Melbourne Business School News Why Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz was reluctant to speak at the Women in Leadership Dinner

Why Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz was reluctant to speak at the Women in Leadership Dinner

When Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz heard the topic of this year's Women in Leadership Dinner, she hesitated.

Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz is one of Australia's most successful women leaders, having spent more than a decade as CEO of property developer Mirvac before becoming President of Chief Executive Women.

Earlier this year, Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz helped Melbourne Business School to bring one of its most-loved events back to life, as the keynote speaker for the Women in Leadership Dinner.

But when she heard the theme for the evening, 'Learning Through Adversity', she stopped.

"My immediate first thought was 'that is a really tricky topic'," she said.

"Because I've largely lived a life winning the lottery of life, living in this wonderful country with a supportive family, and genuinely haven't been able to draw on adversity as a learning.

"I'm certain there are people in this room who do experience real, genuine adversity, and so I think the important thing for us is to remember to walk alongside those people with kindness.

"There is real, genuine adversity in this world, it's just not something that I've had the misfortune to have to learn from."

Melbourne Business School's Women in Leadership Dinner 2023

Bringing back an iconic event

The Women in Leadership Dinner was a new beginning for one of Melbourne Business School's most cherished and longest-running events, the Women and Management Dinner.

Over three decades, the original dinner featured speakers including the first woman judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria, the first woman to become chair of a top 50 company in Australia and the first woman to become CEO of one of Australia's big four banks, before it was put on hold due to COVID-19.

On 24 August, it returned with a new look, new name and more than 300 guests celebrating the experiences and success of women in leadership.

As well as Ms Lloyd-Horowitz, speakers on the night included Stacie Piper from Djirri Djirri, Grattan Institute CEO Danielle Wood, MindTribes CEO Div Pillay and author, leadership consultant and former Federal Member of Parliament Julia Banks. The event was supported by major partner Melbourne Business School Online and included a showcase of its Online MBA and online short courses.

MindTribes CEO Div Pillay speaking at the Women in Leadership Dinner 2023

A passion for engagement

Ahead of her keynote speech, Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz spoke about the importance of allowing people to be themselves at work and how that can drive business performance.

"The way that our lives are integrated now is very far from the Industrial Revolution concept of: 'You get home, you go to work, you stay there for a very long time doing some not very pleasant tasks, and then you go home again'," she said.

"Our lives are now completely intertwined."

Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz said creating a safe environment in which people could be themselves at work led to an increase in staff engagement and discretionary effort – when employees go the 'extra mile'. Research, as well as her own experience, has shown that staff engagement in particular is an important predictor of business performance.

"It's a more powerful predictor than strategy, than having a rock-star board and having a high-profile CEO," Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz said.

"There is no other predictor more powerful than staff engagement – which creates the discretionary effort – and bringing your true self to work is a large part of that."

Melbourne Business School's Women in Leadership Dinner 2023

Throughout her own career, Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz has put that belief into practice. During her last full year as CEO of Mirvac, 92 per cent of employees reported being happy to recommend it as a great place to work and 88 per cent agreed that their manager genuinely cared about their wellbeing.

The same year, the company was also awarded as the Best Place to Work in the Property, Construction and Transport Category by AFR BOSS.

But as with many things in life and work, there are limits.

"If your authentic self is a destructive, toxic-behaviour person, then that's not an authentic self we necessarily want in the workplace," she said.

A more diverse Chief Executive Women

Last year, Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz took on a new challenge as the President of Chief Executive Women, which represents prominent and influential women leaders from the corporate, public service, academic and not-for-profit sectors who collectively oversee more than 1.3 million employees and $749 billion in revenue.

Almost 40 years after it was founded, Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz said she believed it was time for the organisation to move into its next phase of transformation and become more inclusive.

"Chief Executive Women was started 38 years ago by a group of incredible revolutionary women," she said.

"Remember in the context of 38 years ago, that was when you had to leave working at a bank or the Commonwealth Public Service when you got married.

"We're now at a point where we've got 1300 members, we've got 3000 members in a Connect community of people who've gone through the leaders' and scholars' programs.

"It's time for transformation – moving away, if I dare say so, from being an elite white women's club to being a genuinely inclusive, diverse organisation advocating for empowerment of all women for the good of all."

Melbourne Business School's Women in Leadership Dinner 2023

As of today, Chief Executive Women is one of Ms Lloyd-Hurwitz's "great labours of love" – and she believes it has a vital role to play in the success of Australia as a whole.

"Increasing female participation in the workforce is the single most important lever we have in this country to improve the wealth of this country for the good of all, not just for women," she said.

"This is not some seesaw in which one side goes up, sales go down. It's not women in, men out.

"It is genuinely the most powerful economic lever we have. And so being part of an organisation that is advocating strongly for policies that enable that to happen is an absolute privilege."

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