I grew up in Mildura, a country town in Northwest Victoria. Growing up in the country shapes your mindset to be community driven. Fun fact, I was in the Cottee’s Cordial ‘my dad picks the fruit’ advertisement with my brother when I was 8. I went to boarding school in year 10 ,which is where Rosie and I met. In my first year, I did the Young Achievement Australia (YAA) program, essentially setting up a business as a class. Being the CEO of a bunch of teenagers, taught me a lot about motivation and sparked my interest in Finance.
Halfway through the first year of my Commerce degree, I had no idea what to do with it. Side note: I don’t know how anyone knows what to do with their general uni degrees, or what specific jobs are even available, unless they grew up around them in their family and friend network. I went to a careers day and realised I could apply for internship programs at professional services companies. That’s how my journey at PwC started.
The intern program gave us exposure to all the different facets of the business and Private Clients really resonated with me. I ended up working in Tax for around 5 years, which is a lot more fun than it sounds, I loved it. My last year in tax was a tax technical role that involved a huge amount of training for the next generation. My favourite part was the soft skills, networking and D&I elements to this role.
A Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) audit of PwC teams led me into my next move, Transaction Services. Basically performing financial due diligence for mergers and acquisitions. This team was historically very male dominated, with high stakes, reward, stress and long hours. PwC identified a problem with the diversity and recruited internally and externally to do better, I really respected them for it. In the time I was there, the make-up of this team changed drastically.
A career break shifted my priorities and the transition back was almost impossible. I love the analogy about oranges. Imagine you have twelve oranges, you have baskets labelled yourself, your relationships and your work. How would you divide your oranges? When I was in the Transaction Services team, 11 were in the work basket, I had nothing in the tank.
I am a big believer in trusting your gut and following the opportunities when they arise. A secondment came up at For Purpose Investment Partners, to be their first employee. It was the perfect chance to combine my core community values and my love for working in the financial sector.
For Purpose Investment Partners is filled with incredible people, working in the Social Impact investing space. Essentially, our purpose is to bring private sector capital and capabilities into businesses and projects to create significant social impact. For anyone who doesn’t know, ethical investing is a wide spectrum from negative screening to impact investing. Negative Screening is cutting out what you don’t want, like gambling, mining, tobacco et cetera. Positive Screening is including things you do want, like investing in renewables. Impact Investing is the next step, investing to create an incremental impact, not just by what the underlying asset you are buying is doing (as with positive screening) but that the capital or resources you are putting in also helps to create impact and, importantly, that impact is measured and managed.
Within impact investing, there are two main categories, Environmental and Social. What we see mostly in Australia is Environmental, which is often simpler to quantify (carbon reduction and the like). Social impact is harder to measure. It is fundamentally about changing people’s lives. We measure both positive and negative impacts of an opportunity, but it is incredibly difficult. For example, if we put someone into housing, they may be healthier, gain employment, their children may have better attendance at school, they may be kept out of the justice system, but what are the metrics and how far do we go? Can you claim the housing created all those changes?
Construction and Property have a huge influence on my work. The sector falls across all our key investment areas; aged care, mental health, disability accommodation and services, social and affordable housing and skills education. There are already organisations doing work in the environmental and social space, but arguably I think the industry could be doing more.
Summer Housing is an excellent example. In a typical case, they will purchase 11 apartments from a developer in presale for specialist disability accommodation. They will then work with the developers and builders to ensure the building is designed to be fully accessible and inclusive. This both makes these spaces perfect for these occupants but are also marketable for the balance of tenants. It may become more attractive for those people aging who are looking to downsize into a space, which will service their future needs. These projects have a positive impact far beyond the apartments occupied by Summer Housing.
Currently, Australia has around 4% social housing. When you compare this to the UK at 16%, it highlights we need to do better. In the UK, any new development is required to provide a portion of social housing. This means as housing developments rise so does the proportion of social housing, at significantly lower capital costs. These caveats need to be robust though, in Australia developers can negotiate public space in lieu of social housing. Or they can put these services in different entrances or terrible locations creating a ‘poor’ entrance and a ‘normal’ entrance. This is a built form response to society misconceptions. There is a huge range of individuals seeking housing, from single parents, to refugees, people fleeing domestic violence, generational occupants whose community is in the building, people with disability, the list goes on. The structural barriers in Australia also mean that those who may be able to afford to rent or buy don’t have the financial literacy to negotiate mortgages or may be fearful of losing their housing and community if they were to move out and something went wrong.
We are not naive to the supply chain issues in construction. A project may have an excellent environmental and social impact in its built form, but what about all the processes and people involved along the way? The building may be creating a diverse and inclusive space for occupants, but the entire construction phase is male dominated and supply chains can have questionable practices. Project timeframes are always paramount to tender selection, but this can be at the detriment to the mental health of the workers. We all need to do better.
Conflict in the workplace and determining my management style has been a huge challenge for me. Balancing power dynamics has led me to be too passive in particular environments. As my career progressed, I became more cynical about the impact that my opinion would have in some male dominated environments, so I would find myself only challenging people on things I was really passionate about. I wish I still had the same gusto I had when I entered the workforce.
I was on the D&I committee for gender equality throughout my time at PwC, at one point I was co-chairing. What I found from being so outspoken about issues is that people either don’t do the questionable things around you, or they make a joke about you being the fun police. Recently I have been reflecting on this. On Australia Day, I read a post from an indigenous influencer stating that it was not her job to educate people on the atrocities that occurred. That her emotional labour did not come for free and she did not owe anyone, just because she is a minority voice. She is absolutely correct. I may be the fun police about issues in the workplace, but it is not my job to use my emotional labour on uneducated and stubborn people around me. There was an unspoken expectation for me to increase my workload to achieve D&I outcomes for the business, which of course I would do, at the detriment to my own work-life balance and emotional well-being. The onus should be on everyone in the business, not to just say ‘yes’ to the individuals striving for change, but to also self-reflect.
Recently I was in a meeting where a really inappropriate thing was said, there was a power imbalance, and I did nothing. My manager who was also in the meeting, called us all individually afterwards to check in, highlight the issue with what was said and flag that he would be raising this with the individual. I have never had this kind of proactive response from a manager and I have had countless similar experiences.
Some lessons to little Ellen? Firstly, work out what makes you tick. Know your core values and follow them in everything you do, especially your work. Naivety can be a blessing. I wouldn’t have made the impact I did without the ignorance of the structural challenges ahead. All the best changes and impacts come from grass roots and you need the energy and a belief that things can change to follow that path.
Secondly, big organisations are whatever you make of them, you need to be your own advocate, put yourself forward for the things you want. Seek out feedback at every opportunity. Find mentors, formal/informal to bounce ideas off and have honest conversations along the way. The difference between good and bad mentors is time, you can always give someone an hour. We are not saving lives.
As a child, my household messaging was always ‘if you want something, you need to work hard to achieve it’. Oh, and to approach everything with kindness.
We had a brilliantly engaging hour with Ellen, one of Rosie’s long time friends. It was energising to hear Ellen speak about impact investing, driving positive outcomes on a social, environmental and community scale, where outcomes are in focus and measurable. Ellen shared some great insights into finding a passion that meets both your technical skillset but leaves you with energy in the tank for enjoying life – something we often forget in the early years of our career (or rather, feel pressure to put work first). We hope you’ve enjoyed Ellen’s piece and wish Ellen all the best for the rest of 2022. R & D xx