Breaking down barriers

The release of national gender pay gap data across medium to large employers by industry dominated much of the dialogue this International Women’s Day in Australia.

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Deborah Garnier, Built Complete CFO. Source: Guy Davies,

I was struck by how often the word ‘choice’ was used. Choices made by women, choices made for women, the notion of ‘false’ choice and of course, lack of choice. I particularly liked hearing Deborah Garnier’s story and the choices she’s made during her career at a recent ANZ International Women’s Day lunch.

"I’m also aware that I am a nurturer, so my team members feel they can talk to me about issues and opportunities which ultimately drive better performance and customer outcomes” - Deborah Garnier, Built Complete CFO.

Deborah works in the construction industry, which has one of the largest gender pay gaps at 31.8 per cent. The results present a challenge for the industry which will play a critical role in relieving Australia’s housing shortage by building an estimated 1.2 million homes over the next five years.

Given current labour constraints, the industry will need to attract, recruit, and retain a more diverse pool of workers, including women.

Increasingly women are making significant contributions to Australia’s small to medium business sector and economy, with the number of female small businesses owners rising by 24 per cent between 2006 and 2021, more than three times the growth of their male counterparts. 

Deborah established her family-owned company, Built Complete, in 2010, alongside her son Jace, while juggling a corporate job. The company is involved in commercial, industrial, hospitality and residential construction.

She’s now the business’s Chief Financial Officer and her daughter, a qualified builder, and her granddaughter have been heavily involved in Built Complete, which recently diversified into housing.

Deborah is focused on supporting employees by identifying their key strengths as a way of building confidence, something she believes still holds many women back.

“Many women will go for a job if they believe they’re qualified, but men will go for a job because they want that level of pay or more recognition and know that someone in the team will help them do that job,” she says.

“My advice to women is to have confidence in what you know. I’ve always worked in industries I’m familiar with which has built my confidence and people’s belief in me.”

Deborah believes a combination of experience and education are key to building confidence, as well as surrounding yourself with people you respect and trust.

“I had a senior mentor in a parallel division within the same organisation and our engagements gave me the opportunity to talk through issues or ideas. It really helped me to evaluate my views and next steps, building my confidence in the process.”

“I started my education during a marriage breakdown, at a time when family had always been my priority. I put my toe in the water, starting with TAFE and I was hooked.”

“At the time I lacked confidence in my capabilities even though I knew I could make a difference.”

“I thought to myself, nobody knows me here, I am going to say what I think and see what happens and I flourished. I blossomed. It gave me a real sense of empowerment which encouraged further studies.”  

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Deborah Garnier, Built Complete CFO. Source: Guy Davies,

Training and development

Built Complete is focused on creating an engaged workforce by providing learning and development opportunities for its 14 employees.

The business aims to understand team members’ strengths, which helps identify how to best use everyone’s skills.

“This has helped to build a culture of respect for the skills sets that we each have because we’re all different.”

While Deborah refers to her son Jace as the face of the business, she doesn’t underestimate the importance of her own unique qualities and background.

“My broad experience across small business, corporate and my accounting studies has helped me understand the drivers of a business,” she says.

“I’m also aware that I am a nurturer. So my team members feel they can talk to me about issues and opportunities which ultimately drive better performance and customer outcomes.”

Like construction, the financial service industry has work to do to close the gender pay gap, a global issue caused by many factors. For example, a recent study in Sweden found time out of the workforce was the largest single influence on the gender gap among CEOs at 41 per cent.

At ANZ we’re examining the reasons gender gaps exist and introducing initiatives to close them. Our Return to Work program launched in 2019, provides support to people wanting to enter the workforce, who have taken a career break or have been significantly underemployed. 

Opportunities exist within the Technology, Institutional and Commercial divisions and extend across Australia, India, the Philippines and New Zealand.

There are many experiences leaders in large companies and small businesses can share to improve opportunities for women. Deborah offers some final advice.

“Don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t do it, and don’t look back, just look forward.”

Clare Morgan is the Group Executive for Australia Commercial with ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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