Mercedes Poutakidis’ drive to make a difference on gender diversity found a perfect platform at FINSIA.
She openly admits her sole reason for joining the Victorian YFP was to establish a Women in Finance evening.
But the fact that the event is in its third year and firmly established in the calendar is testimony to the support and encouragement given to the initiative.
“I joined the YFP solely with the mindset that I would try to introduce a Women in Finance evening,” explained Mercedes who is at Westpac Institutional Bank in their Corporate and Institutional Banking Graduate Program.
“That was carried forward by the incredible people on the committee who supported me.”
The first year, which was a face-to-face event, exceeded target numbers and it has continued to grow. This year’s online-only audience - due to the impact of COVID-19 - attracted a global panel and 228 international viewers.
Mercedes added: “I wanted to be around people and in a committee that could make a difference - and I feel the addition of the Women in Finance evening has made a massive difference to the way in which FINSIA is perceived.
“Having a dedicated event like this shows women are at the forefront. It demonstrates how much we value our female members and that we acknowledge there needs to be a significant shift in the financial services sector in respect to their perception and treatment of women.”
While FINSIA’s gender make-up reflects that of the financial services industry as a whole, Mercedes is encouraged by the determination to address the problem.
“If you look at the membership of FINSIA, it's predominantly men and even our attendance at events - other than the Women in Finance evening - the majority are male attendees,” says Mercedes.
“But FINSIA is the perfect vehicle to promote gender diversity, 100%. That's evident by the fact that there was no event catering to gender diversity, and I came along - a university student at the time and the youngest person on that committee by quite a bit. and I said to them, ‘I think that you're lacking in this respect’ and every single person on that committee agreed that there needed to be a change and supported me in running this event.
“When you experience holistic support like that, it is incredible. They turned up on the day, helped find panelists and helped write questions. They got their friends and their colleagues to attend. This demonstrates the need for us to work collectively to create lasting change in this sector, the onus cannot be on one individual alone."
Mercedes is also pleased with the way the event has grown to widen its focus. This includes male panelists and speakers from outside financial services industry, which have brought a greater diversity of thought around navigating your career and career progression.
“I see it progressing much further than just having women on the panel. We’ve done that because of the community we operate in,” says Mercedes, addressing the need to reach a wider audience, as well as thinking through a diversity lens year-round.
“On Current and Future Leaders, we are trying to ensure we have 50% of the leaders being female and 50% of them being male. We want people from different backgrounds, different sexualities, from different industries.
“That’s what we need to continue to develop this event and our platform more broadly because members who come to our events don't want to see the same leaders every single time. They want to see people who are different and meet different people.
"It’s also so important that we tackle these issues year round. For example, while it’s a great initiative, we should not just focus on International Women's Day when it comes around in March. It is a great day. But we need to focus on diversity all year round. Despite society’s best efforts in recognizing the importance of diversity and addressing the systemic issue of gender inequality, there is still so much room for growth.”
Looking forward, Mercedes thinks Women in Finance itself needs to be changed to the Diversity Forum … “or something like that, where it becomes less about women and more about anyone from a diverse background. Absolutely, diversity of thought and mind are equally important in creating realistic solutions to such nuanced and systemic issues and these ideas need to be heard by an expansive audience at these events so that they too can implement solutions in their own organisations.
“I think that would be really great and more inclusive - and get more people involved, especially with Current and Future Leaders, which is what FINSIA YFP is known for. Encouraging our members to embrace their individuality to get any job they apply for would make what is an already amazing event even better.”
“Undeniably, the dimensions of diversity are rich and ingrained in each individual and I am so passionate about encouraging and inspiring women to pursue this space fearlessly, as so many incredible women have done for me."