know, soon as...they've been out for a while those #LikeAGirl videos. But I showed them to my son as well as my daughter. And, you know, we do use words that are a bit detrimental to this cause and this press for progress.
Anna: And I no longer use the word luck. And it is a shift for me. I used to refer to luck...
Marta: Is it a conscious effort for you now or do you just sort of, it becomes...
Anna: Noo, it's conscious, I have to keep catching myself...
Marta: Yeah, I think I'm...I find that too...
Anna: Lee talked earlier about sponsorship and for me, that's part of a big influence on my career. And I did have a conversation with a sponsor a few years ago because I was given a few opportunities by having that sponsorship. But what I did with the opportunity was up to me. Now, that's not luck. That's hard work. And I've also said yes to a lot of opportunities along the way where I've been really nervous and felt out of my depth. And so it's not an easy thing either. And so it's actually taking a risk I suppose and taking yourself outside of your comfort zone to get where you are today.
Marta: So Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book Lean In about this thing called the Female Likeability Index, which is a theory that says that the more powerful or successful a woman is or is perceived to be, the less likeable she is, whereas the more powerful or successful a man is, the more likeable he is. Now, dare I ask, is this true? Yes/no. What do you guys think?
Lee: I don't like the term "likeable." It doesn't sit well with me.
Anna: For me, it's about being yourself. And years ago, I had some feedback that I smiled too much to have a career in the company that I was working for. Now, they never would have given that feedback to a male. And for me, it's really around being able to deliver results. And how you do that whether you're friendly and likeable, if you want to use that word, or firm when required, it's a really quite...very clear on the direction and the outcomes.
Marta: A matter of fact, yeah.
Anna: Likeable, the word, doesn't sit well with me. And we don't talk about males in that way and that's one thing I think they need to shift. We should not be using the word "likeable" when it comes to talking about females in the workplace.
Marta: What do you think, Lee?
Lee: Yeah. Look, I absolutely understand what Sheryl was getting at. But again, I agree with Anna. I don't think that we should be talking about ourselves in that way and but, you know, because it is something that people do say and they say things like, you know, a male might have a lot of gravitas, for example, but that's not necessarily a word that's used to describe females. It might be that the female is very assertive. And, you know, maybe they actually mean the same thing. So, I think, again, I said before, words are really important because it's labeling. And, you know, we shouldn't really be labeling people. So I think we should steer away from things like the likeability index. But I totally understand where she's headed with that...
Anna: ...the point she was trying to make. Another example of that is often I've been called ambitious. And people say, "Anna is very ambitious."
Martha: Like in a bad way?
Anna: Yeah. Well, yes. But you don't describe a male that way. We would actually describe a male as successful. And so, I just think it's been conscious of those sorts of terminologies that we use.
Lee: Yeah. Yeah. I think so.
Marta: Lot of like banned words on our list—it's growing by the day. So a hypothetical. A young woman comes knocks on your office door. She's a bit nervous. She's trying to figure her own life path, career path out, asking you both for career advice. What would be your number one tip? Anna?
Anna: So for me, it would be helping...having a conversation and asking some questions to help that individual understand what they love doing and then helping work out a bit of a plan around how to approach that and my advice along with anything. So it's general advice is to say yes to any opportunity that comes your way.
Marta: Say yes. How about you, Lee?
Lee: I think I would probably have a chat with that person about some of the mistakes that I've made in my career along the way and, you know, suggest that you can learn things from the mistakes that others make, as well as giving advice around identifying some good sponsors, mentors, coaches at different stages in your career and also, just be prepared to not necessarily have a career that's linear.
And I think that there is a lot of people that are actually just really wanting to get that next level up position, whereas some of the best learnings that I've had in my career have been when I've taken sideways positions or, for example, when I went into consulting. I actually sort of took a backward step from a remuneration perspective, but I just, you know, I couldn't put a price on how much I learned by consulting and getting across a lot of different industries. So, I think that career path has got to be a little bit windy, and be patient.
Marta: Be patient and grow sideways sometimes.
Anna: I've had a very similar experience to Lee. I've also, I supposed zigzagged a little bit without having a focus of moving up. And I think that's a really great learning for other people as well as Lee and I have both got to the positions we're in by not focusing on moving up the corporate ladder. It's just happened through hard work and really focusing on the skills that we need to progress to the next level. And I think it's around influential power over positional power. So you can be a leader...you don't need to be a people leader to be a leader.
Marta: That's because you don't need to have that senior or whatever in front of your title just to be considered a leader or to have that area of expertise.
So a lot to think about and ponder there. Thank you so much for your time, Anna and Lee. I really appreciate it and I hope our listeners do as well.
Anna: Terrific. Thank you.
Lee: Thanks, Marta. Thanks for the invitation.
Rob: Anna Leibel and Lee Scales there. Executives here at UniSuper talking about their careers.
Marta: Yeah. I liked when they talked about the fact that you don't necessarily have to have a particular word like senior or whatever in your title but provided you own a particular piece of work, you can become a leader in that area, in that sphere, which was also really nice to hear. I found the contentious adjectives used for men and women to be a bit of an interesting one. Basically, don't smile. [all laugh]
Lyndon: Oh, we'll have no problems there.
Marta: [Laughs] Yeah.
Rob: Well, that brings us to the end of another episode of Super Informed Radio. We will definitely be back next time, so thanks for listening and we'll see you then.
Marta: See you later.