Financial services has historically been an elusive and unwelcoming industry for women. Thankfully however, we’re making strong progress and seeing more and more female leaders in this sector do incredible things.
While it will take some time to reach gender equality, women like Suzanne Smith– Chief Customer Officer Group Insurance at MLC Life Insurance, are helping to pave the way for emerging female leaders in the ranks.
Suzanne is the latest to be featured in our Q&A series, The Link; aiming to connect readers to the work, ideas and inspiration of key women across the board.
Who and what do you lead?
I lead a team of 60 highly experienced professionals who provide Australians with the security and protection of Life Insurance which means that if they get sick, injured or pass away, they won’t have to worry about the financial security of their family and those they love. The team is spread across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and the majority of our partnerships are superannuation funds and Australian corporates.
What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?
We have a great new initiative to support people suffering from mental health conditions. It is called Mental Health Navigator and is part of the Best Doctors program. It helps give Australians access to mental health support. As part of the service customers can have their diagnosis reviewed and get treatment plan recommendations from leading psychologists and psychiatrists, from the comfort of their home. Mental health is such a big issue in Australia in both the work and social settings – 1 in 5 Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental health condition in any year. I love being able to make a real difference through the work I do everyday and this is a great example.
What one issue is making you really angry right now?
Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is a big issue in our community and more needs to be done to ensure that women are safe and aren’t living in fear as they go about their lives.
Best piece of career advice you ever received?
Never waste a crisis – you learn more from the tough times in your career than the easy ones, so make sure you look back and see what you can learn from those tough times to carry forward.
Also, back yourself – when you make a decision, ensure it is the best it can be with the information you have and then don’t second guess it – just make sure the next decision you make is as good as it can be based on all the information you have at the time.
What would you go back and tell yourself ten years ago?
Biggest hurdle you’ve faced (or are still facing) in your career?
The speed and pace of change in financial services – it means you are continually pivoting and changing direction in your role or career. This provides a great challenge for leadership, strategy and personal resilience, so ensuring that you stay centred and strong while you navigate the changing environment and high pressure situations.
Exercise is a key focus for me –I ensure I have a strong routine and commit to physical and emotional wellness. This also includes time with family and friends and downtime – always need to have a holiday and break planned. You can’t underestimate the importance of recharging your battery.
How have mentors or sponsors (or both) aided your career?
I have not had one particular mentor – I have a range of different people I go to when I need support and call it my “virtual advisory board”. People don’t know they are actually on it, but often you need a range of different people to support you through varying challenges. I think sponsors are critically important as you advance your career – it is about “who knows you, not who you know”. I have had many examples where I have been tapped on the shoulder or people have advocated for me in my career which is where the role of sponsor comes in.
What’s your favourite piece of tech?
I love my wireless running headphones – I no longer get tangled in all the cords!
What daily publications do you read or follow?
The AFR is a daily read, I read a lot of trade press on the financial services industry.
What apps or tools do you use to help manage your day?
Largely my iPhone and I have discovered Confluence as a collaboration tool that my assistant and I can use to ensure I stay on top of things and don’t miss the important activities that can get lost in the email inbox.
Any industry associations you’re a part of or that you’d recommend to other women?
I am a member of Women In Super which is a wonderful organisation try to drive connection and change across the superannuation industry.
What book do you most recommend to other women when it comes to their career?
There are so many career books. I really enjoyed reading the book “Touching the Void”. It was about a mountain climber that had a terrible accident on the way down one of the highest mountains in South America. Most people would have died, but this guy made his way down by breaking the journey down into achievable milestones and celebrated little things along the way. It kept him focussed and made him believe. I think careers and jobs often look daunting, but when you break down most challenges and see it in smaller components, there is always a way through. Many women are put off by things as they feel they “don’t have all the qualifications or knowledge” – the reality is, when you break it down and solve it in parts, everything is doable.
What are you reading/watching/listening to right now for work or pleasure?
I recently listened to a great podcast called The Teacher’s Pet which was created by a journalist from The Australian about an unsolved murder of a mother of 2 who lived on the Sydney Northern Beaches. I am reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and also The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds which is about how to exercise better, train smarter and live longer.
Where can people find out more about your work?
Name a woman who you’d like to read about next on Women’s Agenda?