Only a few years into Felicia Trewin’s career, she chose to leave technology behind as she felt too different. Today, she's AustralianSuper's Group Executive for Technology Services and Chief Information Officer. She shared how she did it at Women in Super and J.P. Morgan's latest Women in Leadership event.
Felicia Trewin oversees technology at Australia's largest superannuation fund. She’s responsible for running the Fund’s technology platforms and cyber security capability as well as delivering the Technology Roadmap to support the delivery of AustralianSuper’s 2030 Strategy. But her abilities weren't always so well recognised.
"I started in tech as a software engineer but then I left technology departments for a long time," she says. "The reason I did that is because I didn't feel welcome. Essentially, I wasn't what everyone expected a technologist to be, and in particular, I was one of only a small number of women in my field."
Despite an impressive academic and working career, she didn't meet the sector's traditional expectations about gender, image, or even qualifications at that time. It provided an important lesson about the power of diversity, which she carries to this day.
"When I moved into the very privileged position of leading technology teams, I thought I can make that right by creating that space for other people to take any kind of diverse thinking, experience, or qualifications, and apply them to tech because tech's everywhere."
Felicia's technology leadership team at AustralianSuper is split evenly by gender as is the Fund’s executive leadership team. To expand this success, the Fund is now planning to focus on graduates, internships, and people returning from career breaks to boost the range of diverse talent in under-represented areas such as investments and technology.
The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2021 found women still make up just 32% of workers in data and AI roles, 20% in engineering, and 14% in cloud computing.
"You have to think creatively about the skillsets required for the jobs that you hire, and how you can train people," she says.
"There are so many people with so many skills that can come and work in technology that, like me, do not have a computer science degree, and those lateral skills can be so valuable. Some of the most valuable people in my team now are the people who are not technologists, because they stand in the shoes of the customer."
Felicia’s own background includes a Bachelor of Economics and postgraduate studies at the University of New South Wales, Cranfield School of Management (UK) and MIT (US).
Many in her team are similar, with one member earning a Masters degree in marketing but working in IT Security.
Many studies have confirmed that more diverse organisations, across gender, race, age and other characteristics, tend to outperform, yet conscious and unconscious biases make it hard for society to shift away from the status quo.
A turning point for Felicia's return to the tech industry was finding her own self-confidence. She ignored the ill-fated advice of an image consultant who suggested she totally overhaul her personal style, while starting a family triggered an even deeper realisation.
"I thought, I want my kids to grow up in a world where they can be whatever they want to be, and so I really have to lead from the front. They need to be able to see that their mum can have as great a job as their dad, and their mum can be herself and be a success."
Her career has included senior roles with Deloitte, Microsoft, Accenture and ANZ. In banking, she was part of ANZ’s Australian executive leadership team and the Corporate and Commercial Bank leadership team.
She joined AustralianSuper in mid-2018, as part of the executive leadership team, after turning down a competing alternate offer in the oil and gas industry.
The combination of working in an industry that helps create a better retirement for Australians and the leadership of CEO Ian Silk (who recently left and was replaced by long-time Fund executive Paul Schroder) was what influenced her choice.
"I said I want my kids to be proud of me, so I chose Super. I also wanted to work for Ian. I met him and thought he was incredible, and I could learn so much from him. I have a simple rule I use when assessing who I work for – they inspire me, and I aspire to be like them. And Ian met that criteria."
Mentors have also played a long-term role in Felicia's career. She views the relationship as a two-way exchange – with one mentor she learns more about big business and dealing with Boards, while she offers her insights about tech.
Finding a mentor can be challenging, but Felicia's advice is to take opportunities when they arise. She struck up a conversation with one mentor after sharing a taxi and flight back from a work event.
"I would say be opportunistic. That formulaic approach of saying, 'I need a mentor and they must have these characteristics' for me, at least, hasn't worked."
She also had a coach who was able to help with specific challenges, such as finding her voice during robust discussions around the leadership table.
"In the past, I have not been very good about using my voice and I found conflict really hard. I would identify difficult situations and then my coach and I would workshop them. She'd give me something different to try, and I'd go and try it out the next time a similar situation occurred."
Her coach also gave her some advice to respond to one male colleague who made regular discriminatory remarks.
"She said, the next time he makes a comment, just say 'Is that what you really think?' and see what he responds with. That was a great piece of advice because it turned it back on them instead of me dealing with it by laughing uncomfortably and trying to move on."
As an introvert, she's overcome an aversion to networking at events. One piece of useful training suggested approaching groups containing odd numbers of people.
"At least one of the people will turn to you and the other two will keep talking, or you'll engage in the conversation as the fourth person, so little things like that were good training for me. Knowing I have effective tools like that in the tool kit made me more confident"
 Global Gender Gap Report 2021. (2021, March 21). Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/reports/ab6795a1-960c-42b2-b3d5-587eccda6023
 Dixon-Fyle, S., Dolan, K., Hunt, V., & Prince, S. (2021). Diversity wins: How inclusion matters. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters