Stepping up to huge challenges: Q&A with Winsome Hall June 2018

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As part of Industry Moves' influential women series, we talk to Winsome Hall - a former union branch secretary at 28, who worked on economic and social policy for Prime Minister and Cabinet before being appointed to her first trustee role in 1996 - about her ‘dog leg’ career. Currently a director on several finance industry boards, Winsome speaks with passion about her role as chair of the NSW Mother's Day Classic, and what she feels should be left at the door to ensure a thrilling board meeting. She also gives us a glimpse into her formative years, touches on her work supporting gender equality, and admits that sometimes you have to drop a ball when striving for work/life balance.

What’s something that you’re currently passionate about?

We are just wrapping up the 2018 Mothers Day Classic. I chair the NSW MDC Committee - lots of work, but I love to do it because it’s such an amazing event. It’s so much more than a fundraiser. It brings together people affected by a major life crisis in a way that is both poignant and celebratory. I love hearing people’s stories and why the MDC is important to them, many going year after year. The people who volunteer for the Committee are remarkable young women stretching their wings or those like me giving back to the super industry. Fabulous!

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Why did you choose a career in finance?

Well that’s an interesting question. My path is a dog leg, starting in the Commonwealth public service, running a union office and then worked on economic and social policy in Prime MInister and Cabinet. That was a time of concern about small accounts, portability of super and the splitting of superannuation on divorce, two of which are still live issues. I became a trustee for Commonwealth Super Corp and after a move to Sydney sought further boards, which were all in the finance sector. I was able to bring a strong governance and strategic policy approach.

Have you had an industry mentor or someone that has influenced you in your career?

Graham Kelly a previous Freehills partner has been a fabulous advocate, offering me my second board, a small listed venture capital company associated with Colonial. His confidence in me (as I was managing very young children) was immensely valuable. I have enormous respect for Ann Sherry who I knew from the union and then worked with at PMC. She is smart, grounded, generous of her time and own learnings and always interested in how to make things better, especially for women. I knew I wanted to be a lot like her!

You are on a number of boards, what do you feel makes for a great board meeting?

It starts with first having a group of directors with a mix of skills and experience relevant to the business and its future trajectory, who are committed to taking a business to the next level and a capable Chair who brings the best out of directors.

When egos are left at the door and both directors and executives feel it is a safe place to truly discuss difficult matters, to challenge and foster pursuit of the best outcome, then meetings can at times be thrilling and extremely satisfying. And to be part of a business that is challenging itself, taking difficult decisions and beginning to thrive is immensely rewarding.

How else do you think the industry can further engage women?

Those outlier areas who employ few women or have no women in senior positions can no longer justify remaining so. There is no more patience for areas that won’t change.

What is your key to work/life balance?

Having a partner that supports your goals and considers the home and needs of their kids as part of their responsibilities is critical. I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to be asking someone to pull their weight at home. Most of the time it’s not so much a balance as a moving seesaw. It relies on having a lot of balls in the air at once and not worrying too much if some hit the ground occasionally.

Women in Super is an agent for change and equality for women. What inspires you about working with the organisation and how does this integrate into your work practices?

I have worked with organisations supporting women’s search for equality since leaving school and Women in Super is a fabulous example of how networks and direct organisation is critical to creating opportunities for change. From advocating for individuals, to providing scholarships, to bringing women together across the industry, it is by working together that change happens. And it’s a great way to meet truly wonderful and generous people in our industry.

What have been your greatest challenges in your work life?

Stepping up to huge challenges, such as when elected union branch secretary at 28, or being appointed to my first listed board, sometimes feels like stepping into thin air. I always said yes when opportunities came past and working out how to do it came next. Gathering good people around you and being prepared to ask for help and advice are really important.

If you could give yourself a piece of advice as you were starting your career, what would it be?

Read the section above, I should have followed that advice more!

Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I was born in Goulburn as a fourth child, my closest sibling was ten years older. So I grew up in a house of near adults, roamed the countryside by myself and read voraciously. I became very independent, very quickly! All my siblings left by the time I was six and suddenly I was an only child when we moved to Canberra, which felt very lonely. School became my refuge.

View Winsome Hall's profile