Paying it forward

Paying it forward

Being a good role model often means having a great role model

For ANZ executive Sharon Samson, the secret to her success in being a strong role model was having a great teacher.

Sharon is recognised for her consistent investment in supporting women within the technology side of the bank and at Go Girl Go for IT, a technology conference for schoolgirls between years 5-12.

When asked what drives her, she returns to her formative school days. For her, the interest in IT was ignited by her teacher, Jennifer Orford, and an area she saw she could thrive in. Sharon lovingly describes Mrs Orford as “a quintessential technology teacher, a ‘nerdy IT’ person at the heart who was the most wonderful role model”. Jennifer gave Sharon the strength and conviction to “do it” and be proud of mastering the subject. It wasn’t until Sharon went to university that she realised many other girls did not feel the same about IT and she became even more determined to make a difference in this powerful sector.

Sharon always felt her career could have gone one of two ways. Into the technology space, as her career has panned out, or as a secondary teacher, following in her role model’s footsteps. So it’s no surprise she loves to encourage young girls to pursue an IT career.

Go Girl Go for IT is the largest free event held in Victoria for schoolgirls from grade 5 to year 12. Thanks to Sharon’s influence, ANZ is a diamond sponsor, and she is the key liaison between the bank and the event. This involves co-ordinating over 150 of her colleagues who volunteer to support the event in conjunction with organisers Vic ICT for Women. The event reaches 1500+ students with the goal to inspire girls towards a STEM career.

Sharon is proud they have been able to deliver this support for a number of years. Though it’s not easy, she knows she is making a difference as she is often contacted on LinkedIn by former attendees who are now pursuing careers in IT.

Sharon’s career started in Imperial Chemical Industries (now Orica), where she was the only woman in an all-male team. Luckily, her boss encouraged and welcomed her voice. It was in this environment she learnt to “have a presence” and the importance of being heard, ideals which she has used to be successful across the span of her career. Today at ANZ bank, she holds the role of Technology Domain Lead Corporate Services and is excited by the prospect of being able to encourage more women.

Throughout her career, Sharon has been a champion for women. She finds it is often fear holding them back.  Sharon is a great listener who loves to uncover what the biggest fear is and help the person reframe and deal with it. She feels she has learnt through adversity to take a risk. Her mantra reflects this: “How bad can it be?” For her. the worst thing is to let fear hold you back and not to try.

Since joining ANZ in 2006, Sharon has helped develop other avenues to pursue her passion in supporting women in Technology.

Sharon has been a contributing member and more recently a leader within the ADA Network, named after the world’s first Computer Programmer, Ada Lovelace.  The group was formed in 2017 with the aim of increasing the participation of women in technology.  The network has grown to include approximately 450 allies and volunteers across the bank who champion the participation of women in technology.  This supports a suite of events, mentoring and sponsorship all aimed at attracting, retaining, and growing talent.

Soon after the formation of the ADA network, it was recognised dedicated resources, coupled with a strong volunteer network, would be needed for diversity initiatives to be achieved in line the ANZ purpose and values. Enter the THRIVE Squad, a team of people employed to support not only the Go Girl Go for IT program and the ADA Network but also guide a return-to-work program, as well as provide opportunities for those with autism, all abilities and indigenous peoples. THRIVE allows the ANZ employees to support their passion projects as mentors, allies and sponsors. The results have been amazing.

  • The early talent recruitment of graduates and interns is now at 52% female participation.
  • The Return-to-Work program has a 92% female participation and 95% retention rate.

Return-to-Work was introduced in 2019. It provides the opportunity for people who have taken a career break of two or more years in India, Australia and New Zealand to join ANZ’s Technology Team. It allows people to reskill and transition back into the workforce. This program has contributed to ANZ achieving family-friendly workplace accreditation. Why does the bank bother?  “To shape a world where people and communities thrive,” says Sharon, repeating the bank’s purpose.

For Sharon, Return-to-Work has been incredibly successful in encouraging more women to join the Technology Team. She loves being able to encourage women to enjoy working in a career area which has brought her so much satisfaction.

When asked what advice she would give to others, she says, “If you feel you aren’t ready, just take a (deep breath) and do it.” And for those hesitating about taking on a mentoring role, Sharon says, “The reward is far greater than the perceived burden. I’m so grateful for the role models I’ve had in my career and I love paying it forward by supporting others.”

If you would like to learn more about the other finalists then click this link.

Breaking Gender Barriers

Breaking Gender Barriers

Grant Thornton is a world-leading organisation made up of independent assurance, tax and consulting advisors. Operating within the accounting industry, they have traditionally faced a lack of female participation, which notably declines as senior leaders move to the Partner level.

