Inspirational musings and recollections from trailblazing women
The CreditorWatch Melbourne International Women’s Day event wasn’t just any lunch.
35 guests enjoyed a fine dining experience at Vue de monde, but the real showstoppers were the personal experiences shared by successful women in the finance industry, including esteemed business leaders and CreditorWatch clients.
Moderated by freelance business journalist Ali Cain, the event saw Caryn Kakas take to the floor with a powerful speech that touched on her own personal experiences as Head of Housing Strategy at ANZ Bank and the difficulty women have in entering the housing market, especially during the pandemic.
Caryn has been leading Housing Strategy at ANZ for over three years, and recalled how she cemented her intent from the very first interview, where she “had to school the hiring manager on the contents of her CV”.
Caryn remembers: “At my first interview at ANZ, I said to the head of Group Strategy, ‘Why would I come to you unless you tell me this is more than a marketing opportunity, that we are going to make a genuine impact on housing and actually influence change?’ I’m not here as a marketing or brand tool – I want outcomes.”
Caryn continues to deliver these outcomes within the ANZ Bank, including for women who aren’t able to access safe and affordable housing.
“In the housing and homelessness space, domestic violence continues to be underreported and a huge driver of women having to leave the household,” said Caryn. “COVID raised a lot of issues related to how we respond to housing and homelessness. For ANZ, this meant we focussed our community foundation money on supporting victims of domestic violence.”
Women taking their place at the table
One of key sentiments Caryn relayed in her speech was the innate struggle women have to ‘gain a place at the table’ in business, and most important, not feel guilty for it. It’s a notion that resonated with the audience and was welcomed by a sea of nods and rousing applause.
“Females worry, especially within male-dominated industries, that we receive a place at the table as a tokenistic gesture. That maybe we didn’t earn that place, our opinion isn’t as valued, or that we need to read the names of the three women next to us, because there’s only one spot at the table,” said Caryn.
“Ladies, that’s not the case. The practical reality is you probably worked harder to get there because you were harder on yourself and you were pushing on every internal and external barrier to get there. Secondly, there is room at the table for many of you, so take the opportunity to recognise that you belong there, and so do the women around you.”
A diversity of voices impact change
The cohort chimed in the discussion by sharing experiences in their own careers and reflecting on situations where gender bias has occurred. As Danny O’Neill, CreditorWatch National Sales Manager, said in his opening speech, “Events like these are great to generate important conversations. Diversity is essential in business – women and men are two halves of a whole.”
Michelle Carruthers, CreditorWatch Senior Business Development Manager: “I’ve worked at CreditorWatch for 4.5 years and have always felt the support from my male colleagues.
I’ve been in situations where a male client wouldn’t have a constructive conversation with me or would only talk to my male colleague, despite me being the more senior person in the meeting. These have been challenging experiences, but I’ve learnt from them and grown as a result, and I’m grateful to work in such a supportive business.”
Kate Ellis Welsh, writer and brand strategist: “I was the only woman on the leadership team at Burbank Group, and as a result, I learnt when and how to say my piece.”
Rebecca Schot-Guppy, CEO of FinTech Australia: “I’ve been called ‘the young, sexy lawyer’ before. But at FinTech Australia, 40% of my board and chair is female, and I am supported and trusted in my ability to make decisions. Women need to have the courage to speak up, but I know this takes time and practice.”
Natalie Kapovic, CreditorWatch Content Manager: “Having confidence in our own abilities and talents is something I know women struggle with, myself included. We need to focus on gaining this confidence from ourselves, rather than always relying on external validation.”
If there was any doubt left in the minds of the attendees that they couldn’t achieve success in business, Caryn set things straight. Her parting words belong on a placard that we can refer to daily, while we take a breather from smashing glass ceilings and dragging chairs to the tables we want to sit at.
“Empathy is not weakness. Your resilience, adaptability and unique problem-solving ability to pull two children off of each other while still putting dinner on the table and taking a call from the CEO are skills that matter and add value to the boardroom.”