Making it Real - Claire Braund in Conversation with Sheena Wilson

Sheena is an Australian based Non-Executive Director, leadership consultant and coach. She is a highly accomplished business executive, with multi-disciplinary experience on a global scale in global talent and strategy.

A career plan helped

Sheena says having a career plan has been critical to her success.

With aspirations to be a diplomat early in her career (hence her degree in political science and history), things changed dramatically for Sheena when she found herself married and with a young child in her early twenties. The prospect of constant travel as a diplomat no longer seemed practical.

Sheena says it was important that she had a career plan at that stage that was flexible and adapted to her changing life circumstances. "Throughout your career you are likely to need several plans to address changes to your circumstances, needs and goals, so don't be too inflexible."

As a young mother, Sheena re thought her career and joined a consultancy that provided a multi-disciplinary experience and opportunities to transition into different roles and environments. She moved into strategic HR and talent and once her child was older, moved to the USA and the UK in a range of executive and international roles, then to India where she established BNY Melon's Indian office as CEO. She says that this role in India inadvertently fulfilled her initial aspiration of becoming a diplomat, given the unique skill set it required.

My one piece of paper

Throughout this time Sheena realized the importance of having everything on one piece of paper, a document often used by WOB.  Sheena reviews and updates hers annually. It’s a simple and pragmatic way to focus on what you want for the next phase of your professional life, which is key to managing your career effectively. It provides you with an ability to succinctly articulate your goals, strengths, competencies, what you can add and what you want to do next.

Sheena’s Top Tips

  1. Be very self-aware
    Understand your strengths and development opportunities and be able to articulate them succinctly. If you can do this, you will be prepared and more likely to respond to opportunities when they arise.
  2. There is no substitute for hard work, no short-cuts
    If you take short cuts they will catch up to you at some time in your career, plus it reduces learning.
  3. Be passionate about doing a good job, even if it’s not the job of your dreams.
    If you lose passion you lose interest in what you are doing, which can derail careers.
  4. Make sure you have a friend at work – a peer mentor or partner, who you trust to bounce things off.
    We spend a lot of time at work, so it’s important to have someone who will challenge you, keep you in check and say “Hey Sheena, I notice in that meeting you said this, how about to try it this way next time.
  5. Company first, team second me third. 
    This mantra helps to ensure you focus strategically on what you need to achieve rather than putting yourself at the center of things. The best leaders are focused on doing what they do in the interest of the enterprise.
  6. Bonus Tip
    Always hire someone you would be happy to work for one day.We want the best people we can get in our teams and should not feel threatened by them.

Career breaks

With more than 100,000 people on parental leave in Australia at any one time, it’s important for companies to have strategies in place to help women on a career break. While some employers go to extraordinary lengths to provide support and stay in touch, it doesn’t always work out.

We need to encourage employers to adopt the very best thinking and practices possible to ensure a return to work after a period of paternity leave is as seamless as possible for all concerned.

Having touch points in place for line managers during their time away is critical. Taking time out for parental leave shouldn’t mean you miss out on aspects of your career. Goals and desires don’t’ evaporate when you take time out.

It’s also vital for the person taking the career break to consider ways they can continue to develop as individual during that time.

The importance of sponsors, mentors and coaches in career management

Throughout Sheena’s career she has had many of each. Mentors can be formal or informal. Most of Sheena’s were informal as there weren’t’ many mentoring programs throughout the first half of her career. She says that she found it invaluable to have wise people to bounce things of and sense check things.

Sponsors generally find us, emerging at various stages of our careers. Sheena is hugely grateful for the support she had from several leaders who played a pivotal role in her career progression.

Sheena’s best role

Apart from being a grandmother, she sees her role as CEO of BNY Melon in India for three years as a career highlight.  In this role she had an opportunity to grow something from scratch and work with amazing talent, with the business quadrupling in size during her time in the role.

Sheena genuinely hopes that everyone has one role in their career that they can look back on and say  “it was all worth it just to have experienced that part".

Sheena’s first board

When she returned to Australia, from her role in India as CEO of BNY Melon, Sheena had a plan to continue to undertake career coaching and develop a board portfolio.

Herron Todd White advertised a NED position on WOB, which she applied for and was voted on at their AGM, becoming Deputy Chair the following year. This all happened much faster than Sheena expected. She credits her career plan and ability to adapt as major factors behind this.

How to balance a board portfolio

Top tips here include learning to say no, making sure you allocate time for preparation, using tools such as the one-pager to make the right board choices and keeping some time for yourself, to ensure balance.

Sheena says being on a board is much more work than she anticipated., with a lot of reading and work in between meetings. She suggests not taking on too much initially and then stepping it up over time as you understand what is involved.

The benefit of extra qualifications

Sheena says she knew she wanted to focus on career coaching for her encore career, so undertook the Swinburne Graduate Diploma on Career Development. While in the UK she did a number of courses in London around director Certification and she has Director qualifications. She says that you don’t necessarily need high end qualifications, but it really helps to better understand governance - and to get you to interview!

What’s next for Sheena?

Sheena plans to continue to work with men and women seeking to define and design their encore career.  This stems from a passion to help people unpack the rich pickings of their careers and lives and discover what they enjoy and want to do more of or do differently.

Sheena is also looking to undertake more purposeful work for those planning to take parental leave, knowing there is so much more we can do in this area to ensure meaningful dialogue continues toward seamless returns and ongoing career attraction. 

By Nicole Donegan, COO Women on Boards, 15 April 2019