Limiting our life choices makes us less adaptable to a changing society

by 06 Feb 2007

Many people would argue that the battle for equality in the workplace is won. Yet despite the advances in society, women still shoulder most of the responsibility for home and family. How women respond to this challenge, and how they perceive success will largely depend on the choices they have made and the experience of their lives, their childhood upbringing, the people they have met, where they have worked and their cultural background.

Just over a decade ago I started work in one of Australia’s major banks. I was immediately struck by the paternalistic, bureaucratic culture and the lack of workplace flexibility that resulted in few women visible in management roles.

Like many women, I lacked self-confidence and questioned my capability. How would I juggle home and work life? What areas of development did I need? What were my strengths and weaknesses? Where was I heading in my career? Who could I call upon for support or advice at a time when I was expected to ‘manage’ my own career? What did success mean to me?

I was lucky that I joined the bank at a time of change. I can remember the CEO at the time talking about his first management meeting, saying, “It felt like going back in time. I was invariably in a room with white males”. But change was underway.

These fresh eyes put in place the foundation that would transform the lives of women in the bank as they embraced the new policies offered, including paid maternity leave, corporate childcare places, flexible working options and leadership programs for women.

By the late 1990s, I began taking advantage of these initiatives. I began to understand my definition of success.

Each person will view success differently. For some women it may mean being a top manager, or being a specialist; others may prefer to trade off promotion for improved health and wellbeing. The quality of life means different things to different people and it is important to remember that everybody looks at the world through their own eyes. The people we meet during the course of our lives have an enormous influence on the direction we take and the decisions we make.

With the magnitude of choices today influencing women’s success in the workplace, it is difficult to predict the future. However, I believe it is your confidence and ability to know what makes you happy in life that will give you the resilience you need in a constantly changing society and ensure you forge your pathway to success, as you see it through your eyes.

By Niki Kesoglou, manager diversity, people and performance, Westpac Banking Corporation