When you think of banking, images of Mr Banks from Mary Poppins and the stodgy environment he worked in may spring to mind. A dynamic and passionate advocate for change might be the last thing you’d expect to encounter. Well, Kym Downie will dispel all those assumptions with her story. A champion for women’s rights and inclusion, she is laying a path for women in the workplace everywhere.
In the three years she’s worked at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (BEN), Kym has been active in her role of Regional Manager for Business Banking for the bank’s South Australia and Northern Territory division. It’s a landscape that is dominated by small businesses and local community concerns and is a space where Kym clearly feels right at home.
“I came to BEN, as it was an opportunity to make a big difference within a smaller organization, a way to make a bigger impact.
“BEN has a great community brand that’s really trusted. I felt aligned. I believe they take diversity seriously, and I wanted to help them. Here I feel closer to the decision-making to make that difference.”
A career of varied experiences and travel opportunities
Kym says she’s been fortunate to have experienced many amazing opportunities throughout her career in banking. She’s had roles in places along the Darwin-Adelaide route, as well as further afield spots like Wagga Wagga in NSW and Kununurra, in far north WA.
A particular highlight was a leadership program in India. Such incredible learning experiences have helped Kym move onwards and upwards in a banking career that has now reached senior leadership levels.
Along with the travel, there is also the opportunity to work in a variety of banking areas. Her roles have taken her across several banking divisions, such as Corporate, Private Bank and “Ag” roles.
“Working in the Kimberley region was fantastic,” says Kym. “I was the first woman to become an Agribusiness Manager in the region.”
It wasn’t easy at first, she admits.
“It definitely took a while for them to warm up to the idea (of having a female manager), but it was the best job ever!
“Thank goodness many great women have come up since me and I hope I’ve played a small part in that.”
The origins of a revolutionary career
While Kym has been all over Australia and beyond in her banking career, it’s where she’s come from that’s perhaps even more impressive. This has been a journey straight from school for Kym, starting with another major Australian bank, before getting her chance with BEN.
Starting her career without formal qualifications (although, more recently she has taken up tertiary study), she has worked her way upwards through sheer hard work and application.
Her secret is simple: go for it and back yourself.
“I mean, don’t be small. You deserve things as much as the next person. We women have been small for too long. Take risks, take a chance, make a difference. It’s not up to anyone else but you to decide. Take hold of your own fate.
“We need to empower more women to say, ‘I can do that’.”
At BEN, Kym is keen to put her thoughts into action and she is an integral part of the bank’s Women in Business Banking employee resource group. This group is an opportunity to put some structure around, and action into, Kym’s intentions to establish viable pathways for women in business, and in banking in particular.
“The group is still in its infancy,” she tells us. “I was one of the people who was asked to be involved as one of the few women in a regional manager role.
“We’ve got executive sponsorship for the group and appointed all the leads and now I’m in the thick of it because I care about these things.”
For Kym, it’s a no-brainer to put extra time and effort into the cause.
“I put my hand up because that’s what you do when you want to see change.”
Where can we make the most change?
For Kym, the border between her day job and her advocacy is basically non-existent.
BEN is happy to encourage Kym’s efforts in bringing attention to the wider concerns surrounding women in society in general. Violence against women, for instance, is a core focus for her.
“We all have a responsibility to change attitudes in our communities, I can’t fathom the fact that, still today, one woman every week is murdered in Australia.
“We need to end violence towards women and children. I believe that greater gender equality and using our voices can make a difference. We need to change the story, and however you can contribute, it matters. Workplaces matter.”
The network of women that has been put together at BEN is growing and is adding to its list of achievements on a regular basis. Kym says the connection this network offers is where the real strength is found, and where the momentum and sustainability truly resides.
“These women are hugely talented. Having the opportunity to connect with people I wouldn’t have otherwise known or spoken to is an awesome part of my job.”
Getting the blokes on board
Part of changing the narrative is ensuring BEN’s male colleagues are part of the solution.
“Lots more men have the opportunity to help with sponsorship or mentorship of women into these roles.”
Off the top of her head, she could easily list the names of several senior male figures at BEN who are “big supporters of women in business.”
Storytelling is also an important part of the process, and something Kym is particularly enthused about.
“Fireside chats with executives are also on the cards. I want to get more men in the group. Bring them to the table – get them storytelling.”
Kym believes she has not seen anything like the genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion across all its businesses that BEN has shown anywhere else in her banking career.