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Westpac AFR100 Women of Influence awards night, 2014

24 October 2014

2014 Women Of Influence 6

Sydney Town Hall’s main auditorium for the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s 100 Women of Influence awards night in October burped with energy. The event sparked so much interest among the alumni that organisers, Westpac and the Australian Financial Review, made the decision to accommodate the overflow on tables in the wings of the great hall rather than turn them away.

Guests numbered 600, mostly alumni, and the one thing of which you could be sure: it was the women in the room who were the winners.

The ornate civic building leant a certain splendid gravitas to the occasion. Even for those who’d been inside the venue more recently, which, as host Westpac CEO Gail Kelly pointed out, was usually in conjunction with some sort of school prize-giving ceremony, the reveal was spectacular.

Ten categories of 10 winners celebrated inclusion in the now 300 strong alumni. Any question that might have existed about whether the awards would attract the very best women in their fields was well and truly answered by the calibre of the nominations. Of course, the query was never about whether or not the women existed but about getting them to come forward.

Both Gail Kelly and Fairfax Chief Greg Hywood in their respective opening addresses noted that women don’t like to nominate or be nominated but slowly that is changing. (According to the number crunchers working on the awards, this year the amount of women nominated by men and nominating themselves grew.)

Gail also made a point of praising the work Westpac has done in diversity, noting the organisation was aiming for parity in 2017. Today, the figure in the bank stands at 44 percent women in management position up from 32 percent in 2010.

Many of the recipients in their acceptance speeches also praised the corporate for its continued leadership when it comes to supporting women - evidenced by the success of the awards and Westpac’s commitment to them.

The quip making the rounds of the room was that the next venue would need to be something similar to the 1500-person capacity of the Sydney Entertainment Centre to accommodate everyone.

Westpac Women’s Markets team blanched at the thought before agreeing that being part of world domination was a ‘good’ thing. The team manages the awards and is proud of the event and the way it showcases Australia’s female talent.

Looking through the nominees, Gail noted in her address the themes she saw emerging among the Women of Influence and why she believes it makes them leaders.

Firstly, the women exhibited vision and purpose - not just an understanding of what they were about but why they do what they do in their areas. Knowing ‘why’, she acknowledges as an important leadership trait.

Secondly, the women are  also great with change, are resilient, and have, what she sees as the most important attribute, a “generosity of spirit’: actively seeking to share and ensure that others benefit, progress and achieve.

Greg Hywood acknowledged the women’s propensity to be humble, to want to share with others and take them along on the journey while remaining authentic and preserving their own integrity at all times. A number of the judges, including board member Carolyn Hewson, lawyer Michael Rose and non-executive director Alison Deans, noted that the women may be quiet achievers, but that without their influence the country would be the worse off.

The nominees on the night included Mamamia’s Mia Freedman who was still fielding media pressure over comments she’d made on Channel Ten’s current affairs program The Project.

The NSW Department of Education Secretary Michele Bruniges, a Women of Influence winner in 2012 and one of our Rubies of the Month, headed up three tables of guests from the department. One of her guests was Regional/Local nominee Linda O’Brien, the Principal of Granville Boys High School. Linda went on to top the category, humorously acknowledging the hard work the boys in her school do to get to know and uncover ‘their feminine side’.  She also, as did every other nominee, thanked her family and friends for their support, saying that without them not much would be achieved.

In a final accolade and given a standing ovation when she came up to accept the Woman of Influence for 2014, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick recounted her initial reluctance to accept her nomination.

She felt her position allowed her to do many things to which others would have no access, but was eventually convinced to go ahead.

In the end her decision positively impacts the awards, exemplifying to all women that at no matter what level they find themselves they need to stand up to be counted and acknowledged, especially on the more informal, public platforms – such as awards like Women of Influence - which support them and their work to become topics of household conversation.

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Overall Winner and Diversity Winner: Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Human Rights Commission

Board/Management:Anne-Marie Corboy, CEO, HESTA Super Fund

Business Enterprise: Dr Alex Birrell, CEO, Paftec

Global: Professor Ann Henderson-Sellers, Professor Emerita, Macquarie University

Innovation: Professor Rebecca Ivers, Director, Injury Division, The George Institute for Global Health, University of Sydney

Local/ Regional: Linda O’Brien, Principal, Granville Boys’ High School, NSW Department of Education

Philanthropy: Janette Savage, Regional Coordinator/ Funding Chairperson, Cancer Care Western NSW Inc

Public Policy: Professor Jane Halton, Secretary, Department of Finance, Australian Government

Social Enterprise/ Not-for-Profit: Jo Cavanagh, CEO, Family Life

Young Leader: Genevieve Clay-Smith, Co-founder, Bus Stop Films & Taste Creative

For 2012 and 2013 alumni, please visit