Three business & tech leaders share their best career advice

Three business & tech leaders share their best career advice

Every week events across the country present game-changing female leaders sharing what they’ve learnt about leadership.

Today, we wanted to share a Q&A from a recent such event, the Women Innovators Network, in which a number of key female leaders across business and tech shared their key pivotal career moments, their thoughts on why we’re not seeing more women in C-suite positions, their advice to those trying to get a bigger leadership position and more.

The leaders included Cathy Yuncken, General Manager, St. George Banking Group, Dee McGrath, Managing Partner, GBS Australia & New Zealand at IBM, and Diana Terry, the VP of Asia Pacific Solution Engineering at Salesforce

The following extract is taken from a conversation they shared with Bluewolf CMO Corinne Sklar last month.

Corinne: What was a pivotal time in your career?

Dee McGrath, Managing Partner, GBS Australia & New Zealand at IBM:

 The most pivotal time was before I went in to financial services. I had a different career. I was 32 and my husband passed away and had two small children. I was at a point living in Korea, and I looked around and had no family support, so I relocated back to Melbourne where there was family infrastructure and support.

I looked at my career and I was the main breadwinner and just decided I can’t do what I’m doing. I was running accommodation and hotels, and at the time I felt that it wasn’t what I wanted to do going forward. So I reached out to the network and someone said we’ve got this startup and are struggling to get the systems and business operations in place, and asked me to help.

It was only supposed to be six months but I stayed nine months. It was a tech shop and there was a pit out the back of 20 guys. It was a fast growing application house with some really cool and exciting stuff. The guys called me “the suit” – I didn’t have a name and I put all their process and systems in place.

I looked around and thought to myself, I’m over the smell of beer and pizza, what’s next? It was then, that another opportunity came through from someone I knew, who asked me to help with a project that went off the rails at a bank. They approached me and said ‘you know loyalty, don’t you?’. And I thought, “well that’s a stretch!’, but I had implemented loyalty programs in the past. It was there that I started my career in the bank and I finished with running the payments business at NAB. And here I am today.

Dee McGrath, Managing Partner, GBS Australia & New Zealand at IBM.


Cathy Yuncken, General Manager, St. George Banking Group:

If I think of my career in two halves, in the first half of my career when I was learning about banking and in the process of becoming a banker, I didn’t really take career risks. I just progressed and fell into the next role and loved what I did. I loved my clients and just progressed naturally.

Then I went into my first real leadership role, where I was leading people directly, rather than leading a smaller team. Again, I progressed into that role – it was at GE.

But for me, the pivotal moment was when I was invited to go on a course “Leadership for women” in Asia, and it was brilliant. It was with 30 other women from around the region, and each and every one of them were amazing. The course challenged us to think about why we wanted to be leaders and whether we were actually choosing to lead, and actively taking risks, and opportunities challenges to get to the leadership positions.

Often at times you’re making difficult decisions about people and you’re often put in situations where it’s challenging and think, ‘why am I doing this’. But for me, the comradery of the women in that course and the ways in which we were challenged intrinsically about what motivated us and why we wanted to lead was pivotal. It was there that I realised, I wanted to take an active choice in progressing as a leader, because of my fascination with people and being a part of a bigger team.

It did truly motivate me and I realised that I did truly want to do this and put myself out there.

Diana Terry, Vice President, Asia Pacific Solution Engineering at Salesforce:

 I love the concept of risk. I was principal solutions engineer and loving my job, but there was a time in my career where I was tapped on the shoulder to lead Australia and New Zealand, but I said, ‘No! Why would I want to do that?’ It meant I would be in the spotlight. But it was clear. I decided ‘I’m big on taking risk’ and while it took some convincing, I had a crack at it.

In taking this role, I had the thought and question around where do I add value and how do I know I’m doing the right thing. But that’s the fun part and its intrinsic – I equate it to being a teacher – it’s that moment when you change someone’s path and motivate them to make a choice or make their live better and help them succeed. That was one of the biggest risks I took and do not regret it, and my pivotal moment was addressing the value question.

