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Female Leader, Wendy Stops, Non-Executive Director CBA

Wendy Stops transitioned from a 30+ year technology consulting career with Accenture in 2014, leaving as senior managing director of the group’s Asia Pacific technology division. Geographically mobile, Wendy was promoted through successively more senior leadership and internal board directorship roles within the company. She lived in Singapore, Malaysia and New York during her career. In March 2015, Wendy was appointed to a prestigious Non-Executive Director role with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) to boost the technology expertise on the Board of the Big 4 bank. Named in the Australian Financial Review’s Top 25 Directors of Power and Influence 2017, Wendy was recommended to the CBA Board by outgoing CBA director Jane Hemstritch.

Wendy is also a Non-Executive Director of Fitted for Work (a not for profit organisation that helps women experiencing adversity to find and retain work), a Council Member of The University of Melbourne and a member of Chief Executive Women. Her understanding of technology applications combined with her leadership experience of being accountable for over 11,000 professional employees across 13 countries in Asia Pacific means Wendy is ideally positioned to offer insights to technology, cultural and digital trends in the region.

Which digital or technological trends will become part of everyday business and life? How should we prepare for these seismic shifts in business?  

People talk a lot about the “internet of things”. It’s not always understood, but essentially it’s a world where everything is very digitally connected and sometimes in quite sophisticated and networked ways. Product manufacturers are starting to embrace this by inserting chips in their products (e.g. internet access on your refrigerator). But it will expand much further into everyday life.

Secondly I believe “data and analytics” will become huge. The ability for companies to capture data, store it and analyse it is becoming much easier and cheaper. Smart companies will capitalise on the data they have whilst finding ways to network with other companies who have complementary data. Ultimately this gives them huge insight into their customers and/or provides their customers with information that becomes a distinct advantage for them. Companies will have much greater insight into what their customers and employees think, how they behave, and how best they can interact and sell to them.

Thirdly I believe “technology enabled platforms” is something that we’ll see more and more of. Amazon is a classic example, whereby they provide a digitally enabled platform so that customers can go to one place and find anything they want conveniently and comprehensively. Businesses that develop platforms or combine with others to provide an ecosystem platform for their customers, will have the upper hand. Consumers want convenience and simplicity, combined with speed. Platforms will pave the way for that.

What is your advice for companies wanting to expand into the Asia Pacific region?  

Asia Pacific can’t be viewed as if its one big country with similar cultures, values and opportunities. Each market is different and has its own unique culture and way of doing business. What we may value in Australia in terms of business practices and norms, may not be relevant in another country. You need to understand all that and be prepared to immerse your company in the local culture to truly find your place.

Don’t expect that what is successful in Australia will be equally successful in any of the Asia Pacific countries. Work with locals, or hire locals. They will help you understand what would work in a particular country, if your product/service could be successful and how best to go about selling it. And finally, be patient and don’t rush in without doing your homework.

In your opinion, how has CBA’s board diversity been viewed within the bank by female employees and influenced their leadership opportunities?

Right from when I first joined the Board it was obvious to me that this was an organisation that deeply believed in the importance of gender diversity. And was intent on making sure they lived and breathed it. The company has policies on gender diversity at the Board and Executive levels. They don’t see it as a bar to hit and then be comfortable. It’s continually challenged, in the same way that the company as a whole takes gender diversity at all levels as something very serious and important to its success.

I believe that our female employees would not see any barrier to their leadership opportunities. Because they have many real examples of successful women in their senior leadership ranks, right up to the Board level. They know that the Board, the CEO and their entire Executive group (many of who are women!) view diversity as critical to the success of the organisation. And they personally foster the culture and behaviour needed to engender that every day.

Fitted for Work has assisted over 24,000 women experiencing disadvantage to find work and keep it. How has your corporate experience in program management and operations helped Fitted for Work?

I came onto the board of Fitted for Work just under 2 years ago, at a time when they were revamping their strategy after a new CEO came on board.  The board at the time was largely made up of men and women with NFP experience. By putting someone like myself onto the board who came from a large, disciplined international company, I was able to bring a different perspective and different insight and connections.  

I have a lot of experience in leading programs of change, along with risk management planning. Those two areas particularly I’ve been able to give them deep insight and help, as the organisation continues to ramp up and rethink how it can better help even more women experiencing disadvantage to get into work and stay employed. It’s a fabulous organisation and a great cause. The leadership and staff are really the ones who make the big difference. I’m just one cog in a fabulous wheel.   

What has been your greatest challenge?  

I think my greatest challenge throughout my career, like a lot of women, has been to believe in myself and not underestimate what I’m capable of doing. Women are naturally not as self confident as men, and that can get in the way of forging a successful career. There have been times when I questioned whether I was good enough to do a job or whether I was just “lucky”.

I always looked for reassurance from others that I deserved to be where I was and that I was capable. Its only been in the last few years that I realised that I absolutely deserved to be where I was, and that I had achieved a fantastic career and level of success. But there’s still more to come. I look to the future with more confidence that I could achieve even more in my new career as a non-executive director.

What are you most proud of?  

My two boys, aged 20 and 22, and what beautiful, intelligent and caring men they have become. When you go through corporate life as a full-time working mother, you often worry whether you’re able to spend the time with your children to help guide them. But having a husband who gave up his career to look after the boys and always having the philosophy that my “family came first” meant that I was able to reasonably balance work-life throughout my career and always ensure that I was “there for them” when needed. They both complete university this year. I’m very much looking forward to their next chapter in life as they enter the working world.

What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?  

It’s always hard to give one piece of advice, so I’m going to give you two. Firstly, stay true to yourself. Don’t feel that you have to be someone else, or emulate male leaders, to be successful.  Being authentic and open and honest in your dealings will serve you well.

Secondly, be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and take things on, whether proactively or when asked to. I very rarely said “no” throughout my career and I very rarely was comfortable with the status quo. Even when I thought I may not have had the experience or skills to do something, I took up the challenge or took the initiative to step up. If you only ever do things you’re comfortable with or you wait to be asked, you won’t expand your horizons. Nor potentially take up something that could lead you to future opportunity and success. I often look back and wonder whether I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t put my hand up and taken things on, no matter how uncomfortable it may have been at the time.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Director

Jade Collins has 20 years’ global experience in corporate executive Human Resources and management consulting roles in the Mining, Energy and Aerospace industries, leading large scale, complex multi-million-dollar change management programs. Jade finds the combination of her HR, Psychology and MBA qualifications and her leadership experience is invaluable for increasing gender equality in leadership across industries. Jade was a member of the Queensland Government's Strategic Advisory Group for the Toward Gender Parity: Women on Boards Initiative and the 2019 CQU Alumni of the Year for Social Impact for her work with Femeconomy.