Lizzy Ryley: “Back yourself and go for it”

Lizzy Ryley is Chief Executive Officer at Loyalty NZ and a Member of Global Women, a collective of 300 generous, inspiring women leaders, pushing for diversity in leadership.

The best career advice I ever received was:

To always have courage.

The hardest career decision I’ve ever made was:

When I was offered the role as GM of Marketing for Woolworths Australia in 2011, I had to leave my family in Auckland for six months before they could join me in Australia. My children were teenagers at the time so it was a bit tricky, but my family have always been incredibly supportive of my career.

What change would you most like to see to improve diversity in leadership?

I’d like to see us (male and female senior leaders) deliver on our promises of encouraging diversity. We need to be very honest with ourselves about the value we place on diversity & inclusion by having it baked into our business KPIs. This makes sure that D & I is focused on at all levels.

Which book has left a lasting impression on you?

If I think about a business book, it would have to be Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

I also read a lot for pleasure and I don’t think I could pick one book so I’m going to be a bit cheeky and give you two – One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.

One thing I am exceptionally good at:

I’m really determined, and I never walk away from a challenge so that’s something I’ve gotten very good at as well. It’s also made me very resilient.

One thing that challenges me:

Leadership challenges me (in a good way) every day! I love it.

Who is your biggest influence?

My biggest influence is my family. My children are now in their twenties and my husband and I have been together since I was 17. My husband and I have managed to have successful international careers while raising two great children.

Our wider family is made up of the most incredible artists, musicians and teachers and I’m the only business person so they give me such a different and valuable perspective on life.

All of us have not always been in the same country or continent at the same time but we’ve always managed to stay connected and it’s that connection that has kept us all grounded.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing women your age today?

There’s huge pressure on women of all ages to be all things to everybody. I think we need to take a moment and assess what is important in life – and what’s important to me might not be valued by the next person – and I’m okay with that.

We seem to be our own greatest critics and while I don’t have all the answers, I try to always be honest about the things I struggle with as well. So, my team and my family see me as a real person who also grapples with issues every day.

Do you think there is equality between men and women in your workplace?

Our numbers definitely support true diversity at Loyalty NZ – and not just from a gender perspective.

Our team is made up of a diverse mixture of age, ethnicity, gender, experience and perspectives.

We have a plan as a core part of our strategy to ensure that we live and breathe diversity and inclusion. We really want all our team to feel like they can bring their whole selves to work.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a pilot.

How do you feel about the representation of women in the media, film and pop culture?

I think that the pressure to be all things to all people comes from media representations. There seems to be increasing pressure to appear to be super woman, whilst looking incredible. This is pedalled quite a lot through mainstream media. The exponential growth in the cosmetic surgery industry is fuelled by this obsession with perfection. This worries me a bit for today’s young women.

We still have a long way to go before we can see a realistic representation of the sexes.

Can you see yourself in any of them?

Not really.

If men and women are equal in the law, what is preventing gender equality in New Zealand?

It takes a long time to change the way people think and legislation doesn’t necessarily change a person’s perceptions. There’s a lot of posturing when it comes to talking about gender equality – I’ve certainly seen and experienced it at a senior level. It’s also why the stats don’t add up.

According to the Ministry for Women website, women make up only 17% of directors on the NZX top 100 listed companies, even though 64% of university graduates are women.

So, what happens to all these bright young women who graduate from university? Why don’t they end up in more senior roles?

Having said that, I do think that change is coming. It definitely helps that we have a Prime Minister who has a young child and who is role modelling gender equality. However, we also need to encourage and support more senior women to do the same.

What are the trade-offs that young women today will need to make it to the top? Is it worth it?

My advice is don’t settle or make any ‘trade-offs’.

I’ve always believed that I could achieve anything I set my sights on. My motto is that you will come across any number of situations and people who will try to hold you back but my advice is: “back yourself and if something is really important to you, just go for it”.

The best lessons in life come from your failures and you’ll never know whether you’re good at something if you don’t try it.

I made my first dollar by…

Working in a hair salon, washing hair when I was 15 years old.

The most rewarding part of my role is…

My team. Leading, supporting, coaching and working alongside everyone at Loyalty NZ – and being truly valued by them, is what I find most rewarding. We don’t agree on everything but the discussions are robust.

I became a Global Women member to…

Add value through my experiences and to create a network of support for women of all ages across NZ and to encourage women to back themselves (and each other).

We’re all different and we bring something unique to the table. We don’t want to be surrounded by people who think and act the same as we do – diversity brings innovation which drives performance.

The gender stereotype I can’t stand is…

That if you’re a committed and successful career woman, then you couldn’t possibly be a good mother or wife.

The change I most want to see in 2019 is…

Us all getting better at including people who are different.

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