Fancy being the General Manager some day? Or just keen to know their secrets to success?Then we’d like to introduce you to Karen Stoffels.
A woman whose impressive career spans 30 years and three countries. Karen has held senior roles including Finance Manager, CFO and General Manager with world-class companies and she is currently the General Manager of Finance at MMG Limited, the global resources company with headquarters right here in Melbourne. Karen is currently based in Melbourne with her husband and son.
We asked Karen for her views and advice on success at a multi-national company, gender diversity and quotas, and why it's so important to get out of your comfort zone.
On targets to achieve greater gender diversity…
I, personally, am quite comfortable with it. If you don’t measure it, things don’t improve. So (without targets) we could well be sitting here in 20 years, with 5-15% representation from women in senior positions.
I feel even if the target was to go from 10% to 30% to get some critical mass, there is a place for it. Naturally, I believe in recruiting based on merit, but I don’t think the business world is necessarily recruiting on merit now.
If it were, you wouldn’t be in a situation where you had so few women in senior roles.
So I would start with that. If we did recruit on merit, what would our leadership team look like? I would like to peel back that onion.
On more active diversity measures, such as minimum 50% of women interviewed for senior roles…
I am supportive of that.
Again, as you are recruiting on merit, I think having a bigger pool can only be good.
I do see at times that search firms are required to get representation of women on their short list. I am not too concerned that they are creating their short lists considering gender.
If that gives you the opportunity to get in front of the search firm and gets you started, I think that is positive. It’s still up to you to ‘wow’ them.
On being a role model to other women…
Because my style is quite natural and I haven’t ‘adapted,’ women actually do watch and see me as a sort of role model. Which surprised me, as I just get on with things and often forget people are watching!
Lots of people have commented on this and I think part of it is because I am a fairly open leader. I have had people say it’s really nice to have women doing things a different way.
I can also be pretty ruthless! But I have never changed myself to fit a corporate persona.
On staying feminine in male-dominated industries...
What you see is what you get. I am the same person on the weekends as on weekdays, which keeps me happy in my work. I am never tired when I leave work, which means I must be in the zone. If I do change my behaviour it’s usually to bring about a certain outcome.
I have always been quite vocal, and I actually find that is an advantage.
Also, the fact that I have never really felt pressure to perform has given me a lot of freedom. I have never felt trapped. I have also always taken a lot of risks. I haven’t been afraid of participating in tough conversations.
I worked at Orica for nearly 25 years…
But I changed roles every two to three years. I would definitely encourage people to keep moving. In most of the roles I took at Orica, I initially would either know no-one or would know one or two people. So in that respect, I had to re-invent myself for every role.
My advice is to always keep moving, keep fresh.
I think if you move every 2-3 years it also helps you stay innovative…
Unless you are a specialist, in, for example, a scientific field, I think you can make your biggest impact in three years.
Also, if you have that timeframe in mind you tend to move at a good pace. You learn how to hit the ground running. You learn how to survey the landscape quickly. You learn how to innovate.
I would definitely encourage people to try to figure out what is the right cycle time for them.
I believe in getting people out of their comfort zone.
On knowing when it’s the right time to make a move…
When it comes to career, I’m a risk person. I’ve always taken roles knowing that I might fail. I think you have to keep growing.
If you are asking the question, you are probably ready to make the move.
On family life and balance…
I’m very lucky; my husband is a stay-at-home dad. He was a civil engineer and we made that decision 15 years ago.
I think there are a lot of ways to strike a balance. But I do think, something’s got to give. You can do it a lot of different ways but (family life) is something we wouldn’t be prepared to give up.
One piece of advice…
I think if you have the opportunity to get into a big company early on, take it. It’s easier to go from big to small than the other way around.
A tip I would give my younger self is to get into a bigger company early.
I am still relying on things I learned in my first 10 years and some of these tips I still use today.
On getting senior exposure…
I was on management teams at the age of 20 (at ICI). As the graduate accountant I would sit in with senior management, even though sometimes I had no idea what was going on! But you just learn from people around you. You become a sponge.
And big companies can have these people with great international experience.
Then years later, when you are in a leadership position and it all comes back to you. I am still using things I learned 20 year ago.
I would suggest other women build their external networks as much as their internal ones.
Don’t lose focus on the market and stay marketable!
What I would tell my 25 year old self...
- Watch and learn
- Get to know yourself really well
- Be value driven
- Keep a file of all of any good work you see - great presentations, etc. I am always referring to mine
- Stay competitive & stay marketable. It’s good for your company that you are marketable