Super Informed Radio episode #21: ‘Till 5pm us do part – why friendships at work matter
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Marta: Have you got a colleague that always has your back at work, that one you can share an eye roll with when someone else says something annoying, or someone that you can just grab for a coffee and use as a sounding board to see whether you're on the right track or not? If you do, you might have what's known as a work wife, work husband, or work spouse, which we'll be unpacking in further data in this year's International Women's Day edition of Super Informed Radio, the podcast where we help you wade through the complexities of super, the broader world of finance and life's money matters.
My name is Marta, and joining me as always is my co-host, Lyndon. Lyndon, hello and happy International Women's Day!
Lyndon: Hello, Marta. Hello, everyone listening. Happy International Women's Day to you, too. Now, Marta, what is this year's campaign theme again?
Marta: Oh, it's #BalanceforBetter which broadly means building a gender-balanced world. For us, we're exploring what that means in a few ways. You could check out our website at unisuper.com.au/women for some exclusive stories, features, and tips to help you better your balance. See what I did there?
: I do see, Marta. I see exactly what you did just there. Now, you were telling me before we sat down, actually, to record this that, over the course of a lifetime on average, I think it was, like, people are only going to be spending something like 300 odd days socializing with friends but they spend 13 years, 2 months or something at work. Is that right?
Marta: Yeah, I don't if that's depressing or a good thing. I'm like, "Where's all my money going if I'm spending that much time at work anyway?"
: So to unpack this concept a little more, Marta. I know you've spoken with our executive manager of People Services at UniSuper.
Marta: I sure did. I sat down with Julie Watkins. She's an extremely smart and knowledgeable expert with over 20 years of experience in HR functions around the world for her take on this. She's super cool, super chill, and I think we should have a listen.
Lyndon: Looking forward to hearing it. Let's take a listen.
Marta: So, Julie, thanks very much for joining us in the studio today and happy International Women's Day.
Julie: Thank you, Marta, for having me along.
Marta: Awesome. So can you tell me a little bit about what you do here at UniSuper?
Julie: Sure. I joined UniSuper about seven months ago, heading up the people function. What the heck does that mean? That means I'm interested in how do we ensure that we're creating a workplace where our employees can do their best work so that we can achieve fantastic member outcomes, whether that's looking at leadership capability, our culture, remuneration and benefits, all those types of things.
Marta: So the term work wife, or work husband, or work spouse have had a bit of a comeback in recent times. Why do you think that is?
Julie: Yeah, I think the importance of being able to connect with people...and we all know we spend a lot of time at work, so it doesn't surprise me that it's had a bit of a comeback and that people are finding networks at work, people that they want to really spend time with. I have some different views and perhaps the role that I play in terms of hitting up an HR function, I wouldn't say I have a work spouse or a really close work buddy.
I have really close connections with people, but actually I'm really mindful of the role that I play in balancing what we're trying to achieve as a firm and then what we're trying to achieve from an employee perspective. And often I need to play that really impartial objective role, so I am mindful of the connections and the friendships that I have at work and I'm quite protective of the relationships and friendships I have outside of work.
Marta: Yeah, so kind of separating the two as it were.
Julie: For me, that works.
Marta: But do you think, how do you say it, the regular people in the office have buddies that they can rely on or someone that they know has their back in meetings or in those situations?
Julie: Absolutely, Marta. And I'm a regular person. I don't want anyone to think that I'm not. But, in terms of you knowing that you've got someone that you can talk to, vent with, that has your back is super important whether you're at work, or at home, or other socially and so on.
Marta: Yeah, cool. I'm going to ask a question that might be a little bit more controversial, but is there a gendered aspect to this? Like, obviously I'll use the term work wife first. Is this something that is gendered at all or can it happen with...in your experience, having over 20 years of experience both here and abroad, does it happen across the board?
Julie: Yes. So, I would look at...having worked in lots of different countries, having deep connections at work, male or female, I don't see that it is gender-specific in any way. And actually, when we think about mental health and the importance of that, I believe that it's really important we have that support network. Naturally, I think women often tend to seek others out. Perhaps we need to be encouraging males to do that more frequently inside and outside of work from a mental health perspective as well.
Marta: Yeah, I agree. I think it's really hard to...and I've seen people do this where they have one personality or they show one aspect of themselves at work, and then having gotten to know people, seeing them outside of work, they're completely different. I feel like some people miss out on the possibility of just being open and themselves in the workplace.
Julie: Yes. Yeah, I'm really passionate about being authentic. Obviously, we need to be mindful. We're in a professional environment, but being authentic and trying to be really true to who you are I think is really important.
Marta: Taking a bit of a different tact, this year's International Women's Day theme is #BalanceforBetter. What does that mean to you?
