Alena Bennett CA recently started learning paddleboarding with her young daughters and she sees it as a poignant analogy for career progression, learning and leadership.
“They have seen me fall into the water loads of times and they laugh like crazy, but I love that they also see me getting back up again,” she says. “I reckon that's a really good life lesson.”
Bennett is a leadership consultant based in Umina on the NSW Central Coast. She had her first taste of this career path 13 years ago.
As a senior audit manager for KPMG in San Francisco, Bennett was tasked to train other auditors. She realised that she loved doing this and wanted to focus her career in that direction. “This experience set me up to do what I do now,” she says.
Learning from clients
Working with senior finance professionals has helped her learn about herself. “I feel very humbled and privileged when they share their stories, and I act as a bit of a confidant,” she says. “When I hear their challenges, it also encourages me to grow so that I can be of service and deliver the value and support they need to grow their professional career.”
During this past year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many senior finance leaders demonstrated their leadership skills. “I think it is exciting that CFOs and finance professionals got to be in the spotlight,” she says.
“They were the ones driving that organisational performance. Many were crunching cash flows and forecasts themselves on a daily basis, to ensure companies survived without laying off hundreds of thousands of people.”
Women in finance
"When we know our purpose and can demonstrate we have the skills and capabilities that give us that executive presence, that's when confidence emerges."
Female accountants and financial planners are still a minority in the workplace and face unique challenges, she says.
“We don't speak up when we've got a great idea. Fear, self-doubt and lack of confidence holds us back. So often our voice isn't heard and we don't get those opportunities because people don't see us,” she says.
Her solution is to encourage women to find a purpose. “The future for women in finance and business is really exciting. When we know our purpose and can demonstrate we have the skills and capabilities that give us that executive presence, that's when confidence emerges,” she says.
Running her own consultancy business and having a young family, means that Bennett has tried hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance. She’s a massive planner and puts all her personal and professional dates into one calendar.
“Sometimes, I let my boundaries down to allow me to help others,” she says. “And so it is a constant challenge. It's a bit like a pendulum where you swing yes, I've got balance, no, I don't have balance.”
The most important thing for Bennett now is to show her daughters that any career choice is possible. “I want to show them what success looks like, but also that it's okay to try something and fail.”
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