Thalia Dardamanis has learned several lessons on her career journey to become UniSuper's Head of Legal Advisory. She shared some of those insights at Women in Super and J.P. Morgan's latest Women in Leadership event.
Thalia Dardamanis knows the power of forming professional connections, as well as finding mentors and advocates who can help propel your career. But she also has some simple advice for women not receiving the career opportunities they deserve.
"If no one's asking you to join the table – make a new table."
She did that almost a decade ago, when she played a pivotal role launching the Tax Institute Conference for tax professionals.
"It was a way to get in," she says. "It's just thinking 'if I can't get in, what else can I do? And since then, I have been invited onto many committees and to present at many other conferences."
It was there that she met many high-profile industry stalwarts, which provided further inspiration to eventually join UniSuper's legal division after almost 15 years spent in private practice.
"I could see that I was adding a lot of value to individual people, but I wanted to see if there could be a bigger impact… why can't I try to expand that and, with my team, improve the retirement outcomes of our half a million members?"
The $100billion UniSuper fund opened to members from outside the higher education and research sectors on 5 July. It recently posted the highest customer satisfaction rating among industry funds, according to a Roy Morgan's survey.
Putting yourself forward for opportunities – or creating them when they aren't there – leads to new career connections. It requires accepting some discomfort, particularly when networking.
"It's a bit awkward to stand in a room when you're really quite young and say to yourself, 'let's go mingle and network'… although it made me get over that hump."
But networking is crucial to create genuine connections between people that share similar values.
"I can't overemphasise how important connections are, and that's different to networking. It's about making sure you're in the right place at the right time and then creating that dialogue and opportunity," she says.
"Each of the relationships that have led to career opportunities have been through genuine connections made at a networking event, and that's really helped."
Mentors can help build your confidence, as well as provide support and advice such as highlighting skills you need to develop. Advocates (or sponsors) take that support a step further by suggesting you for roles.
"Advocates are built up over time. You can't just say 'advocate for me' – it's built up over the long term."
While women make up half of the private sector workforce (50.5%), they still comprise less than one-third (32.5%) of key management positions, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)1.
While mentors and advocates are important to help create opportunities, continuing to acquire technical skills is also important to propel your career, she says.
"I would look at the key criteria of not just what I was doing in my current role to make sure I performed well, but I'd look at the level above and even the one above that so I could plan ahead," she says.
She also recommends continuous learning by searching out articles, podcasts, and books (she recommends Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In).
"A skill that I needed, particularly as I was getting more senior, was to feel confident and also instil confidence in others who are getting advice from me. Invest in yourself."
It has helped with the demands of being an in-house lawyer as the super industry prepares to adapt to significant new legislation, such as Your Future, Your Super. On joining UniSuper, she started a lunchtime discussion group that meets every two weeks to improve communication, which has now attracted a wide range of UniSuper employees including people working in marketing, product and member services.
"Finding practical solutions rather than creating more problems is a key part of what we do. You don't want to ask a lawyer a question and all they say is 'it depends'."
With two children aged five and three, finding a balance between work and family is challenging. Thalia says she finished her master's degree a day before giving birth to her first child.
"I think many of us working mums have found outsourcing wherever possible really helps," she says.
Most of the responsibility to care for young children falls on women in Australia, according to the WGEA. This is a major contributor to gender pay inequity and places women at a competitive disadvantage in the workforce.
"When I had my children… I'd heard that it takes a village to raise a baby as you need lots of support. I think it also takes a village to raise a career woman or a leader because there's so much that is traditionally done by women at home," Thalia said.
Rather than fall into the trap of ineffective multi-tasking, she suggests dedicating set time for family.
"I'm a big fan of Wednesday afternoons, which is usually the time I would go and pick up the kids. It's making those decisions… to outsource something (like your cleaning) so that I've got more quality time with the kids."
 Super fund satisfaction soars to a new record high as Australia recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. (2021, June 03). Retrieved from http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/8703-superannuation-satisfaction-april-2021-202105250447
 The Gender Pay Gap | WGEA. (2021, June 03). Retrieved from https://www.wgea.gov.au/the-gender-pay-gap