Building inspirational networks

Diana Shoolman, finance and accounting specialist, Investec BankThere is a growing global focus on increasing the number of women in the upper echelons of companies. However, to make this goal a reality, organisations need to help women build their networks, form valuable professional partnerships and secure trusted advisers. 

Diana Shoolman, finance and accounting specialist, Investec BankThere is a growing global focus on increasing the number of women in the upper echelons of companies. However, to make this goal a reality, organisations need to help women build their networks, form valuable professional partnerships and secure trusted advisers. 

In Australia, women are still under-represented at senior levels in the corporate sector. Indeed, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, since 2002, there has been “negligible change” in the number of women in the country’s executive ranks.

A recent study from consulting firm Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women (CEW, which represents over 260 female leaders in Australia) found that over half of women surveyed did not believe their workplace allowed women to progress to senior levels. The survey also found that despite women graduating from university at higher rates than men since 1985, men are nine times more likely to make it into the senior ranks of large corporations.

During my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with and be inspired by successful men and women in business – many in the accounting, tax and superannuation field. In my experience, to achieve business success, it’s necessary to have quality professional networks and mentors. So, to help more women move into the senior ranks of our profession, we should make sure we’re doing all we can to give women access to a growing base of inspiring professionals.

A number of organisations are already helping women build their business networks. It’s also a goal of my work at Investec.

Making a change

Regulatory and legislative changes are putting pressure on companies to increase the representation of women and become industry leaders. For instance, the Australian Securities Exchange now requires listed companies to disclose their gender diversity policies, including the number of women on boards, in senior executive roles and in the company as a whole.

Over time, these changes will hopefully result in more women occupying top positions such as CFOs, finance directors, and audit and tax partners. And to ensure this will happen, all organisations should focus on helping female employees in the following areas.

Building networks

Strong networks are the key to giving women access to mentoring, skill development, and career progression opportunities. It’s important that organisations hold, and encourage female staff to attend, events that bring together like-minded professionals at similar levels to foster the creation of high-level networks, and new business opportunities.

For instance, at Investec, we will be hosting regular Women in Accounting, Tax and Super events bringing together female CFOs, finance directors and financial controllers, and practitioners at the partner, director and manager levels.

It’s important that these events emphasise network building over socialising. Nicki Gilmour, founder and CEO of theglasshammer.com (an online community for female executives in financial services, law and business), says there needs to be a focus on bringing together high-level professionals with common interests at such events, rather than running more social functions.

Securing trusted advisers

Senior professionals are strongly focused on the needs of their clients and their business. In my experience, professionals may need their own trusted advisers to help them navigate professional and personal challenges, take advantage of career opportunities, and overcome roadblocks. This is where the role of a mentor can come into play.

Alice Kase is a senior partner at PwC in Sydney and says having a trusted mentor has been invaluable at critical points in her career.

“Knowing that I’m not alone in my experiences has given me a great deal of confidence to challenge the status quo and work through solutions to better balance my life,” she says. “We need to help women understand that our best is more than good enough.”


About Diana Shoolman

Diana Shoolman, finance and accounting specialist, Investec Bank

Diana Shoolman is a finance and accounting specialist at Investec Bank. She has been a Chartered Accountant for 20 years, with the past 5 years spent at the director level, with the last three at PwC.

Diana has an audit background and has been nominated for Telstra Businesswoman of the Year.

Diana’s current focus is Investec’s offering to CA and CPA clients.

Diana holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree, a post- graduate Diploma in Accounting and is also a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors.

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