As International Women’s Day draws to a close, Kimberley Pelly, risk and compliance adviser, Queensland Airports shares her reasons why she thinks it is more important to select the right person, rather than the right gender, for a risk management role

I am going to start this piece by being bold: I do not believe that a woman should be given a role in an industry or business in order to balance the gender numbers. The culture of the company or the cultural shift underway, should play an important role in who should accede the risk throne. The wrong risk manager will unhinge your risk management progress.

If you listen to the experts they will say that women possess soft skills, a nurturing spirit, intuition, patience, a sense of calmness. A day following me will debunk most of these. So what makes me good at risk management?

I can be very risk adverse, but at other times, I am a risk taker. For example, there is no way that I am going to hand over $2 to play the lolly slot machines. You know the ones. You put your $2 in and then hope that the big claw will provide you with enough candy to warrant a trip to the dentist. I’m not going to take the chance of losing my $2; preferring instead to go straight to the supermarket and buy a chocolate.

On the other hand, if the benefits outweigh the adverse effects, I am happy to take a calculated risk. So when we were provided with the opportunity to undertake evasive surgery to give our son a better quality of life, I happily allowed the doctor to try the procedure even though we knew we might not get the outcome desired. Understanding the relationship between risk and reward is very important for a risk manager.

The devil is in the detail

As a mother, my days consist of juggling work, school drop off and pickup, afterschool and weekend sports, budgets, medical appointments etc. And I think it is this further requirement to be organised, focused and holistically analytical that makes me a good risk manager. I understand that the devil is in the detail and I look for it. I will analyse things to death to ensure that I improve my chances of hitting the lolly motherlode or walk away with my $2 coin.

My personal feel is that women bring a unique perspective to risk management. We are very good at drilling down to get to the root cause of the risk – just ask our partners. We also tend to be more comfortable to ask the ‘silly question’ and push until we get an answer that we are comfortable with, allowing for better risk identification.

Personally, I am not as interested in being the leader of the pack; but more the voice of conscience. The detail is important to me and I will research an issue to the nth degree in order to understand the risk and provide input into an efficient and effective solution. But you do need broad shoulders or shoulder pads!

I have found that I am more willing to ask for help than some of my male peers over the years. In my first risk role, I was allocated risk management as they needed someone outcome focussed to just get in and get it done. It was a quick learning curve and I was very lucky to have an industry-based risk group to seek assistance. I was that annoying person who asked a new question every week. This group was paramount to my success as I could learn from those who had tried and failed and tried again. Together, we succeeded.

My risk peers provided me with the confidence to implement risk management, business continuity and crisis management into an organisation that had not previously delved into this area of management. My enthusiasm provided me with the opportunity and confidence to take on the role of president of that same industry risk group; giving me the ability to impart knowledge to others starting along the same route.

Go beyond ‘best practice’

In my current role I have been provided the opportunity to take risk management beyond ‘best practice’. I believe my enthusiasm for risk management and my ability to make risk management, can I say – fun, has enabled this to be a success and now I have managers at all levels looking at risk from a holistic perspective, rather than an operational or silo’d one.

A career in risk management is not, however, all roses. Risk managers are often seen as the people ‘who stop you from doing what you want’. Thus, getting that seat at the table is not always easy. The initial resistance from colleagues to engage with you can make it hard to demonstrate how you can add value. I make it very clear that my role is to help them to take risk in order to achieve their objectives / KPI’s. We just want that risk managed.

My career highlights have definitely been the appointment of Secretary and then President of the Australasian Universities Risk and Insurance Management Society, the development of an in-house risk and governance system where I was allowed to go beyond ‘best practice’ and the appointment as a board member of the Pan-Asia Risk & Insurance Management Association.

Persistence is definitely a trait needed in risk managers. Risk also changes constantly, so you need to enjoy reading and learning. Trying to keep up with changes in the regulatory space, new innovative technologies, cyber threats, big data analytics etc. can be a full-time role in itself.

Opportunities come to those who seek them out. I love my job and believe in its cause. It is this enthusiasm that has propelled me up the risk management ladder and given me the courage to try different risk methodologies. I’m not always the best communicator, but my energy and confidence in my risk knowledge provides me with the ability to influence the decision-making process.