The WiBF Leaders Leading Us Into 2023

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From the lessons they learned to what they’re most looking forward to, these eight women in banking and finance reveal their hopes, inspirations and aspirations for this year and beyond…

Gloria Yuen, Head of Regulatory Enablement and Delivery, Personal Banking, NAB

“Gender balance matters because of the societal and institutional imbalances that currently exist: in representation, recognition and opportunity. They are the imbalances hindering economic prosperity so not everyone can succeed fairly and squarely; the imbalances shutting off different perspectives and ideas to flow freely to the decision-making tables, especially in the private sector; the imbalances of intersectional experiences and overlapping identities as part of the equality advocacy beyond white feminism. I have learned that these imbalances are stopping us and our communities from prospering. Change would never be handed out to us. Gender balance is not a slogan and definitely not binary. Gender balance is an act required of everyone.

I am the first in my family to finish high school and the first to secure a white-collar job. As a migrant, a proud woman of colour and a relentless cultural diversity advocate, I won the prestigious Women’s Agenda Leadership Award in a highly competitive private sector category in 2022. I was also recognised as a Community Champion of the Year by the Australia Professionals of Colour for the work I’ve done to uplift the community. I am full of hope that the recognition and celebration will further create platforms and amplify the advocacy on issues I care deeply about.

This year, I will continue to be inspired, and inspire many others, to elevate the gender balance conversation. Gender balance is important to me personally because I hope that one day I don’t have to code-switch certain parts of me to fit in, or shed layers of myself to have the best chance to succeed. I hope one day all leaders can fully value and recognise our differences and no one will feel excluded or disadvantaged for being different.

I will continue providing leadership visibility for the under-recognised communities, and challenging the composition of the governance bodies and leadership teams to reflect the rich tapestry of people and interests. I will continue my mission to amplify the voice of women of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and to improve accessibility and inclusivity in boards and decision-making tables.”

Asha Jha, Business Analyst, Westpac

“Happy 2023! It’s still taking time to register that we have completed 2022 and started a new year, but I already feel positive, and the right energy is winding our way. It feels like only yesterday when 2020 hit and the world stood still for all of us. But the minute we got a chance to revamp everything, we returned with all we had and 2022 was such a year. It personally taught me to show gratitude for every opportunity that came my way. My biggest success was WiBF and being able to Chair for NSW’s SLC. This was a milestone to celebrate, along with my nine-to-five role as an Analyst at Westpac, which gave me immense confidence and recognition. WiBF is building a community that constantly supports one another, which is very empowering. To be amidst success stories feels very powerful. These success stories were my inspirations throughout the year.

As an emerging professional, I understand how important it is to find the right direction. The biggest lesson I carry into the new year is, ‘My direction is much more important than my speed.’ A lot of the time we get side-tracked, focusing on the speed at which we try to achieve our goals. But, in honesty, to be content and confident in what we achieve, and the direction we take, is very important. And sometimes all we need is a little courage to ask for help. After all, life is all about learning the right things and unlearning the things that don’t fit our ways.

As we step into this brand-new year with our spirits high, I look forward to meeting new people within the WiBF community, inspiring young professionals to do anything they set their minds to, learning from success stories, and leaving self-doubt at the door.”

Ashika Chand, Health Business Banking Executive, Health NSW, NAB

“After two years of living and working through a pandemic, 2022 was the first full year we stepped out and lived again! It brought with it a new era of working, leading and navigating what the world and workplace now looks like. My biggest lessons were…

Invest in your relationships. Coming out of COVID reminded me that human beings are social creatures at heart. We prioritise trust and connection above all else. While our hard work and merits get us so far in the corporate world, it’s the relationships we make that truly matter. I’ve now learned to say ‘yes’ to more networking events, make an effort to connect more regularly, build an incredibly diverse circle of mentors and sponsors, and put my hand up for projects that will not only showcase my expertise but also allow me to build long-term relationships.

Choose well-intentioned advice carefully. There are many people around you always providing well-intentioned advice. While feedback and advice are gifts, I have learned to carefully dissect and understand where it is coming from before taking it on. Everyone has a perspective and a view: choose carefully which to take on before changing yourself, especially if it benefits others ahead of you.

Tell your story. I’m incredibly passionate about diversity and inclusion, and I was fortunate enough to share my story last year about my religion, culture and experiences through various articles, both internally within my organisation and externally. In every article I wrote, I always received the same message: ‘thank you’. So many individuals reached out to say either ‘I’ve been there’, ‘I felt the same’, or ‘I’m so glad someone like you is telling her story’. People need to see and hear different voices and perspectives. I’ve learned to tell my story and have a voice – especially if your voice is a little different from the norm.

Bring out your colour – literally and figuratively. I love colour – my wardrobe is a sea of pinks, blues, yellows and reds. However, working in the corporate world, and learning to assimilate, meant wearing black, white, grey and navy. I did this for the longest time, but this year I finally had the courage to move away from the norm. We keep touting authenticity in the workplace, and if we are going to be the change we want to see, then we need to lead from the front. Waiting for the ‘next role’, or ‘when I am in a more senior role’, serves no one. Change needs to come from the ground up. Leadership comes in all different shapes, sizes and colours and we should embrace and promote this sense of individuality. Only then can we truly see ourselves as inclusive.

So, this year, I am looking forward to bringing a more ‘real’ me to the workplace (colour and all!), continuing to learn and grow through new hobbies and projects, staying true to my core values, and maintaining and growing my circle of incredible human beings that encourage, support and inspire me every single day.”

Dianna Enlund, ESG Solutions Director, S&P Global Market Intelligence

“ESG is an exciting area, but it is also very broad, encompassing topics such as climate change, human rights, biodiversity, modern slavery and diversity on boards. It is very easy to become overwhelmed by all the developments in the various areas, as ESG, in general, has gained momentum in recent years. Taking time to review and prioritise work was a practice that I found helpful to ensure I stay focused on what is necessary to achieve my goals.

The biggest inspiration for me in 2022 was on a personal front. Two of my children competed at Nationals for running which was an amazing achievement given they only started running training 6-12 months prior. The hours, dedication and drive required to achieve this is huge and involved a lot of hard work. Reflecting on this, I started running again myself over the past six months and have seen my own fitness improve, resulting in increased energy and better wellbeing. As a working professional with children, taking time to look after one’s own health and wellbeing should be a priority – it enables better performance in the long-run.

There are many things to be positive about for ESG in 2023. Momentum is gathering pace in several key reporting areas, including the recently announced Australian Government consultation on mandatory climate disclosures, as well as nature-related risk disclosures within the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework. I am fortunate to be working for a company that is constantly innovating in this space, developing new data and analytics solutions to help clients align with industry developments. It is truly an exciting area and I look forward to working with clients to solve their ESG data challenges.

Collaboration is absolutely key to solving many of the ESG challenges we face today, such as climate change. This year, I am also very much looking forward to working on the Indo Pacific Carbon Accounting Lab – a collaboration between the South Australian Government, S&P Global, NAB, Salesforce and Deloitte – to develop pilot projects for carbon accounting through supply chains.

Finally, I have been inspired by the energy and commitment of WiBF members to support each other in their career development. I am excited to continue my involvement with WiBF over the next 12 months, to develop programs that help members achieve their full potential.”

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May Cai, Chief Risk Officer, Prime Capital

“Reflecting on 2022 makes me think about how resilient we have all become in our post-COVID, new-normal world. The past year was marked by a number of significant events. At a global level, we witnessed the damage and cruelty of the Ukrainian-Russia war. Aside from the ripple effects on numerous sectors including food, energy, agriculture and technology, it has had a devastating impact on the 14 million people that’ve been displaced from their homes. Yet, resilience persists.

Domestically, we’ve dealt with eight consecutive interest rate rises not seen since the current policy of inflation targeting started in the early 90s. Yet, the Australian economy remains one of the strongest performers of the advanced economies – it’s set to become the world’s 12th largest economy in 2023. Floods across northern NSW and southeast QLD saw many people lose their homes, but it did not dampen their spirits as a community. Last year also marked the loss of a remarkable female role model, Queen Elizabeth II. Her Majesty’s legacy lives on and she will be forever remembered as one of the most progressive female leaders of the 21st century.

Looking ahead into 2023, economic and political uncertainty will most likely continue to feature in our everyday lives. The optimist in me firmly believes that it is in the most uncertain of times that opportunities are most prevalent. Maintaining resilience and having the mental agility to pivot when the right opportunities arise are some of the essential ingredients required for growth and advancement. I look forward to an exciting 2023 and hope our WiBF members also embrace the uncertainty and endless possibilities that come with it.”

Shari Jayanithie, Diversity and Inclusion Leader, Institutional ANZ

“In 2022, following encouragement from a couple of my ‘allies’, I took part in the VIC state leadership committee of WiBF. This exposure provided me with the opportunity to meet some amazing women within the wider WiBF network. It has been an incredible experience coming together for a collective goal.

Last year I also applied for a role I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. This was a role I didn’t think I would be successful in. However, after I received a simple ‘you will be great in this role’ email from a person I respected, I submitted my application. What seemed a simple email to them was the encouragement I needed to take a risk, and back myself and my abilities.

Long story short, I have been in this role for around eight months now. I’ve learned a lot and I’m really enjoying the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of individuals in a different part of the bank.

So, as I reflect on 2022, I am reminded of the importance of advocates and allies in my work life. These relationships were formed organically, took time to develop and nurture, and included an element of ‘proving’ myself to build trust and confidence. In most instances, I had to reach out and seek advice, guidance and support. I realised earlier on that when they know how to help they are willing to do so, but you need to ask. No matter how amazing someone is, no one is a mind reader.

Looking ahead to 2023, I will invest my time in building new relationships, nurturing old ones and having some fun along the way, knowing there are people I can lean on and who will continue to have my back. I will also seek opportunities where my advocacy might make a difference to someone else’s life as a ‘pay it forward’. In the words of Michelle Obama: ‘The most successful people I know have figured out how to live with criticism, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onwards with their goals’.”

Laura Valmorbida, Managing Director, Financial Services, Accenture

“Last year dealt us a mixed hand of events. Some were celebratory, like being together with family, friends and colleagues after more than two years of pandemic lockdowns. And, for extra good cheer in Australia, this was overlayed on an economically strong year. However, 2022 seemed tough on those of us who have felt like we’d been sprinting for three years straight, right up to the last day of the work year. So many of us exclaimed how fatigued we were, didn’t we?

Yet, given the many devastating geopolitical, socio-political and climatic events – the ongoing war in Ukraine, the fight for women’s human rights in Iran, and the continuing extreme weather catastrophes here and globally – I am in awe of the true leaders in each of these crises. I cannot fathom how they risked everything, including their very own lives, to pursue a better world for their communities.

In contrast, I really can’t be anything other than grateful to be living the life I have. For sure, 2022 continued to help us all build resilience, but as we begin 2023, I am focused on being more balanced. I will be directing my efforts towards more meaningful impact, whether that be at work, home or in our community.

Of course, that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We live in a complex world, and 2023 will no doubt be another volatile year. Economic uncertainty due to an impending US-led global recession, the energy and natural resources crisis in Europe, and continued supply chain and talent shortage issues globally. In Australia, I suspect we’ll see some parts of the market do well, but others not so. For example, price-maker banks will enjoy profits from wider interest rate spreads, but will be faced with segments of overleveraged customers losing their homes as parts of the housing market crumble.

Despite this general context, I am optimistic. I am hopeful that people power will ignite social change in countries and communities that desperately need it. I am inspired by younger generations who don’t tolerate the status quo and who apply themselves to causes and imperatives beyond themselves, or who rise above their own trauma to instigate awareness and change on a societal scale. I am hopeful that constraints, such talent and materials shortages will encourage innovation and human ingenuity towards solving our biggest problems, disrupting outdated models/industries through exponential technology and data, industry convergence and AI-powered beautiful experiences for change and progress for all.

Further to this, I am looking forward to having our borders more generously reopened to a new wave of immigration, making Australia culturally richer. I am hopeful that we’ll make decent strides towards better climate management as we accelerate our energy transition journey. I am hopeful that leaders in our society will listen and act on a more diverse set of voices, and tap pools of talent that have been traditionally undervalued. I am so encouraged by those who haven’t had a voice for so long increasingly claiming the space to be heard, and I am inspired by people from non-traditional socio or educational paths who join our industry. I am hopeful we continue to make some headways towards equity, in the many different facets – micro and macro – in which it matters. Our next generations won’t tolerate anything less.

My industry – the nexus of technology and banking – has a huge part to play in all of this, and I will be steering my efforts accordingly. Many will be sensible steps of progress but, in 2023, I’ll also be going for a few leapfrog ideas that converge some of the above themes. For kicks, a bunch of us will be experimenting with our MetaQuest2 as we explore what banking in the metaverse could be beyond the gimmicks. But, for now, as I admire the Melbourne summer sunshine (yes, it’s finally here!), I am thankful for the year that was, and hopeful for the next 12 months.”

Kate Casellas, Partner, Clayton Utz

“The 1st of January 2023 marked a significant professional and personal milestone for me as I was appointed to the Clayton Utz partnership. So I started this year with a great deal of excitement for what lies ahead as I continue to build my team and practice.

As the world moves towards net zero, I’m looking forward to continuing to see innovative ways that sponsors and capital providers can work together to finance the energy transition. The rise of green and sustainable financing underscores the active role that lenders are now playing in responding to climate change. I hope to continue to help our clients, on both the lender and borrower side, to play a part in this green transition. Being based in Western Australia, it is an exciting time to work in project finance, as WA is rich in the metals used in electric vehicles and renewable energy storage systems – and a huge amount of capital is required to realise the potential of our battery minerals industry.

On a personal note, 2023 also sees my youngest start full-time school which is a good time to reflect. I have been lucky enough to balance work with motherhood, and expect that the years ahead will bring more juggling, chaos and fun!”

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