Suzanne Smith has worn many hats throughout her career and, after taking the top prize at the 2018 Women in Financial Services Awards, the MLC Life chief customer officer, group insurance, can now add Woman of the Year to her list of achievements.
Starting off her career as a nurse, Smith made what she describes as a “huge leap” into the hyper-masculine world of property valuation before working her way through the financial services industry.
This diversity appealed to the Woman of the Year judges, who pointed to the fact that Smith had “come up through a variety of channels” as key to her success.
“It’s interesting too that she was headhunted to be part of the MLC Life move because of her track record of taking things outside the conventions of the industry,” one judge said.
During her time within financial services, Smith says that she has seen some improvement in how women are represented and treated.
“Strong women are increasingly being characterised by their capability and what they say, not how they look,” she says, although she admits that there’s “still a bit of that”.
She believes there is still much to do, however, especially in terms of the representation of women in senior ranks. And “while we didn’t cause the problem, it’s still our [women’s] problem to deal with”.
Smith finds mentoring a key means of responding to this issue, with offering support, encouragement and guidance to early-career women being part of what she enjoys most about working with young or more junior women.
She also believes that businesses and society more generally need to enable men to work more flexibly to see more women in senior roles.
“We need to make being the primary caregiver as a man okay,” Smith says, saying the fact that her partner has been the primary caregiver in her family for the last 10 years has been instrumental in her professional advancement.
Women themselves can also help in their advancement. Smith finds, for example, that women tend to downplay themselves, “second-guessing everything and seeking validation”. To break this cycle, she says that “we’ve just got to start saying thank you and accepting the praise” instead of denying it or passing the credit onto others.
Most of all, she believes that women should “be themselves and be what women are” rather than try to fit into expectations that have been created by and for men.
Smith hopes that by seeing someone like her, “someone who is just really normal and ordinary”, succeeding as she is will help make young women believe that they can do the same.