Mary Delahunty, head of impact at HESTA, said it took her a while to find a home in financial services that lived up to her social values – and it was somewhat accidental that home turned out to be in superannuation.
“When you’re learning finance, banking, etc. at school and university, the curriculum doesn’t really cover superannuation,” Delahunty said.
“I knew I liked the concepts in financial services, I liked how enabling finance can be to build better societies, but I didn’t have an understanding of how superannuation could contribute to that.”
The more she was exposed to the culture and ethos of industry funds she realised it was where she wanted to work.
“The understanding and appreciation of the size and social license of the industry funds in particular was news to me,” Delahunty said.
To her, working for an industry super fund meant never losing sight of their actual purpose, which included a strong culture.
“We have a really strong culture given how the industry funds came about as a result of industrial unrest,” Delahunty said.
The Royal Commission gave some vindication for the way industry funds had operated, which was no shock for HESTA.
“I think undoubtedly you can see from the way the Royal Commission rolled out that our culture held strong,” Delahunty said.
“The way in which we operate and make decisions all aligned with our purpose, and that became clear the more the Royal Commission went through the findings.”
For organisations with strong cultural practices, it was more than having a handbook policy, it was putting those policies into practice.
“HESTA is that type of employer where you don’t need to have the values painted on the walls because you feel it when you walk in,” Delahunty said.
“I vividly remember being interviewed by the then chief executive who was a woman, the deputy CEO – who’s now the current CEO – who was a woman, and the head of people and culture who was also a woman.
“We have policies in place that signal our values, like gender blind parental leave schemes.
“Regardless of what gender you are, if you’re the primary carer for a child, there is a period of time you can access parental leave.”
A previous winner of Advocate of the Year for Money Management’s and Super Review’s 2018 Women in Financial Services awards, she had worked hard to do her part to improve the industry.
Although there was still much left to be done, she said, women should open their mind to working in superannuation.
“For women, it remains unfinished business because systemically it’s really not serving women with broken work patterns,” Delahunty said.
“There’s a lot of work done by people who understand what a women’s working life actually looks like.”
Delahunty wanted there to be increased focus at university level to help women see the career path they could have in industry funds.
“We want to build diverse teams that bring in different viewpoints, the only way we can really do that is by reaching out to people who may not have thought of superannuation as a career,” Delahunty said.
“We need to see changes not just at the board level in financial services in terms of diversity and representation, but also through the pipeline.”
The industry still needed to adapt to the broken work patterns of women, particularly when it came to child care.
Pay gap issues, whether it was difference in salary or the final superannuation account balances for women, was another concern.
“Financial services still has a massive pay gap so for us to be advocating about pay equality, and especially in the retirement space about what that does to gender equality in retirement, we need to have a good hard look at our own house,” Delahunty said.
“Making sure all financial services companies, just as HESTA does, actually report and monitor their pay gap and take action to close it.
“This is one of the most crucial things we can do to make sure that we are getting talented women into this area.”