Kelly’s tip to women: back yourself

Gail Kelly’s advice to young women wanting to work their way up the corporate ladder is simple: back yourself and have a go.

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The outgoing Westpac boss says there have been many times throughout her stellar banking career that she wasn’t ready for the next step up.

But she’s glad she kept taking those leaps forward.

After beginning her banking career in South Africa in 1980, Ms Kelly held many senior executive roles, including at the Commonwealth Bank, before being appointed chief executive of St George Bank in 2002, and then Westpac six years later.

“All of those were really big step ups for me,” she told reporters on Thursday after her surprise retirement announcement.

“In lots of ways, at the time I was appointed I really didn’t think I was ready for those jobs. But that’s the thing, you grow into jobs like these.”

Ms Kelly is only one of a handful of women CEOs leading Australia’s top listed companies.

While she expects more women will fill such roles in the future, Ms Kelly fears many often wait to be 100 per cent ready before putting their hand up for promotion.

“My advice and counsel to women … is back yourself, be prepared to have a go, be prepared to put your hand up before you think you are ready for a role,” she said.

“There are people out there who want to support you. Ask for the opportunities, dig deep when those opportunities come your way and have a go.”

In the past four years Westpac has increased the number of women in leadership positions to 44 per cent.

But the same cannot be said of many other companies.

Figures compiled by Women on Boards found just 18.5 per cent of board positions at Australia’s top 100 listed companies were held by women in 2013.

In 2012, just 12 CEO jobs at the top 500 companies were held by women, according to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.

Only seven of those women headed top 200 companies.

Ms Kelly said she looked forward to more women taking on corporate Australia’s top jobs.

“And I fully expect that will be the case over the next several years,” she said.

But only, perhaps, if more women follow Ms Kelly’s lead and back themselves.