Lauren Casey, 26
Nominated by: Bree Pagliuso
At fourteen-years-and-seven-months-old, Lauren Casey sought permission to get a job at McDonald’s, two months ahead of the legal age. Three years later, on her eighteenth birthday, she became the manager of a 24 hour store in Sunshine. She has been as gung-ho about every opportunity that has come her way since.
A marketing degree paired with her managerial experience led Lauren to a career in banking, where she has been rising steadily up the corporate ladder for a number of years. Lauren is only 26 but has her sights set on a leadership role within her organisation in the next few years. She is a planner and a doer and openly admits that she will likely never be content with what she has achieved: she is always, always striving to be better, to do better.
We often talk here at Friday Best about how women are supported in the workplace, both by management and by one another, and it was so refreshing to get Lauren’s perspective on this. She says her workplace has transformed in the last few years and one of her favourite things about the corporate environment in particular is how equally supported both women and men are, with men being encouraged into the home and women into the workplace.
Progress, it seems, is being made and Lauren is a part of that and if she is sitting in a corner office sometime in the future, we’re in good hands.
You’ve been so motivated since a very young age, it makes me wonder what your high school experience was like?
Awesome. I loved going to school, I had a great group of friends and we were quite social. I was still—I wouldn’t say nerdy—but I did all my homework and wanted to make sure I did well. I was always scared of failure I suppose. I always wanted to make sure I did my best to get somewhere.
When I think about it, probably my biggest goal was financial independence. Growing up we had everything we wanted but I could tell that my parents didn’t have a lot of money so I always wanted to make sure I set myself up to be able to get whatever I wanted. When I started earning money at fourteen and seven months, I started saving heaps and heaps and by the time I needed my first car, I was able to pay for it with cash. I was seventeen years old and I’d saved close to $20,000. I just really loved, even at that age, that if I wanted something I could go and buy it myself and didn’t have to rely on anyone else. It sounds a bit strange but that’s what I think I’ve always been driven by.
And that desire for independence, where do you think that comes from?
My parents split up when I was in year eleven and I think that was a big eye opener for me. I always had a feeling they weren’t going to be together forever, I guess I could see that they didn’t love each other enough. My mum had relied heavily on my dad financially as she had chosen to stay home with us when we were young, then suddenly she was in a situation where she had to look after two kids pretty much full time and run a household.
I don’t think things like studying and being switched on and smart come naturally to me but I know if I work hard I get there.
You mentioned that throughout school—and maybe it’s tied to that drive—that you had a fear of failure, is that something you still experience as a 26 year old professional?
Definitely. I have this constant feeling that I need to be good enough and when I try something new, I put myself under a lot of pressure. I just started a new job and I want them to think that they’ve made the right decision by picking me; I want to be good at what I do. I’m a bit impatient. I know that that stuff takes time but I’d love to just hit the ground running.
I always set myself goals. I always wanted an enter score around the 70 mark and I got it, but, to get there, I knew what I had to do. I don’t think things like studying and being switched on and smart come naturally to me but I know if I work hard I get there. So I always make sure that I work hard.
What’s the biggest misconception about you that other people have, do you think?
I’m sure there’s a few but I think probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that I’m a bit rude or stand offish. I’ve had people say to me when I do get to know them, ‘I had no idea you would be so nice you kind of give off a bit of a bitchy type vibe!’
That’s what comes from working in an office with hundreds of people and you don’t get to let everyone know who you are and what you’re about. I’m not one of those people who at a party will go up to everyone and introduce myself, I’m more reserved in that respect.
Outside of that, what are the pros and cons of working in a big corporate environment?
I love working in a big environment with lots of different people in different roles. But probably when you’re in a corporate environment, in a big office and a big team, you can sometimes fly under the radar, so if you’re doing really good work, it might not get noticed.
Prior to this new job I was in a team of only two people and I found that really interesting as I’d never worked in an office team that small. I found that allowed me to get noticed and I probably performed better in that environment because I kind of had to step it up. My new team is fourteen people so I see that as a bit of a challenge because nationally there’s probably close to 100 people who do that job and in corporate environments you’re measured against everyone nationally. So I’ll probably find that a bit more difficult but at the same time it’s an opportunity to learn from all kinds of different people and get to learn what works for them, what doesn’t and just build those relationships.
