We often lament the serious lack of female leaders in tech, so when we hear of one as impressive as Kendra Banks it’s easy to get excited. As the (relatively new) Managing Director of Australia’s leading, online jobs portal SEEK, Banks is on a mission to keep the brand as relevant as ever through a commitment to customer focus and greater internal, workplace diversity.
With a commercial and digital marketing background, Banks became the company’s Managing Director in early 2018 and has already done much to expand the footprint of SEEK Jobs, SEEK Learning, SEEK Business and SEEK Volunteer.
We sat down with Kendra recently to get the lowdown on heading up one of Australia’s largest, tech businesses and her vision for the future.
How did you get here?
I have worked in digital marketing and e-commerce for much of my career and I really enjoyed these areas. I moved into different types of marketing roles at Tesco in the UK and Coles in Australia. After that, I wanted the experience of working for a purely digital business, hence a move to SEEK.
As for whether it was planned or accident the truth is somewhere in the middle. I had an aspiration to be a MD or CEO, but I focused on getting experiences that gave me the “building blocks” to do this job well. For example I looked for roles over the years that would give me customer experience and commercial experience, influencing skills and leadership skills. Then it was a case of keeping an eye out for a great business where I thought I could learn and develop – and SEEK was the one!.
What skills have you acquired that have aided your leadership style and ethos? Why do you feel this is critical to your role as MD now?
Without a doubt the most important ‘skill’ I have is customer focus. This is always the most important thing for a business to care about, and it has been a common thread throughout my career. Having a true understanding of customer needs allows me to work with our team to set the right priorities for our business. Secondly, I am a collaborative leader. I make sure that we collect diverse points of view from around the business to ensure we make well thought out decisions. To do this well, it is important allow people to contribute and share the diversity of their expertise in a safe environment. Creating a culture that allows this is essential in achieving our business priorities.
Have you got any advice for emerging female leaders?
The best advice I can offer is to take risks. When I think about my own career; when I have had the option of taking a safe route or taking a riskier option I have always taken the risky route. This approach has paid off for me because the returns of the riskier option are always higher. Also, there is a level of risk in having the courage and not being afraid to ask for the big opportunities, so I encourage people to back themselves.
What advice would you give your 18-year old self?
I think I would tell myself to learn how to code! It will help you so much in the future, even if you don’t want to do it as a career it will give you a better understanding of emerging technology.
Seek has a number of competitors in Australia now (Indeed, LinkedIn, Jora etc). How does it stay current and maintain its place in market?
Since SEEK started 21 years ago we have always faced competitors, it’s just that now the types of competitors are different. Regardless of our competition, one of our beliefs at SEEK is “Always striving, challenging and remaining proactively paranoid” and I think this is instrumental in the way we tackle our approach to the competitive landscape. We are not scared to disrupt ourselves to keep improving how we connect hirers and candidates as effectively as possible.
When we combine this belief with our unique depth of data and experience in job searching, I know we will continue to meet our purpose and stay ahead of the competition.
What’s your short term and long-term vision for the company?
We have a strong view about the downfalls of focussing on short term visions and results, so we focus on long term results. We believe taking a short term view distracts you from focussing on what you are ultimately trying to achieve for customers.
Therefore, we only work towards achieving our purpose of helping people live more fulfilling and productive working lives and helping organisations succeed, which is all about helping our customers. We believe this will deliver stronger returns for our organisation in the long term.
What is SEEK’s commitment to diversity and inclusion?
At SEEK we recognise and respect qualities that are unique to our employees. Whether it be gender, language, ethnicity, age, religion, disability and sexual orientation, SEEK’s unique culture of diverse thought, opinion and background plays a key role in ensuring competitive advantage as a global organisation which develops products and technology that reflect the diversity of the communities in which we operate.
This is also important in the tech space where there is a real war for talent, so we must make sure that we are a place where all people want to come to work. Creating an environment where people genuinely feel comfortable to be themselves is so important in achieving this. In addition, our customers are even more diverse than our workforce and so the more diverse our team is that more chance we have at understanding what our customers need.
An important element of attracting the top talent is to make sure we are a great and innovative place to work. We are proud to have been recognised by AON Hewitt as a Best Employer for eleven years and has also been listed in the Top 20 Most Innovative Companies Globally by Forbes, and Number One in Australia.
Can you share some examples of the ways in which the company aims to propel women forward, especially in tech?
Supporting more women at all levels to have careers in the technology industry and attracting them to SEEK to grow their careers has been a major priority for us for some time and will continue to be so. Central to this is our Women in Technology Steering Committee which focuses on the three key areas of growing the pool of female talent, attracting female talent to SEEK, and developing and growing the female talent we have at SEEK. We have a number of initiatives in place that support these key areas including:
- Encouraging females to choose careers in the technology industry and ensuring we have equal gender representation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) roles. We bring this to life through initiatives such as Camp SEEK – a week-long program that aims to engage and inform teenage girls about technology careers and to pursue furthers studies in STEM. We also keep in touch with our alumni of these camps with work experience and ongoing support as they explore careers in technology.
- Creating an environment where women in technology thrive which is enabled through a supportive culture and career development. This priority is underpinned by the SEEK designed FAST (Females At SEEK Thrive) Program which encourages women in senior roles to progress their careers at SEEK. All FAST participants are partnered with one of our executives for sponsorship, endorsement and targeted education and development.
- Reducing unconscious bias and achieving balance in gender representation throughout the recruitment process. This includes aiming for a minimum of one female candidate on each shortlist and internal female representation on each interview panel for external roles.