The Power of Mentorship

10 Inspiring Women Leaders and The People Who Impacted Their Careers

In the modern workplace, the benefits of mentoring are manifold.

Mentorship can be life-changing, and having a mentor isn’t something you outgrow no matter your age or the stage in your career. Whether it’s a role model for success in your industry, or someone you know who embodies values you wish to possess, the lessons we learn from our mentors are imperative to our self-growth.

With this in mind, we asked 10 successful women leaders in the banking and finance sector to tell us about the person who had a tremendous impact on them. Here’s what they revealed…

(From left to right: Sally Loane, Jessica Dwyer, Faz Goren, Sophie Ray, Diana D’Ambra)

Sally Loane, Non-Executive Director

“When I became a Canberra Parliamentary Press Gallery journalist, I was daunted by the scale and power of the institutions, and realised I’d better find someone to show me the ropes. While back then we didn’t call them mentors, the Gallery’s doyenne, Michelle Grattan, was as close to one for me. Her commitment to facts and checking sources remained lessons that have stuck with me for life.

Later, in my corporate career, I was lucky enough to be introduced to a significant mentor, Mike Cannon-Brookes Snr. His years running global companies gave him a deep, quietly authoritative wisdom, which he generously shared with me. Then, in 2022, I was fortunate to gain a place on the AICD Chair’s Mentoring Program, where Rick Holliday-Smith has been an invaluable source of wise experience. There shouldn’t be a question you can’t ask a mentor, and I’ve found there isn’t.”

Jessica Dwyer, Executive General Manager, Commonwealth Bank

“Most mentoring relationships I have had throughout my career have been a mix of informal and formal but, upon reflection, they have all had a profound influence on me and shaped who I am today. There is no job description for a mentor, or a simple definition, however there is a common thread. Each of the mentors in my life have done something more than just provide me encouragement. They were unique, objective, and they provided perspective and challenged my thinking. All of them came willing to share their wisdom and lessons from prior experiences. They helped celebrate my strengths, spoke to my weaknesses and empowered me to keep going. They have changed me forever and will continue to change me.”

Sophie Ray, FAICD, Chair and Non-Executive Director

“While I’ve never had a formal mentor, I’ve been very fortunate during my career to have worked with several leaders who inspired me and actively helped me build my career. The common trait of these leaders is that they gave me honest feedback, were willing to share their own experiences, and always made time for me despite their busy professional and personal lives. One was the female partner I worked for during my legal career. She taught and supported me from my first year as a lawyer through to the end of my legal career – even when we were no longer working for the same firm. She led by example, particularly when she took time out to have her children and then juggled a return to work. She was always very honest about the challenges of that juggle, and the decision-making processes she’d gone through when working out how to return to work. As I have worked through similar decisions myself raising my family, her advice and honesty about the difficulty of those decisions has always stayed with me.

More recently, a leader who was instrumental in my career was the Chair of the first Board I joined as a Non-Executive Director (NED). He actively encouraged me to learn as a director and try things out in the boardroom, gave me regular feedback about how I was performing, and was always available when I asked him for input. He also regularly asked me for feedback on his performance in the boardroom, which led to some really valuable discussions about personal style, impact and relationship building, and taught me the importance of regular self-reflection and humility as a NED. There have been other colleagues, peers and friends who I’ve learnt much from during my career, but these two have taught me lessons and given me advice that has stayed with me and is central to my life today.”

Faz Goren, State Manager, Business Banking NSW and QLD, Bendigo Bank

“I have had several mentors over my 21-year banking career. I’ve drawn on their collective knowledge and wisdom to be a sounding board for the strategies I have developed in each of my roles. They have each supported me through all the peaks and troughs of leadership, and seasonal and cyclical market conditions. In the last five to eight years, it has become very evident that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. I’d like to see more sponsorship and less mentoring. To clarify what sponsorship is, and how it’s different from mentorship, I zero in on a key word: influence.

Sponsorship can be understood as a form of marketing, where sponsors act as brand managers and publicists for their mentees, whereas mentorship focuses on help that a mentor can provide directly, such as guidance, advice, feedback on skills, and coaching. Sponsorship entails externally facing support, such as advocacy, visibility, promotion and connections. Seeing sponsorship as a three-way relationship between sponsors, mentees and an audience clarifies the difference between it and mentorship. For women, and in particular culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people, to advance in our careers we need others to know about our achievements and accomplishments. Surround yourself with people who will mention your name in a room full of opportunity.”

