Bronwyn Elverd is a Senior Employee Benefits Specialist at Cummins and an active member of the Lean In Melbourne community. She is knowledgeable, articulate and one of the amazing women in senior executive positions leading by example.
Here, we talk about her career in human resources, discuss the reasons behind the gender pay gap and small ways in which we can tackle the hurdles that arise in our effort to bridge that gap.
She also shares some of her wisdom about the importance of preparation before negotiation, introducing flexibility around parental leave and merging meritocracy with diversity.
Following are the excerpts from the interview.
What does lean in mean to you? Can you think of the first time in your professional life when you leaned in?
Lean In to me is a safe place. It’s a place where I receive support and kinship. I am challenged to view the issues impact progress in equality (not just gender). It’s a space where I am encouraged to ask ‘what can I do’ and ‘what impact can I make’.
I feel like I’ve been leaning in my entire life, I have just never had a term for it. My first professional role outside of university was in the not-for-profit and allowed me to report to two amazingly strong women, who had a passion for improving the lives of those around them. They put a lot of themselves into the work. That, combined with a strong work ethic instilled in me by my parents has helped create a passion for contributing to progress, especially in areas such as gender equality and women’s empowerment.
In the span of your 11-year long career in human resources, have you noticed any disparities in the way each gender approaches negotiation, be it for a higher salary, leave, bonuses and other employee benefits?
There is a hesitancy that exists. I read a LinkedIn article the other day that looked at how women look for jobs when compared to men. The point that resonated with me was that women tend to screen themselves out of contention. They feel the need to meet 100% of the criteria for a new job before applying for it while men will usually apply after meeting about 60%. I think this hesitancy would extend into any situation requiring negotiation.
Whenever I am asked about the best way to approach negotiating, I always recommend being prepared and doing your research. Go in prepared to argue your case and where they are available an understanding of your company’s policies. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming working the hardest is all you need and don’t talk yourself out of being your own advocate.
With the recent discussion regarding meritocracy and only hiring ‘the best person for the job’, what are some things you, in conjunction with other senior executives do in your role to ensure recruiting on the basis of merit, can coexist with equity and diversity?
Encouraging authentic and meaningful discussions about career development is essential and needs to be employee lead. No-one will care more about our careers than us. This sometimes means initiating the conversation with my leader about what’s next career-wise for me. This way I can be honest and clear about what/where and when I would be looking for my next development opportunity. I think this applies to anyone, no matter what stage of career they are.
The other side of the equation is that diversity has probably been undervalued in the past. With diversity comes different perspectives, skills, knowledge and styles and in this rapidly changing world, businesses need this for any hope of achieving sustainable competitive advantage. Part of this is critically examining the ‘essential competencies’ for a role with HR challenging leaders and Senior Executives to lead by example. Do you really need 10 years of experience and who are you potentially excluding by asking for that?
Compared to a number of developed countries, we noticed Australia is indeed progressive in terms of their policies outlining parental leave and flexible working. However, we still have a long way to attain 100% equity. As someone who handles benefits for companies, what do you think are some of the hurdles in our way to achieving that equality?
Businesses are operating so lean now that benefits such as parental leave and flexible working arrangements present a new set of challenges in workforce planning. There exists a precarious balance between business needs and meeting employee (and potential employees) expectations. Creating a business case that demonstrates these benefits have a return on investment that makes them a smart business choice continues to be a challenge. Not all benefits can be easily quantified in terms of positive business impact, which can make it a hard sell given the likely immediate impact on the bottom line.
Is there more we can do to close the gap? To perhaps change perceptions and create a more level playing field for the next generation of women in the workplace?
We are on the right path, but education and challenging the norms will continue to be the key.
Increase the use of analytics to demonstrate business performance on gender-based statistics. Is equal pay offered for work of equal or comparable value? How many leadership roles are held by women?
Remove barriers for women to actively participate in the workplace. Progressive policies on parental leave and flexible work arrangements will promote the inclusion of non-traditional family dynamics.
Getting into schools and increasing internships/traineeships/apprenticeships opportunities will empower more people to try out careers they would not have traditionally considered in the past.
I really struggle to identify any one person as the ‘greatest’ role model in my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to work closely with many strong, independent and passionate people and every one of them has contributed to the person I am today. From the friends I’ve had since kindergarten to the manager who took a leap of faith and offered me my first professional role, they are indelible and now a permanent part of me. What every one of these people in my life has taught me is that relationships matter. We can be strong and confident in ourselves but it is so much better with great role models around you, the ones that are willing to be open to sharing their knowledge and experience and be willing to build up and not tear you down.
If you were given access to a time machine to change your career path, which path would you choose?
I am really content with where I am in my career right now. Every job, every leader and every choice I have made has helped me learn more about myself and others. If I was given a time machine, I’d probably want to go back and visit ancient Egypt or something equally fascinating but would still make the same life and career choices I have.
Which is the most empowering quote you’ve heard/read?
For a Lean In chapter meeting, we were asked to find a quote or mantra we found inspiring this is one I like to share regularly!
“I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of “WOW, I’m not really sure I can do this,” and you push through that moment, that’s when you have A BREAKTHROUGH”. ~ Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo”