Leading Women
Leading Women
Apr 11, 2021
Sian Lewis, Group Executive of Human Resources Commonwealth Bank on career sequencing, the power of transferable skills and making brave calls
Play • 27 min

This episode, Shadé Zahrai interviews Sian Lewis. Sian is the Group Executive Human Resources of Commonwealth Bank. She was also the Founding Director of Way Forward, General Manager of Westpac, Director of Atos Consulting, Director of Change and Program Management of KPMG and UK Service Manager of Bupa.


Valuable Discussion Points

(02:11) What are Sian’s thoughts on the death of the office and the next normal when it comes to our environment at work?

Sian thinks the death of the office has been a little exaggerated. She thinks that we have to remember that we didn't organise work this way because we didn't like it. It’s been a long time since the Industrial Revolution that we all had to gather around big machines. And yet we have chosen to work in office spaces and in places where we can join with each other. As we look forward to the types of work that human beings are going to be doing, a lot of the kind of more menial, more repetitive tasks are going to be automated, digitised, and we won't have to do them. The things that human beings are going to need to focus on are really complex problems. They're bringing their knowledge and their skills together, but no one person has the answer. The office will change in the way that we've perceived it. It isn't going to be a place to go so that your units of time can be measured and managed. It's actually going to be a place you go because you want to be with other people.


(08:29) What are insider tips that Sian can share around navigating a new era where virtual meets physical environments and where flexible work is the norm?

She thinks there's enough flexibility with remote working now. People are much more open to the fact that careers are not linear and you'll have multiple different experiences to really think about what's right for you now.


(14:08) What can guidance does Sian have, especially for women who might be earlier on in their journey, who are in a rush to move as fast as they can?

Take a deep breath. It's a marathon, not a sprint. You're going to be working for a very long time.

There is no ideal path.


(17:51) What are Sian’s views on why women tend to advance in industries like HR and marketing?

The starting place has got to be these industries have been gendered by happenstance, not because there are any innate abilities in men or women that make them particularly suited. Sian says that because of this gendering that we've had, women have tended to see themselves as more creative, more empathetic, using those softer skills and therefore HR, marketing, PR, those kinds of careers have seemed to fit the skills that we are stereotypically given.


Key Learnings

  • They've done a lot of research as we've gone through the pandemic about Zoom and you get the same kind of anxiety and performance nerves that you get if you're going to a meeting face-to-face, but you don't get any of the endorphins that you get from being with other people.
  • Most innovations occur because someone goes, oh, that's really interesting, let's go and explore that. And that can happen as you meet each other in an office kitchen or you're working together on collaboration and something sparked the interests of one or two or three people. So I think connection, collaboration, innovation will mean that the office is still a very important part of all of our working lives
  • Sian added gratitude to the Leadership Toolbox. By counting her lucky stars on a pretty regular basis, it actually makes her quite resilient.


Quotable Quotes

“I think people have to think very carefully about their own personal need for connection. Where do they get their energy from and how do they make sure that they keep that energy level topped up because working at home can be a very isolating experience.” – Sian Lewis

“Certainly my career has not been linear. I've taken sideways moves on at least four occasions in my career, and that's largely because I was always looking for something that added to my skill set and my flexibility, rather than looking for the next rung on the ladder or the next title or salary bump. And I think that's useful to think about as well because transferable skills are incredibly important and if you can build those up over time in the experiences you're building, you leave yourself with many more options when it comes to your next career step.” – Sian Lewis

“It's difficult to really feel that you can't handle the next crisis when you actually start to reflect on the great opportunities you've been given and certainly that's helped me keep some perspective when times get a bit sticky.” – Sian Lewis


Important Resources and Links

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 Leading Women podcast, Shadé Zahrai helps women hack their careers to advance faster, overcome their limiting beliefs and confidently create the life they deserve. She is featured in Forbes, the New York Times, TED, Daily Mail and other media. If you’re interested in learning more about Shadé and the issues she’s currently discussing, visit https://www.shadezahrai.com

The Leading Women podcast is produced by Nicole Hatherly, recorded at RadioHub Studios with post production by Cooper Silk and Iain Wilson.

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