Corrine: There is a massive drop-off from mid to c-suite level roles. As you are all in senior roles, what have you recognised over time and what do you personally think are the reasons there aren’t as many women in these executive roles?

Dee McGrath, Managing Partner, GBS Australia & New Zealand at IBM:

 I work for a large service and technology company, and therefore the technical skills is where we struggle. In this part of the world, we struggle with STEM skills and women progressing a career in these fields. My gender diversity goals in the business is getting better but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be.

From an executive leadership role, I think women self-select at a certain level – and select out. I think they look at the environment and decide it’s not for them. But I also think we need to create the environment for women where they can step into those leadership roles and drive a different culture, a different perspective and a different environment in order to flourish.

Diana Terry, Vice President, Asia Pacific Solution Engineering at Salesforce:

 Salesforce has a huge focus on equality and in my personal career I’ve seen a lot of advancements of trying to push women forward into those senior roles. The thing that I feel makes the biggest difference is having a mentor – I can’t stress the importance of having a mentor enough. That’s the difference – having someone advocating for you and making space for you. I have six mentors and I can’t get enough.

I call it time travel – it’s like going back and getting snippets of the best parts of their career in 30 minutes, instead of having to learn those hard lessons on your own, and I think that’s the key to my success.

Cathy Yuncken, General Manager, St. George Banking Group:

When I think of my career out of university almost 30 years ago, there weren’t many women in leadership positions. However when I got to today, I have to say I thought there would be a lot more. It’s not just in leadership; but across the business ranks more broadly. It’s not what I would of expected and I ask myself this question as to why, a lot.

I see a number of factors of play including something I have done, which is consciously taking three career breaks over my time. No more than 12 months, but I have taken time out then chosen to go back into my career.

My second point would be around confidence. The reality is that I see so many strong and developed women who just don’t think they’re ready to make that next step or they need mentorship and need to be pulled through. At Westpac group we have amazing statistics around women in leadership and I’m proud to work for the company. However, we still sit in leadership meetings and look at the team maps and discuss how we pull more women through the ranks, and where are they.

It’s not until now in my career when I understand the importance and power of my network. What I have found later in my career, because my network has naturally grown, is that everyone helps each other, and that’s what it’s all about. Whether it’s us sitting in leadership positions saying to a young high potential women, ‘you can do this’ or whether its calling up someone we know saying, ‘you need to meet this person, she’s amazing’, we all need to be helping each other and helping each and every one of us to make that leap, that next step, and take the risk.

Cathy Yuncken, General Manager, St. George Banking Group.


Corinne: The concept of a female network is incredibly valuable, whether it’s this group or your normal organisations, we definitely see the benefit of that so thanks for bringing that back up. Let’s talk a little bit about some advice. I want to focus it on mid-career a little bit, again when you’re trying to get to that bigger role, what advice would you give to men and women in this room who are in that position?

Dee McGrath, Managing Partner, GBS Australia & New Zealand at IBM:

I have got fabulous women that I have worked with every day and most of which have gone into a different role and leadership position in the last six to 12 months, and that’s something that I’m proud of.

Just recently, I was reflecting on a conversation I had with a friend. We would occasionally provide some mentorship for each other; we both come from different organisations, different careers, and have different experiences. We were having lunch one day and she said to me, ‘I just don’t know what I have to do to actually get that next role. I work hard at what I do, I’m the top talent at the organization, but when it comes to the role, every time a male gets it and I don’t’. I said to her, ‘have you asked for it?’ and she said no.

Guess what? The next day, she went in and said, ‘I really want this’ and within six months she was in that role. My advice is don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. It’s really important whether it’s a role, whether its equity in pay. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. 

Cathy Yuncken, General Manager, St. George Banking Group:

When I was mid-career, I had a boss who was pretty tough on me during performance reviews. He gave me good feedback, but I also wanted to hear what the negative stuff was so that I could address it. The feedback that has stuck with me ever since, and something that many woman could identify with, is this streak of perfectionism. My boss said to me ‘your 95% is outstanding, so just let go of the perfectionism, because you waste so much time and energy on that last 5% and you don’t need to worry about it’.

