Women on top give top tips

3 min read

By Sara Allen

A dozen eggs, why kids are like a mortgage and other lessons in leadership

Leadership in any industry takes years of work and determination. Where we see the polished CEO at the top, we may not see the challenges, sacrifices and tears along the way to the top. The Stella Network spoke to three women on top about their lessons:

Sally Loane – CEO FSC 2014- present
Pauline Vamos – CEO ASFA 2007-2016
Kerrie Kelly CEO FPA 2003-2006, Executive Director Insurance Council of Australia 2006-2010.

Times have changed and there has been progress

While gender diversity is still a challenge for the industry, it can be easy to forget how much progress how been made. Pauline found herself sidelined to more basic, less interesting work from her more engaging and technical legal role after announcing her pregnancy, while Kerrie was forced to finish work as soon as she hit six months of pregnancy.

Just as shocking was the revelation that Kerrie and Pauline were unable to be super members in their early career because their companies wouldn’t allow them, based purely on their gender. Things have improved and continue to. As Sally notes, “each generation can hopefully stand on the shoulders of the previous”.

Nothing comes without sacrifice

You can’t do everything – at some point, sacrifices have to be made. On realising how difficult (or impossible) it would be to have a successful marriage, be a successful parent and have a successful career at the same time, Pauline chose to be single after her marriage split to focus on the other two aspects of her life.

For Sally, being organised at home with childcare was crucial and putting in the money where you need to when it comes to help with your family. Don’t just go with the easy option (which can be the worse option in the long-run). Kerrie compared her children to a mortgage where you put in the time and money to get the outcomes you want, even where that meant years of very little money after bills.

A female edge at the table

There are times when being a women in business is an advantage. As Sally explains, men walk into a room and establish a power structure with other men. This can heighten conflict in situations requiring advocacy. Kerrie found that her stakeholders often shared information and thoughts with her that they wouldn’t share with men in her position.

Even in leadership, there are advantages. Pauline describes the original view of leadership as “command and control” whereas leadership is now viewed as human centred valuing traditional feminine soft skills as being core.

Learning to switch off

To be present in all the arenas of your life, you need to be able to switch off and find the right balance. Pauline explains life in the frame of the dozen eggs exercise. You have 2 eggs for family, 2 for your partner, 2 for your social life, 2 eggs just for your own wellbeing and 4 eggs for work (realistically speaking). You need to learn to maintain this balance, it’s easy to move into a situation where work becomes half of your dozen eggs.

Aside from that, finding an activity to clear your mind and force you to switch frames is valuable. Sally loves to walk (and is also a fan of extreme sports). Some of her colleagues schedule set date nights with partners to reset their balance. Kerrie also loves walking but physically changes her clothes when she gets home to switch from work mode to home mode.

Three final tips

1. Back yourself. There isn’t just one way of doing something. Sally Loane
2. Start your story with phrases like I’m intelligent rather than including your gender in the narrative. Kerrie Kelly
3. Know your reason for being and understand your blindspots. Pauline Vamos

Kerrie, Sally and Pauline spoke at The Stella Network: Women on Top on 22 February 2017.  

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