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Developing the female economy and other important messages

06 December 2013


I’ve mentioned Percy (pictured above) before in this blog, and my daughters are probably sick of me pointing out he is the only man in our lives. Percy’s been with us for 11 years, a constant, faithful companion – the only male to be all three – but our Cavalier (Spaniel) didn’t seem well recently.

So it was off to the vet and some sad news. Percy has an aggressive lymph node cancer. Short of a miracle we were told, we might soon be Percy-less.

The outlook seemed so stark, I couldn’t quite believe it. However, I’ve just been away for work - to Miami - and even though I was only away from a Friday to a Wednesday, Percy’s rapid decline in the time was distressing to witness.

Miami is not like any American city I’ve ever experienced. It’s closer to Cuba than New York and feels more like what I imagine South America is like. I was in Miami because we’d been invited to FELABAN (the Federation of Latin American Banks) Annual Assembly.

FELABAN represents more than 50 banks throughout Central and South America, many of them extremely interested in developing their female economies. Our role was to speak about that very economy - its potential for, and value to the banking and financial industry, globally - through what we know from our experience at Westpac.

There were some 1800 bankers – 75 percent of them in suits – at the conference. Men from Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, you name it they wanted to hear about what we had to say.

I wasn’t going to admit it, but I did catch myself thinking, so, amongst all these charming suits, which nation produces the best-looking men.

None, well nearly none, measured up to Percy.

I say nearly none, because there’s always an exception.

On the final day we met with the CEO of one of the large Peruvian banks, who is actually Mexican, and both my colleague and I left wondering if we’d met Superman. He was tall, dark, courteous, polished, interested, an absolute delight to do business with and had the smile of the year. I think you’d have to say he won us over. Certainly, our reaction confirmed some research I remember seeing this year, that “being tall [and very good looking (my addition)] may boost self-confidence, helping to make a person more successful and also prompting people to ascribe more status and respect to them”.

Back home with more plane miles and hours under my belt than I care to think about, I’m taking part in a pilot project, along with some of my other Melbourne based colleagues, testing out our proposed new working arrangements for when Westpac moves to new premises in Melbourne in 2014, and eventually also in Sydney.

Every day I’m struck by how flexibility in the workplace means different things to different people. For me, flexibility is the ability through technology to be able to work anywhere.

The office – for many people - is gone. Each day we arrive to take a new desk and position on the floor, carting with us our little personal locker of bits and pieces and portable technology.

(There aren’t even landlines in this new set up – everyone’s in contact via mobile phone.)

The whole idea is that there isn’t a place you have to be in or ‘seen to be working’ in. Instead, you’re at work in whatever place makes sense (and that may be at home or on a plane or in a hotel or in another building in Sydney or at a hot desk, for example), using whatever tools and technology best suit your needs for that day.

It means I am able to work from home as easily as in the office, plan any overseas trips that are needed for the role and schedule in the time I need to be up in Sydney without the waste of leaving a traditional-style office empty a vast percentage of the time.

Makes perfect sense for me.

Brenda Shanahan

It’s also something one of my mentors, the very successful business-woman Brenda Shanahan (above) spoke about in Ruby recently in her “Technology increases workplace participation” interview with our now full time editor, Louise Upton.

Technology, flexible work practices, they’re the future. They’re among some of the important tools we have in the fight to increase women’s participation in the workforce on an equal level. Brenda’s choice to speak out on these areas, along with her stance on Paid Parental Leave and child care, is hugely important. Her top level business peers get to see her very public stand, and for those coming through the ranks, they know they have her support.

Something even more futuristic is the work Brenda is championing at the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery.

Based at St Vincent Hospital in Melbourne, this is a research and academic medical centre bringing together clinicians, engineers, scientists and students to develop intelligent drugs, smart delivery systems, medical bionics: innovative devices to replace organs and body processes.

Brenda is now fundraising for the premises and the centre’s work struck a real chord with me because, for purely selfish reasons, I know what it would mean to have bionic ears.

I suffer from Otosclerosis a form of bone overgrowth in the middle ear that causes progressive hearing loss. The treatment options include surgery and hearing aids. I tried surgery when I was younger and the results were not encouraging. So it’s hearing aids for me. Hearing loss is something I share with a surprising number of people, including our former PM John Howard.

It’s something I don’t think many people know about me, or him, and although hearing devices are really amazing, bionic ears would be even better.

I know I can sometimes have a very different take on things and my colleagues have jokingly wondered aloud if I might need to change my batteries. My answer to them is that ‘very unique take’ brings with it enormous flexibility of thought and action and calls for celebration.

Just like the Summer Festive Season does, bringing with it the opportunity for a well-earned rest. I’m really looking forward to the break with my daughters. We’re travelling to the beach as we usually do and it will be wonderful to be somewhere where I don’t have to catch taxis, planes or stay in a hotel room. Of course, we may have one small sadness, Percy may not be with us.

To all of you, have a safe and happy Holiday Season and see you in the New Year.


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