I always want more and I always know that I can do more and do better. I don’t think I’ll ever be content. I don’t think I’ll ever say, ‘Oh, I’ve done all that I can do.’
Where do you see yourself in ten years time then?
In ten years time I would love to be a mum. I’m someone who plans so I’d like to start having children at 30 with my fiancé Brad who I have been with for seven years. I would like to be a working mum and my plan is to have two children. I think I will stay in the banking industry, I very much enjoy the environment and working for my current employer has just been an amazing experience. They care so much about their people, I have been given endless opportunities for training and development. They have a lot of programs that help promote women in business, we really have the opportunity to be ourselves, speak up and learn from one another. So my plan is to stay with them and, if that happens, I’d love to be in a managerial position with some direct reports. I’d love to inspire others to do really well and help lead a team.
Well Bree definitely thinks you’ll be running everything soon!
What would you say has been the biggest change in you since the fourteen-and-seven month-year-old who started at McDonald’s to the 26-year-old Lauren that you are now?
I am more prepared. At fourteen-and-seven-months I was the one who didn’t have a care in the world. Now that I’m older, I am constantly planning. Brad and I purchased a unit last year, so we now have a mortgage and that was a big thing for me because I’ve always wanted to buy a place of my own and doing it at 26 just made me extremely happy.
So for me the biggest change was thinking about the future and planning ahead. I’m more mature. Having real goals that I want to achieve is probably the real difference from then to now.
And with all this planning that you do, do you ever find it difficult to be content with where you are?
Yes. I always want more and I always know that I can do more and do better. I don’t think I’ll ever be content. I don’t think I’ll ever say, ‘Oh, I’ve done all that I can do.’ There’s always going to be something that I think I could have done differently or something I could have done more of but I know that that’s reality, that’s what happens.
Is that something that exhausts you?
No, I think it keeps me going. I have a natural urge to try new things even though they often scare me. I never want to be set in my ways I want change and I want challenges thrown my way.
If you want to be vocal that’s fine but don’t sweat the very small stuff. Pick your battles.
So who inspires you the most in your life?
Probably my mum. She is one of my best friends. She’s had a really hard life, I help her through a lot of her issues and I really like taking on that role. I talk to her everyday about whatever is going on in her life. She’s 54 and she is as strong as she has ever been, now. That’s really an amazing thing to see. She didn’t have the upbringing that I had, she didn’t have the relationships that I have and that did affect her a lot. But she is really in a great place right now and it really inspires me that she’s got there based on her life experience.
What is the most courageous thing our mum has ever done?
My mum isn’t someone I would refer to as a risk taker, however, this year she is about to step out of her comfort zone and go overseas on a holiday by herself. This is a huge step for her and one she is very excited and nervous about. The best part about this is she will get to experience new adventures and meet new people…a huge step in the right direction, I’m so proud of her!
Excellent! So what advice would you have for the kind of women kind of coming up behind you into the corporate environment?
Put your head down and do what your paid for and that is to work. I suggest not getting involved in too many office politics. I’ve seen a lot of women get involved in too many gossip circles and management notice that kind of thing. That’s something that really helped me progress in that I picked my battles and ensured my image was not tarnished with office gossip.
The other thing is, as bad as this sounds, not to be too much of a whinger. They always say, ‘Squeaky wheel gets the oil,’ but I don’t really believe in that. I think if you’ve got issues, absolutely raise them, but raise them in the right environment. I think one of the worst things women can do in an office environment is whinge out loud all day long and get involved in silly politics that really don’t mean anything. If you want to be vocal that’s fine but don’t sweat the very small stuff. Pick your battles.
Why do you think there’s an inclination with a lot of women to get involved in the gossip?
We are passionate and we like to express how we are feeling, which is great, however, it can be taken too far. I think when you’re new into an organisation or an environment, you want to do whatever you can to fit in with your colleagues, you want to make those friends, you want to be included and I think some of the more experienced people can often drag some of the newbies down a bit. I’ve seen that happen quite a lot. At the end of the day your personal brand is very important we really need to think of how we want others to perceive us.
What do you think we should be talking more about? What’s an issue that needs more airtime?
