6 Minutes With Ann Sherry

One of Australia's most successful female leaders shares career advice, leadership hacks and how to improve gender outcomes for women at work.

By Angela Ledgerwood


One of Australia's most successful female leaders shares career advice, leadership hacks and how to improve gender outcomes for women at work.

By Angela Ledgerwood

Ann Sherry has more than a few notches on her belt. As the first woman to be appointed to CEO of a bank in New Zealand, and now the Chairman of Carnival Australia and Non-Executive Board Director at National Australia Bank, Ann has to be one of Australia’s most successful female leaders. Not only has she forged her own career, but she has also fought for women’s rights along the way. We sat down with Ann to pick her brains on leadership and gender equality for a profile on this notable woman, but the conversation included so many gems that we couldn’t resist sharing a few more here. Here’s what she had to say.


Making Parental Leave A Reality For Men

“Real parental leave equality happens when men take it at the same rate as women. So the whole idea of shifting away from just maternity leave to parental leave was to give men the opportunity to spend time with their kids when they’re born and young. And in lots of parts of the world where there’s a much greater equality, men spend time with their children. In Australia, most companies have it as policy that very, very few men take up. And that’s a cultural issue. That is culture. That’s a management culture issue. It’s a peer culture issue. Because when I talk to young men, they all say they want to do it, but then in their company, even though there’s policy, it may or may not be that accessible in reality. Parental leave for men should be an expectation. Because you will never sort out the share of domestic labor unless men spend more time at home with the kids. But you’ve got to get permission from companies. And I’m not sure that’s happening.”


From Pay Equity To Flexible Work

“Now at least companies are reporting on and measuring pay equity and doing more to fix it. At least big companies are, because they’re aware of the public visibility. The challenge now is how do you manage policy? So if I’ve come back from my parental leave and I want a bit of flexibility, is that really available? Or is it just written in policy while within the business everyone I work with goes, ‘Oh, we can’t really manage that, so you either do this or you go.’ So I think there’s a lot more of that, that is visible.”



Working To Different Leadership Styles

“I think you learn as you move from job to job, industry to industry. You adapt for your environment. Because the same style is not as effective everywhere. So that’s the nuance. I do use those tools [like Myers Briggs or personality tests]. There’s always the opportunity to get the group together and have them understand each other, and each other’s style preferences. That helps people understand me too because sometimes people go, ‘Well, you’re exhausting. You’re moving from one thing to another really quickly. I haven’t even thought about the first thing.’ That’s always good for me to reflect on.”

“I know that I have people who work for me who, in fact, don’t respond to challenges, or questions, or issues straight up. They’ve actually got to go away and think about them and then come back. Whereas I’m quick. If you give me something, I want a decision, I’ll think about it in 30 seconds and answer it. Whereas other people don’t necessarily operate that way. They can find that incredibly stressful. And it doesn’t make their quality of decision-making any less valuable. It just means they come to it in a different way. So it’s useful for teams to understand each other well so that we play to each other’s strengths and we understand each other’s preferences. So they’re not frustrated with me making a decision every 10 seconds and running ahead thinking, ‘How do we ever? It feels chaotic.’ And I’m not frustrated with them going, ‘God, they’re all so slow.’ Because there’s a balance in all of that about the quality of decision making and us being absolutely on the same page. So I think that stuff is quite important.”


Blind Shortlisting In Recruiting

“When some companies that seem unable to find any women move to blind recruitment, astonishingly their shortlist becomes 50/50. That hasn’t been an issue at Carnival because we’ve been deliberate about it forever. We have some areas though where we have to look really hard to find women, in the engineering areas and shipping areas. And in fact, in some areas you know there are very few women globally for some of those roles. So where that’s the case we’ve actually started a women in maritime program globally to try and bring more women into the industry, particularly to drive ships, because we’re one of the few companies that do have ship captains who are women, but there’s only a handful. Good ideas come from everywhere. And if you’re not getting women through, it’s not that there are no women. We all know there are women with capability in almost every area. It’s not that there are no women, it’s just either you haven’t looked hard enough, you’re completely blind to the women in front of you or you’ve got bias in the way you’re selecting. You’ve got to change the system. And by the way, people are biased as well.”


Australia’s Racial Diversity Challenge

“Racial diversity is an area where we haven’t had as much conversation. While there is a lot of diversity in Australia, it’s pocketed. It’s just not as inclusive across the board as it is in some of the big cities like New York and London.”


Making Time For The Sweet Stuff

“I spend time in my garden because it’s earths me. I grow my vegetables. It’s meditative and I can see the product of my labor very quickly. So it’s something very therapeutic. Watering your garden, weeding, growing stuff. So that’s one of my meditative issues. I also read and read and read and read. I read as I go to bed, I read when I’m on holidays, I read on planes, and I read books from all sorts of genres. I’ve been in book clubs for years. Which means you read stuff you wouldn’t normally come across, but I love reading. And I think that gives you insight into all sorts of things as well as being a good way to disconnect. I spend time with family. I actually like cooking. I like spending time in the kitchen. I like having friends over for dinner. I like feeding people. For the rest of it, I’m organized. I’m really organized. So I work out what I need to do in what period of time, and I structure my days, weeks around that. That’s how I get stuff done.”