In this episode, we meet Nicolette Rubinsztein, President of the Actuaries Institute and professional board member.
Nicolette is a qualified actuary and is currently a non-executive director at UniSuper and SuperEd. She has previously held senior positions in the corporate world at Colonial First State, BT Funds Management, and Towers Perrin.
She received two awards for her contribution to superannuation policy: an inaugural FSC Industry Excellence Award and an ASFA Distinguished Service Award.
But her proudest achievement is, without doubt, raising her three gorgeous girls.
In this episode we talk about:
- The resilience learnt from losing her job twice due to overnight industry changes;
- How to balance work with motherhood without feeling guilty or putting your career on hold;
- Why lower confidence in females has led to a lower uptake of STEM careers; and
- Overcoming busyness as parents and the concept of “career mum staff”.
Connecting with Nicolette
Thanks to Jonathan Rubinsztein for recommending Nicolette.
On a story from her childhood that impacted her life
- I had come from England and it was an incredibly eye-opening experience to see what was going on in South Africa. It was full-on Apartheid: separate buses, separate beaches, separate schools, separate areas. I still find it almost traumatising. So, part of what we do now is that we’ve been supporting a charity in a township called Missionvale for about 15 years, and I’ve taken the kids now a couple of years volunteering there.
On the guilt of raising children
- Our generation, we were really taught, the world is your oyster, go off and do whatever you want. And I think many of us did. And then it comes to the having children bit and you realise having a career and being a mother is actually really hard, and no one really told me about how you could do both of these things. And I think the guilt comes from a work point of view because you worry that you’re not delivering 100%, and it’s guilt from a mother point of view that you feel guilty that you’re not being the best mum possible.
- I think the most important one is around the childcare and what role each of you is going to play in the childcare: what percentage of that child’s time do you want that child to be with a parent as opposed to in some sort of care? Then you’re able to work out how each of you can contribute to that. I think you would want more than half of your child’s life to be with a parent.
- The ultimate model would be actually both parents working flexibly and part-time. And if you both do the equivalent of that four days a week, it means that your child will only be in three days of care a week. I have seen more and more couples doing it.
On life’s chapters
- My mom was a stay-at-home mom until her early 40s. She raised four children, and then she set up her own insurance broking business when she was about 42. She’s still running it and she’s 75! So she is a great example of focusing on one thing more than another at different phases of your life.
- That means really being clear about what your goals are, and what’s important to you at each stage of your life. When my children were young they were my number one priority and work was my second priority. A strategy is all about making trade-offs.
- And I really think that your values become so much more apparent when you have children. It’s about what values you’re going to raise your children with. What do you want them to have out of life?
On putting your career on hold
- When I look back, I think I’ve effectively put my career on hold probably for about 10 years while I was having children, and actually, I’ve been working flexibly for the last 15 years. I feel really good about that decision. It was fantastic.
- I talk to mums about taking a long-term perspective; what are your goals in life and what’s important to you? Those old-styled goals of achievement and money and success at work are not the be-all and end-all. A lot of our happiness comes from relationships, from our family, and the search for inner peace if you like.
On beating the busyness epidemic
- It’s a weird thing that when you say to somebody, “How are you?” “Busy.” Busy is a standard response. Isn’t that really worrying?
- So, how do you counter it? There’s a brilliant book called The Rushing Woman’s Syndrome by Dr Libby Weaver. Credit to the author for calling it an epidemic, but it is, because she kept seeing lots and lots of people in the same mould.
- The only antidote is to work out what’s important to you and prioritising based on that.
- The other thing that I think is a really good life skill is meditation and mindfulness because I think that really allows you to zoom out a bit and work out what you’re doing and why, and just calm your life down a bit.
- Also, I’d exercise in the morning, say 5.30am, before the children woke up.
On confidence in women and how to gain it
- Women’s confidence can be lower than men’s confidence because men have more testosterone than women; simply understanding this goes a long way to help.
- I’ve just read another book – Stop Fixing Women by Kathryn Fox – and her point is that a lot of this gender diversity debate focuses too much on fixing women eg. how do you improve confidence? But there’s not enough on how to improve structures within organisations and management to improve diversity.
- Also, understand that lots of men lack confidence too; it’s not something solely in women.
- The study that I’ve done – qualifying as an actuary and doing an MBA – proved to me that I can do it. Getting older has made me more confident by getting more experience.
- I also speak to my husband. I’m often amazed if I go to him and we have a chat about a business issue or whatever it may be, I’m often amazed at how different his approach is to mine.
- Some of the common skills that many women bring to the table are empathy and being customer-centric. But another key one is risk management.
On outsourcing your life/career mum staff
- The message here about “career mum staff” is about dividing and conquering, and allocating responsibility.
- Also, when it comes to outsourcing, Australian career women are very slow to take on the needed domestic help that you really need to thrive.
- These very capable women in the workplace are hiring and firing, but when it comes to their own domestic arrangements, they don’t seem proactive at setting things up.
- I think for many successful career moms, their partner is a very important part of the equation. Not just in terms of the tasks that they do and share, but in terms of being supportive of their partner.
- I think particularly in your early career, perfectionism is a great thing and it’s often the reason why many of us are successful. But it comes with a whole load of issues and one of those is sharing the role with your partner and letting them do it their way. I think we have to drop some of those perfectionistic standards and just take a deep breath and share the workload.
On females in STEM careers
- This issue starts very early and girls are 25% less confident in maths than boys, despite girls being biologically as good at math as boys.
- So why are only 33% of our fellows in the actuarial profession, female? If we look at the percentage of students at University studying actuarial, it’s a third female. Then if you go right the way back to the beginning of the pipeline at school, it’s also a third. Our key conclusion was that until we increase the percentage of kids doing Advanced Math, we’re not going to improve gender diversity in actuaries or probably many other STEM careers.
- One of the reasons is confidence; I’m quite optimistic because there’s some research that shows that some training around a growth mindset can actually address those confidence issues.
- Another is a gender stereotyping issue – we’re really not encouraging our girls to do maths at school as a society and as a culture.
- There is a strong message for parents of daughters about encouraging them to do those STEM subjects, particularly because the research suggests that 75% of future jobs will require STEM skills.
Final message of wisdom and hope
- I would like the next generation to redefine feminine leadership, which I think is a lot more about being yourself in the workplace and bringing some of those traditional female traits to the board tables and management tables. That’s some of those traits that I was mentioning earlier around empathy, compassion, customer focus, team-based behaviour. I think we have a lot to offer and we should just have the confidence to be ourselves and bring those skills to the work.
Other books mentioned in the podcast