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Out of sight out of mind

05 June 2012

It’s true, I know from experience that when something isn’t on your radar, when the behaviours don’t exist for you, then it’s very often not something you think about… and, until someone else points it out, you also don’t get the whole picture. Of course, I’m speaking about women leaders, women role models in positions of power and how few of them there are – even now – in the public spotlight. 

I might have spoken about homelessness and women. An altogether different and much sadder sociological topic, but one in which the hidden numbers are even more worrying. According to the St Vincent de Paul Society: “There are more than 100,000 Australians who sleep rough each night of the year. Just under half of these are women; a quarter of these are under the age of 18.”

This is a staggering statistic and on Thursday 21 June 2012, when the annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout takes place in capital cities across Australia, Westpac CEO Gail Kelly is rising to the challenge and experiencing what it’s like to be homeless for one night in winter. She, with other CEO and community leader colleagues, is helping to raise awareness about the real facts of homelessness, as well as raise funds for the ongoing provision of Vinnies’ homeless services across the country. You can donate directly to Gail or even be part of the national sleep out:

Leading is challenging, but when the role models you relate to best and understand are hidden or non-existent, it makes judging how, as women, we might behave in the situation and what the path to leadership might look like much more difficult. Promoting and supporting women when they do reach the top by having them tell their story is an important way of overcoming such difficulties.

We are on the way to achieving that at Westpac, increasing the amount of women at general manager level, stoking the pipeline with talent for the roll out to even higher levels. 

I know there are some out there who would say the pipeline hasn’t delivered and isn’t likely to in the future without larger incremental change around our attitudes to women in the workplace and in power. And I agree – fat-and-full or thin-and-focused – pipelines can’t deliver when we are all unwilling to change ingrained attitudes and we remain ambivalent about powerful women.

Catherine Fox our Ruby of the Month, a Financial Review journalist and part of the 100 Women of Influence program and awards we are doing with the Financial Review to promote and support diversity in Australia, let’s us in on some startling insights around why it has been virtually impossible to progress diversity and how we are going to get over the obstacles.

She’s convinced from speaking with many women who work, and men, that women in positions of authority make people very uncomfortable. There is a conflict there, a level of uneasiness about women in power that doesn’t apply if it’s a man in the role.

To change the complexion on this we need to identify women in leadership and then focus on the best of them in all walks of life and work. Doing that allows us to see what women leaders and women with power look like, dispelling the myths and unsubstantiated fears surrounding them and providing us with another way of being and seeing. 

100 Women of Influence, which Westpac’s launching with the Financial Review in Sydney on 15 June, will be an annual event and awards program and is the vehicle for kick-starting the process of change.

Judged by a panel of their peers – top female and male leaders themselves – there will be 10 women nominees in 10 categories feted each year. As the list of winners and nominees grows, so too will our knowledge and understanding of what it takes to be a woman in leadership and why diversity benefits us all. Tangible outcomes for the winners include: the chance to market their own personal brand, to remain top of mind in the process of pulling talent through the ranks and prizes which will further enhance their management and leadership talents.

Unluckily for me I’m not going to be in Australia for the event, which includes a panel discussion with the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard; Westpac CEO, Gail Kelly; GrainCorp CEO, Alison Watkins; EOWA Director, Helen Conway. 

Why? 

Because I’ve been asked to take part in a panel on Women and Finance – The Key to Sustainable Development and Economic Revitalization at the Financial Times and International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group) Sustainable Finance Conference, which is on in London on 14 June 2012. 

My co-panelists are H.R.H Princess Maxima of the Netherlands; Sara Abkbar, CEO of Kuwait Energy Company; Melissa Guzy, Managing Director and Group Leader, Emerging Markets Asia, Vantage Point Venture Partners. Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO Women’s World Banking, will moderate the discussion and my role as the recent Chair of the Global Banking Alliance for Women along with the World Bank’s arrival in Australia in early June to compile a case study for world’s best practice in the field of women and finance based on the work we do at Westpac will provide me with much to say and gloat about. (Stay tuned for our coverage of this report in the month’s ahead.)

As for what’s up-coming? I can’t praise the Ruby member event calendar more highly. I go on regularly to see what members are doing and what the offerings are around the country for networking, conferencing, learning, development and just having a good time. It’s staggering. From Women’s Leadership symposia and Cash Flow workshops to integrating online communications in your business and Women, management and work conferences, the hot topics and people we want to hear from are covered. We’ve got a couple of wonderful networking lunches and dinners coming ourselves, including the launch of Ita Buttrose’s much anticipated book at Christine Manfield’s Universal restaurant in Sydney in July, and then Christine is joining my daughter Nicky to do a dinner at Union Dining in Melbourne. Keep a look out because there’s more coming from us, and I know from you too.

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