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New Westpac Women's Markets leader settles in

28 August 2015

New head Westpac Women's Markets

The apple capital of Western Australia is the tiny town of Donnybrook in the State’s southwest. It would seem about as far away as you could get from Ainslie van Onselen’s career first in Perth and Sydney in litigation and now finance. But for this apple town girl that’s the beauty of education and “Austudy”, without which Ainslie (above) says she would never have been able to go to university in Perth.

“My older sister paved the way doing teaching. No one in my family had a tertiary education. My brother did architecture and I did law. I was a voracious reader as a child. In fact the first all-nighter I pulled was Gone with the Wind. It’s probably why I am a hopeless romantic.”

It would appear from Ainslie’s lengthy and impressive CV that other all-nighters have followed. She was hired by Julie Bishop – with who she remains in contact - when the now Foreign Minister worked as a lawyer at Clayton Utz, to work in the firm’s commercial litigation area.

Then, having met her husband, the academic, author and political journalist Peter van Onselen, she moved to Sydney for a period. They then returned to Perth where Ainslie became a partner at Tottle Partners, a breakaway group from Clayton Utz. She has also held a non-executive directorship with technology company WebCentral Group Ltd, and taught law and media.

In 2009 she returned to Sydney with her family and, while keeping her own law practice going and juggling two small children, gave some thought to what she would do to reaccelerate her career. The upshot was enrolment in a Masters in Applied Finance, which she loved, especially the practical numbers component, and statistics.

Having finished the degree mid-2013, and with both her children in school, Ainslie popped her head above the parapet: “either it was law - partnership or the bar – or engage in the business community and do something out of the box.

“At the time I was chatting to a couple of high profile organisations in media regarding some interesting opportunities, but I’d enjoyed the finance in the degree so much that it occurred to me a career in finance could be the answer,” she continues.

Then, as things have a way of doing, someone she knew in Westpac, who knew she was looking for a change, mentioned a few opportunities. Ainslie decided “to have the conversation.”

Under her belt she had a couple of ‘solid’ references - one from Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull, who had been a client and who, with his wife Lucy, Ainslie counts as personal champions and informal mentors; another came from Malcolm McCusker AO QC, the former Governor of Western Australia, and another champion.

One thing led to another and in 2013 Ainslie was appointed Chief of Staff for Brian Hartzer in his former position as Chief Executive Australian Financial Services.

“It was the perfect introduction to financial services and a fantastic opportunity,” says Ainslie, who was quick to canvass with her new boss what she was looking for in relation to her career.

“I wanted accountability for a ‘P and L’ [Profit and Loss account] and to gain some really extensive senior management experience. I had a career as a non-executive director [NED] and in law, but if you want the top line NED positions you have to have had serious management experience.”

Early this year, Ainslie was appointed Director Women’s Markets, Inclusion and Diversity. The first part of the role she would take up on the retirement of existing Director Women’s Markets, Larke Riemer, in September this year. They are roles that span diverse areas of the business and have a broad remit within and outside the organisation.

“Our internal women-in-leadership target of 50 percent by 2017 is very ambitious and requires huge focus. Our people are our customers as well, and what we do internally sets benchmarks globally and nationally. It proves a real willingness and an appetite on the part of corporate Australia to achieve gender equality. As for the wider embedding of inclusion and diversity into the organisation - that is an even broader programme and it’s really bubbling along, which is very energising,” she says.

In relation to Women’s Markets, Ainslie will spend the next few months in a state of “observing, questioning and listening. I need to see and understand what Women’s Markets is and what it does and how and what the future looks like. The vision for it is big. To articulate that vision, test it and form a strategy, requires information.

“In an age of upcoming gender neutrality, what will banking look like? What will the needs of our customers, and they are always my first and foremost priority, look like? It all affects the strategy,” she finishes.

An advocate of meditation – which she believes can stop you being derailed by things such as stress – Ainslie is keen to introduce the concept of Mindfulness into the workspace. She herself swears by the app called Headspace, developed by British Tibetan Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe.

A former cross-country runner and sprinter, sport she believes has the ability to teach discipline and focus - something that becomes important when workload and commitments increase. Currently, Ainslie is also the Deputy Chairperson of the Insurance Commission of Western Australia and a Commissioner on the Legal Aid Commission of NSW.

“I am a very optimistic person which I think helps me with work life balance. When I think about the advice I’d give my daughters it would be to develop resilience and to have a voice at the table and use it.

“Being open to and having diverse networks and knowing which fights to have and when, are also important. You have to have the courage and strength to know when to push back, not in an aggressive or contrary way, but effectively to make sure your power is not eroded.”