Well, in my new team there’s fourteen of us and only three are women. There’s all this talk about quotas and, in fact, I have been approached recently by other companies who said they only wanted to interview women for roles due to quotas they needed to meet. So there’s a lot of stigma around women not getting enough opportunity and, yes, that’s probably the case, but I think there are more factors to consider such as offering flexible arrangements, encouraging women to put in for roles they think they are under qualified for (we know men do) and other women helping to promote one another. I think a better quota is for 50/50 gender split in interviews.
It used to be that women were too scared to get up from their desk when they finished at 3pm. They only got paid to 3pm but they felt like everyone would think they weren’t doing enough work.
So your view is that quotas are kind of going a little bit too far? That the issue needs to be addressed before the quota comes into question?
Definitely. I think there needs to be equal opportunity but you can’t force hiring women because it still has to be the right person for the right role. So many times they have put women into management positions and they’re not ready and they’ve done it just to get a number and I think that just makes it look like women can’t handle the role and this does more damage to what we are trying to achieve. I think just ensuring that women get equal amounts of training and opportunities and having a 50/50 split in interviews is the way to go.
When I first joined the corporate world, there was a lot of discussion about men getting paid more than women and I think it is still an issue although my experience is that it’s changed a lot. I do know that a lot of women will coach other women on how to have those negotiations. I sure know that I am much better at them than when I first started out. It was actually my fellow male colleagues who gave me tips in this department.
There is work to be done worldwide on this but in my organisation I have seen a huge step be taken in the right direction in terms of 50/50 interviewing, women in leadership positions, working from home options, flexible working arrangements, paternity/maternity leave for both men and women and job sharing options.
That’s a really interested perspective. It’s a very difficult problem to solve, but investing in women from very young is a logical idea. What about the question of family? Do you think it’s in people’s head that at some point women will leave the work force to have children?
When I was at my previous employer everyone would say ‘What’s the point of putting a woman in a management position if she’s going to leave to have three kids and she’ll be off for six years?’ There was very much that negative attitude when I first started in my corporate career. But recently I see so many men taking paternity leave. They are encouraging women to get back to the workforce and they’re encouraging men to take three months off or six months off to be the primary carer. It’s fantastic!
Also we have a lot of men leave the office at 4pm or 3pm, managers just walking out and they’ll say, ‘I’m off to get my kids from school.’ It’s a very different mindset.
It used to be that women were too scared to get up from their desk when they finished at 3pm. They only got paid to 3pm but they felt like everyone would think they weren’t doing enough work. But now, the men get up, the women get up, you go do what you have to do.
It sounds like the efforts are being made both to encourage the men into the home and the women into the workplace, that’s great!
Definitely. We’ve got people in very senior leadership positions with children. They work part time or they leave at 4pm and it is very much encouraged.
And that just promotes loyalty doesn’t it? You’re going to stay in an organisation that supports lifestyle?
Definitely, at the end of the day people are the most important part of any organisation if you do right by them they will do right by you.
Just quickly, are there any female leaders you look up to and admire?
The names that come to mind when asked this question are Gail Kelly and Julia Gillard who are great female leaders, however, the women I most admire and look up to are the ones I see in action every day.
I see women take charge of meetings and truly own a board room, I see mums juggling multiple tasks with ease, I see young passionate females climbing the corporate ladder, I see experienced women sharing their knowledge and best practice, I see my female clients dominate C level executive roles, I see female volunteers raising money for those in need, I see my sister who is a primary school teacher making a difference every day to the younger generation. We are all spectacular in our own little way, let’s celebrate this by supporting one another every day!
Well said Lauren, so true! Any final words for the Friday Best audience?
Get out of your comfort zone! For me, because I’ve pushed myself, it now comes naturally to put my hand up for things I never would’ve put my hands up for and as result it’s given me so much opportunity. If you get out of your comfort zone, you get recognition for it, you get to speak to people you wouldn’t’ normally speak to and people get to know who you are.
Things I Love
I love shopping for bargains!
I love practicing yoga every Saturday with my bestie Bree who is our wonderful instructor.
Family, friends and fiancé
I love spending quality time with my fiancé, family & friends this usually involves eating yummy food!