It was such a switch for me. I have been able to let go and not waste so much time on that last 5% and actually get a lot better at not being as intense about my performance expectations. I guess that has helped me relax a lot more as a professional.

Diana Terry, Vice President, Asia Pacific Solution Engineering at Salesforce:

 Sometimes I would come up with my strategy or whatever it was (it could be anything) and I would share it with the people I needed to convince. If they had a different opinion or they said that’s not right, then I would be crushed. I would be like ‘I’m wrong and I’m an idiot’ in your own internal head. It’s taken me a long while, longer than I care to admit, to realise that it’s not wrong, it’s just different.

It’s their opinion and it’s my opinion and as long as I have all of the reasons why that’s my opinion and that’s my idea and my strategy, then that’s all that matters. It’s okay to have that confrontation. It did take quite a few years to be okay with that and work through it at a professional level, and not take it personally.

Corinne: I’m going to end on a more personal note and my next question is why do you want to be leaders? What has been driving you?

Cathy Yuncken, General Manager, St. George Banking Group:

 For me, it’s around working with people. I am curious and fascinated with people, teams and dynamics. I find it incredibly satisfying to be part of a team; getting to know each other, sharing experiences of achieving together in objectives and getting on with the job and delivering success with your clients. It might just be internally with the people that you work for, if you’re looking into cracking into a problem.

It’s very much about aligning that understanding of what motivates me, which is about working with people, creating and solving, and getting things done. Ultimately, if you’re creating value for your organisation and for your clients, then that’s the overall objective from a professional standpoint. I have learned and come to understand that leadership is just a wonderful way of building teams.

The other thing that I love about leadership from the later years of my career, was how much I learn from younger people. You can assume that you get to a level where you’re leading and therefore you’re the one who is bringing the wisdom. However, increasingly I am learning that it is actually more about bringing through the talent and the knowledge and understanding. It’s always wonderful, because you are always learning and seeing that grow. So that’s very motivating for me. 

Dee McGrath, Managing Partner, GBS Australia & New Zealand at IBM:

I’m going to be really open and admit that it in my younger years it was fear that drove me. What I learnt over time – I always say with the wrinkles comes a little bit of wisdom – is that playing to win is much better than playing not to lose.

What drives me now is that I love transforming things. I love making things better and I love fixing stuff. So it’s an absolute honour to lead the teams and see the team and the people flourish.

Diana Terry, Vice President, Asia Pacific Solution Engineering at Salesforce:

It really ticks my three values – relationships, helping others and having fun – which is like the crescendo of perfect. The other thing is that being in a leadership role means it’s always changing. Dealing with people and their challenges, and when they come to work they bring their whole self, all challenges, both personal and professional and I love the fact that there is no book for that. You’re navigating your own course, even though there is a lot of courses that you can take to help you. When you are in the situation, it is just you and that person it is extremely rewarding.

Diana Terry, Vice President, Asia Pacific Solution Engineering at Salesforce.


Audience question: Creating an environment and workplace that women can flourish. We use that word “environment” a lot, but what does it mean and what does it look like?

Dee McGrath, Managing Partner, GBS Australia & New Zealand at IBM:

For me it’s an environment that is inclusive, it’s an environment that’s very open to listening to different points of view and it’s an environment that recognises some of the bias in the organisation. Coming from very large organisations, I always say you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Do more listening and less talking. For me, it’s trying to create that environment and in large organisations that can be hard and that leadership needs to be pervasive.

Corinne Sklar, Chief Marketing Officer of Bluewolf:

I’m going to give my feedback on that and I think a lot of it is about a simple thing of starting to have the dialogue in your culture. One of the things that I’m really happy about with Eric Berridge, our Bluewolf CEO, is that he won’t sit on a panel unless it’s a mixed panel and there is diversity on the panel. That causes awareness and sometimes it’s about having dialogue in your organisation and feeling comfortable to have dialogue and awareness on these topics. For a male too to start being aware of it, hey I’m on a panel, let’s have this dialogue and bring awareness around these topics. I think more of us having the conversations in our culture and our organizations with each other is a simple thing, but I don’t think it’s been discussed as much as we all realise.  

Corinne Sklar, Bluewolf CMO


Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox