This episode, Catherine interviews Su McCluskey and Hannah Wandel.
Su is currently Commissioner of the National COVID-19 Advisory Board, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Director of the Australasian Pork Research Institute, the NSW Marketing Board and the Australian Unity Limited.
Hannah is the Acting Executive Director, Drought Policy and Programs of the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, CEO Advisory Panel Member of the Commonwealth Bank and Chair and CEO of Country to Canberra.
[00:49] How important was it for Su to have lived in a regional area in shaping her priorities and values?
For Su, living in a regional area has given her a different perspective. As she does a lot of work in the cities, she is very conscious of helping people understand that when it comes to regional areas, they are very diverse, and one size does not fit all in regard to solutions. The decisions made by board members affect those right across the country so it’s important to include the perspectives of people not just from cities but also from more regional areas.
[09:23] What is Su’s experience with the COVID Commission Advisory Board?
For Su, being a part of this particular board has been a unique and wonderful opportunity to be able to provide business insights and perspectives directly to the Prime Minister. She has worked in government and she knows that in government you've got a lot of people who can work on really good policy proposals but it's important to look at the practical side in terms of how things will work in practice. In times of crisis like we have now, you don't have the time to be able to put something in place and say, let's see how this goes. You have to have a greater level of confidence that what you’re putting in place is actually going to work, make a difference and address the challenges you're trying to fix.
[11:23] What is the one thing Su wished she had known when she started out?
For Su, it was hard to learn how to say no. She thinks this is a really important thing for people to think about when they're looking to take on board roles. Individuals need to ask themselves, are you going to be the right fit? Are you going to be able to constructively contribute? Will this just look good on your portfolio? Additionally, individuals need to probe the company about how the role aligns with their own values.
[13:59] What can Hannah tell us about the Country to Canberra programme?
Hannah truly believes that living in regional, rural and remote Australia is an asset and something that really should be celebrated. However she also noticed there were some additional challenges that kids growing up in the country were facing when it came to distance, time, funding barriers and inequality between the opportunities kids in the country could access compared to their city counterparts. When you compound this with gender issues, she decided she wanted to do something to empower young women from rural areas. Through the Country to Canberra programme, these young women are supported to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve.
[17:46] What Hannah had to address when she was a young woman on the board?
Hannah was really nervous sitting on my first board and she really didn't know what to expect. Fortunately, she had incredible training and undertook some courses but as time went on, she had some great mentors and people who really reinforced her skills and capabilities. It wasn't always easy though and there were times where her youth was seen as something that wasn't to be valued or she was seen as the token young person. She even got introduced once to a group of people as the young person, which she didn't appreciate because she felt she had a lot more to value. Her experience of being a young woman on a board has taught her the importance of having these voices heard.
[21:07] What is the one thing Hannah wished she had known when she started out?
The one thing Hannah really wishes she knew is not to be scared to be part of a board. There are various fiduciary duties and a lot of really important things that you need to know so it’s important to do your due diligence, but at the heart of it, it’s about having common sense. There is a huge level of important issues you've got to deal with it, but at the end of the day, it's about managing yourself well, showing leadership and ensuring the values of an organisation are upheld.
Choosing a board role can be very difficult, you have to know not only when to say no but also how to say no. It is important to ask yourself if you are going to be a right fit.
“…when it comes to the regions, they are very diverse. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to solutions – Su McCluskey
“... if you've got a board that agrees then you haven't got diversity because you actually want challenge and you want differences, view but that you have the ability to then be able to come to a decision that everyone's comfortable with.” – Su McCluskey
“Often the strain on women at that point of their life is really quite intense. You've got to look at parental duties, school duties, work duties and what I would also say is there are so many talented women in that demographic, whether it's their 20s or 30s.” – Hannah Wandel
“There were a couple of times where my youth was seen as something that wasn't to be valued or I was seen as the token young person. I even got introduced once where there was X person who was the legal specialist, another person who was the tax specialist. She is Hannah, she's the young person and I didn't appreciate that because I felt I had a lot more to value but that said, having young people's voices on boards is really important. You know at the moment, we're seeing a situation where young people's employment due to COVID, young people's futures are really, you know, it's a challenging time. It's important that we focus on young people, but also young people have incredible skills when it comes to social media, digital skills coding, a lot of things that we could really utilise on boards. So for me, I felt really eager to contribute. I felt like as time went on, I was offered more and more opportunities. I think sometimes it's just about getting a foot in the door, having a few people that believe in you and it and it continues from there” – Hannah Wandel
On public service, “when you really care about your community or, you know, the economy or social issues, it's a great way to give back but also make a living and be able to contribute.” – Hannah Wandel
Important Resources and Links
If you would like to gain knowledge in governance, and develop as a director in your industry or field, visit https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/.
If you would like to learn more about how CommBank is ensuring women are advancing their growth in business, visit https://www.commbank.com.au/women-in-focus.html.
Host of the Board Level podcast, Catherine Fox is one of Australia’s leading commentators on women and the workforce. If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine and the issues she’s currently discussing, visit https://www.abc.net.au/news/catherine-fox/5244818.
If you’re interested in connecting with Su McCluskey and Hannah Wandel or viewing their professional portfolios and achievements, visit their LinkedIn via