In honour of #WomensHistoryMonth we’re putting the spotlight on our amazing Kiwi Women! Today we are celebrating #InternationalWomensDay.
We felt an insight into one of New Zealand’s high performing business leaders may be of interest. Please read our interview between Tyler Wren’s Gary Bloxham and Melanie Purdey.
The team at Tyler Wren are always interested in current or future leaders comments and thoughts. We would also love to talk to you if you are looking for guidance on your own personal leadership advancement.
Tell us about your career in Financial Services?
When I first came to NZ I had just left the media industry in Canada and didn’t wish to go back. So I saw an ad in the NZ Herald for a bank job or McDonalds. Guess which one I applied for? Seriously though – it couldn’t have been a better fit. Understanding people’s relationship with money and how they handle it is not unlike journalism where one observes and reports. I wanted to do more than report, I wanted to educate. Particularly because I once found myself woefully financially illiterate at the time my first husband died and left me the sole parent for our two children who needed supporting. Having started at the very bottom in banking and working my way through to management roles and then leadership roles, I had the privilege of learning from some of the most profoundly gifted female leaders in financial services. Also, to be fair, I learned from some very bad ones by getting a glimpse of what good people leadership was not.
How have you developed opportunities to progress in an industry that historically has a shortage of female leaders?
I’m not sure I can claim to have developed opportunities to progress, however, what I can say is that I never ever turned down a development opportunity. Even when it scared me to death. My mother taught me to be a lifelong learner – she was riding camels in Egypt at 80 as part of research for some course of study she pursued. As a result I have never stopped studying and have a few unused qualifications in my portfolio. I learned you can learn from anything and anyone. Just be prepared to stop talking, start listening and reconciling what is authentic to you.
One of the biggest influencers on my leadership style was Glenys Talivai, CEO at Public Trust. I worked with Glenys when she was at MAS and she proactively found ways to challenge and develop me into a better version of myself and I will always owe her a debt of gratitude. I respected her drive to make progress and her unfailing commitment to ensure she treated everyone with dignity – even when it may not have been earned.
What qualities do you think you offer to your employer as a female business leader?
At the risk of sounding reverse-misogynistic here, I do think women can sometimes be less inclined to see every debate as a win or lose proposition. Not because women aren’t equally competitive but because dispositionally we seek to find common ground into which everyone can buy. Also, to be clear, I have seen many men do this very well as well, but the best of the best whom I have witnessed have been women. Maybe that’s because women seek to apply a spirit of unity – possibly from breaking up kids’ fights I’m speculating. Also, in this world where the trajectory of change is reportedly greater than the human brain can keep pace with, women are skilled at nurturing the souls of the people in their circle of influence. I have found something to genuinely like and respect in all of my team which makes it easier to understand them and appeal to their strengths to keep them engaged.
How do you think females change the dynamic of the work culture?
Wow, some of these are loaded questions which I hope will be irrelevant when my 13 year old is a CEO. As I mentioned above, researchers are telling us that the traditional way of working isn’t keeping people well in these times of change. Employers have been challenged to deal with the whole person, not just the person at work in order to help everyone find some balance and inclusion. I can’t speak for all women, or women of all age demographics, but my life’s experience has been to handle a myriad of personalities and issues at once, both in and out of the workplace. The school rarely called dad for the last minute permission slip for the field trip today as he was about to walk into an important meeting! These skills have allowed me to speak about awareness in the workplace along with the reality of the whole life drama – for men and women – that happens before and after we walk through the doors of our offices but impact our performance and our power. The more of us who bring this awareness into leadership, the quicker today’s work environment will change to allow the flexibility people need to keep their shit together. Can I say that word?
How do you balance your professional career and home life?
With the support of an amazingly wonderful man who gets me. Truly gets me. My husband is a busy company director himself but never fails to look after me. He worked out a long time ago that I will look after everyone else all the time before looking after myself so he’s vowed to do that for me. I know, right?!? We also take regular breaks together without the kids and without technology (well, mostly) That time is sacrosanct. Our children are teenagers now but they still go to their ”caves” at 7:30pm each night so we can have adult time which consists of embarrassingly escapist reality tv and a glass of wine. (Actually now I’m starting to sound like a negligent mother…) During these times, work is not mentioned. I also make a point of getting up an hour before everyone else to have time to “get zen” as I call it – which is really just yoga with my cat and a half hour on the treadmill. That time my mind wanders into the most creative places that help me work the maze all out.
All too often I’ve come home in “boss” mode and my family has had to tell me to get real…
The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceForBetter, a nod to the growing global push for professional and social equality. What does this theme mean to you?
It means no one being surprised that a female is a CEO or GM or Prime Minister or anything else traditionally seen as a male domain. That gender becomes insignificant in the workplace and political arena because it’s understood that all skills are needed to drive improvement and progress.
That our gay or bipolar children don’t have to fight for acceptance and support, and are as employable as anyone else.
Congratulations on your new role, what advice would you offer aspiring female leaders?
Work out what you want your “brand” to say about you and strive to raise its stock value with your behaviours. Find a mentor – or several – and sit at their feet and listen, figuratively speaking. They won’t be perfect, but you’ll know what you need to learn from them if you are authentic to your brand.