To drive change, the firm decided on a purposeful and proactive approach to their gender equity goals. Hollie Coleman, National Diversity and Inclusion Lead noted that the Gender Equity Action Plan is to achieve and maintain gender equity at all levels of the career structure within the firm by removing structural barriers to gender equality.

Although the talent pipeline is relatively balanced up to the Director level, the number of women advancing to Partner was disproportionate to their male colleagues. By listening to their people through targeted focus groups and direct feedback channels, they were able to understand the real and perceived barriers to advancing to Partner as a female at the firm. The focus is on driving cultural change, improving internal networks and visibility of female leaders, as well as raising awareness of gendered issues in the workplace more broadly.


Key initiatives

One of the initiatives under the Gender Equity Action Plan is an inclusive sponsorship program where each Sponsor supports a future leader through their career journey by providing active sponsorship, as well as (but distinct to) mentoring and coaching. The program focuses on upskilling sponsors first and foremost, while supporting and encouraging future leaders.

A Gender Equity Network (GEN) group was also set up to support women and gender diverse people by building a strong network of members and allies working together to create awareness and understanding, promote conscious inclusion, advocate for gender equity, and strengthen the pipeline of diverse talent for leadership roles. GEN was established on the basis that gender equity is everyone’s business – today one third of the members of GEN are male allies.

GEN launched GENerator Circles, which are “lean-in” groups of up to 12 individuals in local offices where women can meet to expand and strengthen internal networks, grow skills and confidence, and help each other achieve personal goals. This has helped participants discuss and strategise issues from imposter syndrome, and managing their mental load, to identifying their individual circle of advisors. Whatever the challenge, the circles provide support, empathy, understanding and a safe space to speak. For Daniela Baggio, a Manager in the Corporate Tax team, the initiative has been incredibly positive, “Having a dedicated way to channel interest in gender equity in the firm, and to access the support shared in these circles as part of my normal working day is unreal to me. I have personally benefited so much from being part of our GENerator circle and the deeper relationships I have formed has been helpful for day-to-day work activities.” 

The importance of allyship

Other key barriers to women stepping into Partner level identified were the lack of informed and proactive allies, and the need to build networks to generate business and the team at Grant Thornton Australia has set about to systematically remove these barriers.

The concept of allyship was important to provide understanding, encouragement and support across the organisation. “Allyship at Work” training was piloted to build a greater understanding of gender equity issues, the role that privilege plays, and how men could be better allies at work. According to Jarrod Lean, Partner in Risk Consulting, the training has been very beneficial for him, ”The Allyship at Work training was thought provoking and engaging. I think everyone came out of it learning something, and most of all having more awareness of how to be a better ally. It has changed the way I approach interactions at work for the better, and I highly recommend other allies to attend future sessions.


Business development initiatives

Demystifying business development is a key element of the Gender Equity Action Plan, with one of the major initiatives of the program being the internal and external networking opportunities. The Adelaide office has partnered with a local law firm and a Big 4 bank to provide networking opportunities for professional women to regularly meet, allowing the team to build local networks, form potential collaborations, and share cross-business referrals.

The Sydney Financial Advisory team have also set up a women’s network where they regularly meet to discuss topical issues or hear from guest speakers. Holly Stiles, FA Partner and the Executive Sponsor of GEN says, “We have seen very powerful results from our ’Women in Leadership series, including career progression, increased confidence and higher retention rates. Many women have commented that it has been incredibly helpful to discuss issues and to realise that others share similar challenges. The circles have provided a forum for women to share strategies to overcome barriers in their careers and a network of colleagues who support each other.”

The team at Grant Thornton Australia are proud of their work that aims to systematically remove the barriers holding women back.  They are at the leading edge of action with their Inclusive Sponsor Program, Allyship program, GENerator Circles, business development support and networking opportunities. Other initiatives include 26 weeks of paid parental leave including superannuation on the 26-week unpaid portion, flexibility, support and resources for caregivers, and domestic & family violence support.

All these initiatives mean they are well on their way to achieving their gender equity goal: to create an inclusive environment where career aspirations can be realised regardless of gender, and where women and gender diverse people are as equally represented as men all the way through to Partner level. 

If you would like to learn more about the other finalists then click this link.

Is Tech Opening Up New Opportunities for Mortgage Brokers

Is Tech Opening Up New Opportunities for Mortgage Brokers

Mortgaging broking would be considered an ideal job for mums who want to work. This is due to it’s highly flexible nature, with much of the work occurring at times when their clients are home, like evenings & weekends. Plus, it supports many of women’s great skills in relationship building & empathy. However, that is not the case at the moment but things are changing.

According to the FBAA the industry is dominated by men, … Read on

If you feel your company is innovative in gender equity activities, please nominate them Recalibrate: Gender Equity Awards. The purpose is to establish the best practices being implemented across the market. Nominations close 1 September. Gender Equity Awards: 16 November Crown Casino Melbourne.