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Gail Kelly's Advice For Young Women: Don't Wait Until You Think You're Ready

Gail Kelly today, announcing her retirement. Screenshot.

Gail Kelly, Australia’s highest paid banker and the best paid woman, has this advice for women in business: “Back yourself.”

Put yourself forward even when you think you’re not ready for it.

“Be prepared to have a go,” the CEO of Westpac says. “Be prepared to put your hand up, before you even think you’re ready for a role.”

When she first become CEO of St George Bank and then was offered her dream job running Westpac, Kelly says she didn’t feel ready for either role.

But today she announced her retirement from the bank after seven successful years as CEO of Westpac.

There are several measures of success but the one loved by shareholders is the market capitalisation of the company which has more than doubled from $50 billion to around $104 billion under Kelly’s watch.

Kelly was known for her work at the bank on diversity of employees.

When she started at Westpac about 32% of leadership positions at the bank were women. Now it’s 44% and heading toward 50%.

“These are women running really big line business,” she says. “Really outstanding women. The last couple of years our general managers of the year have all been women.”

She has this advice for young women:

“Many women want to be 100% ready to take on the job before they are prepared to put their hand up and say: ‘Have a look at me.’

“My advice for young women and their careers is back yourself. There are people out there who want to support you. Ask for the opportunities.

“Dig deep when those opportunities come your way and have a go.

“Use all those talents you have of listening and taking feedback on board and growing every single day.”

Of course, Kelly is known for her capacity for work and sleeps only about four hours a night.

She announced her retirement a day after Westpac’s annual report revealed she was the highest paid head of a bank in Australia, and he bets paid woman, with a $12.8 million annual salary package.

She’s firm in her decision that she has retired from executive life.

She will, however, spend time with her other not-for-profit roles. She serves on the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and is CARE Australia’s Ambassador for Women’s Empowerment.

“As you can imagine this is a very big day for me as well,” she said. “It reflects on my 35 years of my banking experience.

“I love this bank. I absolutely love its people.

Kelly started at the bottom in banking, as a teller at Nedcor Bank in 1980 in South Africa after training as a Latin teacher.

She studied for an MBA and came to Australian to join the Commonwealth Bank in 1997, then became CEO of St George Bank in 2002 and Westpac CEO in early 2008, a position from which she launched a successful takeover of St George.

Kelly today walked from the room, where she announced her retirement, with her husband Allan, whom she married in 1977 in South Africa. Together they have four children, including a set of triplets.

“I would like to thank one special person who is here today, my husband Allan,” she said. “We’ve been married 37 years.”

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