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Guess who’s coming to dinner…

02 April 2014

Mary Reibey Hilary Clinton  IWD  Inspire Change Gail Kelly

The other day I got to thinking, if I was to have a little get together for a small group of women I admired, who would they be?

Once I refined the guest list working out what to serve would be easy, because, unlike their mother, both my daughters, and especially my eldest Nicky, are fantastic in the kitchen. So they would be working guests.

Back to my BFF (Best Friends Forever) guest list - a list in which reality plays no part.

First up, would be Mary Reibey - one of our early colonists. Mary’s likeness appears on our $20 note, which you could be forgiven for not knowing in today’s cashless, debit-card-EFTpos-based society. Second on my list would be Hillary Rodham Clinton - the former United States Secretary of State and US Senator and finally, a little closer to home, I’d invite Gail Kelly (Westpac’s CEO).

Having decided on the guest list and knowing the taste of at least one of my guests (Gail, who I’ve noticed likes to eat light and healthy), a couple of salads would be my choice because after all it’s what my guests have got to say that’s important here.

Now for the conversation starters, and because this is my fantasy dinner I get to ask the big-dream questions.

LARKE to Mary…  (Forkfuls of heirloom tomato salad later, because heirloom tomatoes back when Mary was alive would have been anything but that) did you ever dream as a transported convict, an immigrant of a sort, you’d one day hold together and develop a major business in an era when women couldn’t buy property, had no right to vote, and couldn’t even open a bank account, let alone as you did provide the premises in which the bank of NSW set up shop in 1817?

LARKE to Hillary… (Americans love plates of salad – not that I’d ever want to make sweeping race generalisations - but my dinner choice will work well here) you’ve never let the actions of others, including your husband, define who you are. What did you dream would be your path in this world and what advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Finally to Gail: When you arrived in this country as an immigrant from South Africa, did you ever dream you’d be where you are today, in charge of a major bank voted the world’s most sustainable company?

I’m fascinated by Mary and how little people know about her. It’s one of the reasons why I chose this rather enigmatic figure as a dinner guest and to be the head for our Scholarship, Grant and Mentorship programs. Our scholarships, which will again be announced in May, so I encourage you to nominate, provide a business woman working in a private or public company and a second woman from the Not-For-Profit sector the chance to increase their management skills and develop their leadership potential.

It’s something Mary did in the face of adversity (an emancipated convict, whose husband died leaving her with seven children to look after), with little or no help from the society in which she lived.

The Mary Reibey Mentorship program is a new initiative this year. It is providing three women from the NFP sector with mentoring of the highest quality in a year-long program.

As for the Mary Reibey Grant which we fund in conjunction with the Westpac Foundation, this year we have donated $100,000 to the NPY Women’s Council’s social enterprise Tjanpi Desert Weavers, a group and a business very close to my heart.

This grant will support them in furthering the success of the enterprise which now provides over 400 indigenous women from the NPY lands with culturally sensitive and sustainable employment. We have had an ongoing relationship with Tjanpi and the NPY Women’s Council and will continue to work with them. Like Mary, we don’t give up and we’re determined to see women everywhere prosper and succeed.

Hillary brings to mind freedom of speech, vilification, you name it. Senator George Brandis might have something to say about that hot topic, but I am pretty sure Hillary, who has garnered her own detractors and applauders, while standing up for freedom of speech  would also note that inciting people to hate (and perhaps violence) others (and usually they are those in a minority) is not on.

I couldn’t express it better than this Letter in The Sydney Morning Herald, March 28: “Everyone has the right to be a bigot, says Senator George Brandis. I am in total agreement with him on that. The issue though is not about the right to be a bigot but about what bigots do with their bigotry…”

You can’t miss the debate that’s been going on around Section 18c, but you may have missed changes brought in around credit ratings and the gathering and reporting of defaults.

Some of the effects of these changes were brought home to me when a colleague mentioned she now had a mark against her credit rating because of a missed credit card payment. Always on time, she missed the email statement and failed to pay even the minimum on the due date. Normally, she pays the card off in full each month and swears this is the first time she’s ever missed. Missing that deadline will mean a black mark on your credit rating.

Whatever you think - or think you know - things move quickly in this day and age, making keeping up with the news so vital.

I’ve been 30 years with the bank, which must be some sort of record, but I have to agree with what one of our Women @ Work this month, Carolyn McCann, has to say: that sort of longevity and being embedded builds loyalty. You get really committed. I know I’m very proud of the things we do as an organisation especially within the community. So imagine my feelings of pride at the announcement to commemorate our upcoming 200th anniversary as the oldest company in this country. Our Group CEO Gail Kelly and Chairman Lindsay Maxsted launched the single largest private education scholarship program in Australia's history: the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation.

This new charitable Foundation will have an exclusive focus on the education and advancement of Australians. A one-off contribution of $100 million will fund around 100 scholarships and awards every year - forever - to Australians from all walks of life and who have the drive to shape Australia's future. I urge you to look out for it and have a read about it here.

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