Women take the lead with careers

Gail Kelly heads Westpac, our oldest and second largest bank with more than 36,000 employees.
Gail Kelly heads Westpac, our oldest and second largest bank with more than 36,000 employees. WILLIAM WEST

IT WASN'T that long ago that the idea of women in the workplace was something of an absurdity.

Women in leadership positions? Even more so.

Thankfully, our opinions on the value of women as leaders have changed, giving rise to some incredibly prominent businesswomen.

Heard of Janet Yellen? She's the history-making first female chief of the US Reserve Bank, the most influential central bank in the world, with a balance sheet of $4 trillion.

How about Mary Barra? She's another first - the first woman ever to head General Motors, and according to Forbes, one of the most powerful women in the world. Ms Barra took control of GM in January after 33 years with the company, having started work at 18 while studying for her electrical engineering degree.

Or Marissa Mayer, who holds down the CEO gig with Yahoo, having previously spent 13 years with that other internet giant, Google. She's turned Yahoo's fortunes around, largely through a series of high-profile acquisitions.

Closer to home, Gail Kelly is one of the leaders in Australian finance. She leads Westpac Group, our oldest and second largest bank with hundreds of billions of dollars in assets and more than 36,000 employees.

When she took on the top job, Ms Kelly was vocal in her goal of having women fill 40% of top managerial positions. She met that target two years early, and rather than toasting her own success, is now aiming for half of Westpac's managers to be female by 2017, coinciding with the bank's 200th anniversary.

There are dozens of other examples of women forging high-profile, successful careers in sectors traditionally dominated by men, but the important take-away, gender aside, is that lofty career goals are attainable.

Don't expect to be tapped for the CEO's job after a year or two. Be prepared to put in the hard yards over years, if not decades.

Be prepared to accept that you might have to change jobs if you want to keep your career moving ahead.

Don't take no for an answer. Just because it's always been done a certain way, doesn't mean that it's the best way - pity the poor fool who tries to tell Gail Kelly she should be at home playing wife rather than running one of the largest financial institutions in the country.

Topics:  employment jobs jobs news

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