Julie: Yeah, I've thought about this. On the one hand, I think about Balance for Better in terms of how do we all, male or female, ensure that we've got a great balance in our life and that we're finding time and energy to spend on the things that are important to us.
I also think it from a gender perspective and the importance of ensuring that we have diverse views, experiences around the table when we're making decisions. I've worked in environments that were predominantly female and not enough males, and I've worked in environments where it was predominantly male and not enough females. And, if I think about the decisions that were made where we have a better balance, we get a better business outcome.
Marta: So, would you go so far as to say that quotas are important or does it just depend on the robustness of a process of bringing the right people in?
Julie: Hot topic this one, and actually we've had a similar discussion with the UniSuper board about this. And we have decided that we're going to shoot for some targets across the organization on the belief that it's not quotas but it's a target that we would love to see better representation at all levels in the organization, knowing that there will be some teams where that's harder to achieve and others that it's easier. But if we don't set ourselves a target to strive for, then I think you're just expecting it's going to happen by osmosis, which there's enough research to indicate that doesn't always happen.
Marta: Yeah, cool. Who has inspired you in your career the most?
Julie: Yes, so there's not one person. I'm going to talk about two leaders; one happens to be male, one female. What the female leader taught me and inspired me is to have courage. And courage can be tough in a working environment, because it can mean that you're speaking against what the rest of the room believes or thinks, or it can be that you're prepared to do something that's different or act differently to others. But, this woman taught me the importance of courage. And when it comes with really great intent to start with, then it's the right thing to do.
The male leader that inspired me, what he demonstrated to me is the importance of setting really high expectations and bringing your team and helping your team achieve those expectations. And it's okay to have really high standards. You don't have to alter them and that has really inspired me around the importance of doing my job as a leader to try and bring the best out of people and being clear on what I'm expecting and hoping from them.
Marta: Cool. This is like a silly personal question but I've had this experience in my own career. I feel like being seen or considered friendly or bubbly, especially if you're female, can still be considered a bad thing when it comes to advancing. Do you agree that this stigma occurs and how can we overcome it?
Julie: Good question. I've also learned through making many mistakes, and some of the really tough feedback I received in front of a group of 25 people in my career was to stop apologizing. So, not always women but often women will, "I apologize for taking your time," or, "I apologize," etc. So, whether it's being too effervescent or whether it's apologizing, for me, whether you're male or female, really important to be who you are to start with but to also demonstrate that you're being firm, that you're clear, and that you're being fair, and so you're bringing that level of gravitas.
I think it's balancing the effervescent piece. Let's not apologize. We own our time. We're here for a good reason. We've got things that we can contribute. And doing that in that way whilst still being friendly...I mean I don't want to work with anyone that's not friendly, so I would never be supportive of, "Well, let's cut out the friendliness."
Marta: So, a young woman comes to you looking for career advice...or young woman or man. Let's keep it cool. What's your number one tip?
Julie: Number one tip from a career perspective would be be proactive and deliver on your promises. Pretty simple but, in my experience, the people that will continue to thrive in their career and perhaps be considered for other opportunities whether they be upwards or sidewards or whatever are those people that are willing to step in, to perhaps do or lead what others are not prepared to do, and so that's showing productivity. Don't wait to be asked.
And then the second one—and I can be guilty of this—is just doing what you say you're going to do because delivering on promises is really important in terms of weighing up, "Is this person right for the next role? Do I have confidence in them for that?"
And, as I spoke about previously, I think just being confident, backing yourself, and owning and knowing that you've got expertise and you're here to contribute, and don't apologise.
Marta: And have a work buddy who backs you as well, right?
Julie: Yes, absolutely.
Marta: Cool. Julie, thanks very much for joining us today.
Lyndon: So, executive manager of People Services here at UniSuper talking with you there, Marta, about work spouses. Really interesting chat.
Marta: Yeah, it was. Like, I totally understand her position, considering where she's at in her career. Lyndon, would you say that you have a work spouse?
Lyndon: I like to think of myself as polyamorous in my work relationships. No, in all seriousness, we all have people with whom we're more close than we might be with somebody else. For me, you know, I could probably count on one hand, maybe even three or four fingers the people like that in my work life. But that is something that I really value, having someone who gets me, which you might say is a rare thing, and that I also can be their sounding board, too. And I think that's a really important thing.
Marta: Makes it easier to come to work every day.
Marta: And that's all the time we have for this month's episode of Super Informed Radio. As always, you can catch up on past episodes at unisuper.com.au/podcasts or by subscribing to us through any good podcasting app.
Lyndon: And we'll see you next time.
Marta: Bye for now.