Diana D’Ambra, Chair, WiBF

“My career started out as a chartered accountant more than 30 years ago in a major global accounting firm. The tendency at that time was to work hard, learn fast and work your way through the ranks – and your career path was well-defined. Given I was surrounded by a vast number of similar professionals at various stages of their career, there was a constant pool of so-called ‘brains’ and expertise that you could tap in it at any time.

I had no specific mentor at that stage, nor was it as commonplace as it is today to ‘seek’ out a mentor. However, I did have many individuals throughout the firm who I knew I could go to whenever I had a technical problem. There was a lot of focus on technical expertise back then, whereas today, career paths are not as defined and structured. They’re more fluid, with less emphasis on the technical and more on how you interact and communicate with others.

Once you establish your technical expertise, it is really the other qualitative factors of being a leader, a manager and a communicator that you need to develop. You really do start differentiating those people you work with who are better managers than others. You also question the real purpose of what you do and the impact it has on many stakeholders.

I work with a number of fledgling businesses and start-ups across many different industry sectors and I find, while I am providing business advice to them, I am actually learning so much from the founders and reframing my own ambitions and priorities in life. True mentorship provides value for both mentee and mentor. I also find through my board roles, I am surrounded by a diverse group of executives and other directors from very different backgrounds and they are always willing to share experiences and open my mind to new thinking – in a way this is a form of mentoring.”

Zarmeen Pavri, Sophie Mccarthy, Liz O’brien, Alev Dover, Paula Nassif Banner

(From left to right: Zarmeen Pavri, Sophie McCarthy, Liz O’Brien, Alev Dover, Paula Nassif)

Zarmeen Pavri, Partner and Chief Impact Officer, SDGx

“I have been fortunate enough to have had incredible formal and informal mentors throughout my career, so it’s difficult to name just one. I have kept in touch with most of them and I do believe some of the key aspects to a good mentor/mentee relationship is that it’s built on trust, open dialogue (where you feel comfortable enough to share your vulnerabilities) and a growth mindset that is open to receiving constructive feedback (which you need to be prepared for!). Early in my funds management/hedge funds career, I had Marian Carr (ex CIO of CSR Superannuation Fund) who was our Deputy CEO at MIR Investment Management. She imparted such a lot of wisdom and guidance, that ranged from technical expertise through to people management skills. She taught me how to be my true authentic self and how to bring everyone to the table. The adage ‘what you can see, you can be’ was certainly something I admired in Marian as my role model.

Throughout my career journey, I found that I preferred having different types of mentors and a few of them. I recognised that each mentor brings a lot of experience to the table and provides a different ‘lived experience’ lens. One person alone cannot give you everything you may need. I also intentionally built up an informal board of personal advisers that helped me with small and big issues (when my mentor wasn’t available). Through them, I have learned servitude leadership, how to be brave, how to be authentic and value myself, how to not be afraid to show compassion and kindness, even in the hardest environments.

There are so many benefits that mentors can provide, as they see things from the 50,000 feet level, which is always very grounding. Each one brings a unique lens and they impart their knowledge through humility. They have provided such a generous gift of ‘time’ for which I am now super grateful for and continue to be. As the saying goes, ‘The greatest gift you can give someone is your time, because when you give your time, you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back.’ It’s with this knowing that I now try to give back and pay forward.”

Paula Nassif, Senior Associate, King & Wood Mallesons

“It’s hard to name just one person, as mentors come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes from where you least expect them. They are people who take the time to take an interest in you and your development, sometimes taking you under their wing or just helping you along the way. Mentorship can take many forms – opening doors to meet new clients, helping to present new opportunities, recommending you for projects/roles or career advancement opportunities, or just simply helping to discuss ideas and opportunities. For me, it’s important that I ‘click’ with the person and that it feels instinctively right. A good test is how your body reacts on a ‘physical level’ as it never lies. If you feel ‘contracted’ after having interacted with someone, that is a sign that that person is NOT the right person for you.

There are a handful of people who I’ve known for many years (and whom I trust and respect implicitly) that are more senior than me. There are both men and women, as it’s important to get different perspectives. They’ve trodden the path well ahead of me and can share their insights and experiences. I find this particularly helpful when faced with a choice or brainstorming ideas. Often mentors will give a new perspective as they see things you cannot. The critical thing is that there is mutual trust and respect. And don’t limit it to your industry; you’ll be surprised at the amazing insights a mentor from a different industry can provide.”

Sophie McCarthy, CEO, McCarthy Mentoring

“My mum, Wendy McCarthy AO, has always been a big presence in my life and she has also been my boss, friend and mentor, which is special. She has incredible energy and drive to change the world, and growing up my brothers and I were involved in many marches for women’s liberation, reproductive rights and neighbourhood campaigns to improve parks, childcare and afterschool playgrounds in our neighbourhood. That was in the 70s but only a year ago we were still marching!

Mum began her professional life as a teacher and went on to hold many national and international leadership roles including Deputy Chair of the ABC, CEO of the National Trust in NSW, CEO of Family Planning Federation, Chair of Plan International Australia, and Chair of Headspace to name a few. She had many powerful mentors in her career and in 1998 developed a mentoring program for Citi, the global investment bank, to retain and develop senior women. Together, we created McCarthy Mentoring in 2008, which supports emerging leaders to flourish and succeed. In 2012, in a perfect mother-daughter succession plan, I bought the business which I still lead today.

Mentors help you dream big and find the things in life that make you happy and successful. Effective mentors also hold up the mirror and often give you a reality check about some of those plans and dreams. It has been an amazing journey to have worked with my mum to build McCarthy Mentoring. She always encouraged me to seize opportunities, find my voice and use my head and heart for all important decisions. Having fun and making the world a better place were also top priorities. I like to think we’ve extended the value and joy of mentoring to a whole community of Australians, both mentors and mentees, through our work together. We’re both very proud of that.”

Liz O’Brien, Banking and Capital Markets Partner, PwC Australia

“I’ve had various mentors at different stages through my career with a diverse range of experience and perspectives. I have also enjoyed being a mentor for others, both inside and outside PwC (including through Women in Banking and Finance). The key to my successful mentor journey has been finding the right people to help navigate and coach me through each stage of my career, who have inspired and challenged me to grow, while also holding me accountable to my goals.

Having different mentors has exposed me to new ideas and ways of thinking, providing me with the ability to adapt my own leadership styles and be my best self. One mentor who’s had an immense impact on me is a former PwC Partner who showed genuine care and interest in my development from when I joined the firm as a graduate, and who continues to support me today. He wasn’t a formal mentor via any structured program. While we only worked together in a limited capacity through my progression to Manager, he was someone I greatly respected. When I returned from an extended secondment, we began working closely and he was instrumental in mentoring me into the partnership. While he is now retired, we’re frequently in touch and I still reach out to him for advice. He has always given me confidence to show my vulnerabilities. He saw my potential and helped me recognise my strengths and talents when they weren’t always clear to me. This included bridging gaps in my thinking on what I could do, against what I thought I could do, challenging me to try things and say yes to new opportunities (when initially I may have thought I wasn’t ready or prepared for them). I’ve been pleasantly surprised to have formed very close relationships with a number of my mentors. My advice is to keep your mind open to mentors who’ve had different experiences to you and to lean into unexpected opportunities – you’ll find yourself challenged in new and exciting ways.”

Alev Dover, CEO, Prism

“In my personal experience, mentorship has never been derived from a singular source as greatly as it has been from a plethora of life experiences. From my mother and grandmother, I learnt resilience and determination. From my early days on the options trading floor, I learnt will and developed a deeper connection to my intuition. The teams of individuals I have led and continue to lead in my role as CEO of Prism have all inspired me to learn and grow in diverse ways. Similar to one of Prism’s founding principles, I believe there is value to be found in our differences as individuals and our diverse perspectives – a value unlocked through connection and collaboration. Perhaps the greatest mentorship I have undergone has been through motherhood. Becoming a mother to my daughter has shaped who I am today in infinite ways, deepening my connection to authenticity and holding me accountable for integrity; a mentorship that I am forever grateful for.”

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