Olive Mary 'Dusty' Rhodes was one of the first female leaders in credit management. She is an ongoing inspiration to everyone in the profession. The only female in her year, she topped her class at the South Australian Institute of Technology. Subsequently, she had the audacity to apply to be a member of the South Australian Institute of Credit Men. In 1964, after a constitutional and name change to the South Australian Institute of Credit Management, she was admitted. Dusty was a passionate advocate for credit management, especially the need for practitioners to receive tertiary education. She's just one of the women who have helped shape credit management and the AICM. Here, we profile two female members who have continued in Dusty's footsteps.
Faye Whiffin has had an illustrious career in credit management. She was the first female fellow in Queensland and was the state's president between 1993 and 1996. Whiffin says one of the biggest changes she has seen over time is the elevation of women from clerks to credit managers. "Credit management is now recognised as a profession. But in the past it was seen as something anybody could do. We've achieved much more recognition over the years; which has come through the hard work of many people," she says. Whiffin says it's up to individuals to forge their own path. "Women make excellent credit managers. They have great attention to detail and can quickly spot potential problems. "But it's up to credit managers to pursue ongoing professional development.
There are many opportunities for training and anybody aspiring to be a credit manager should avail themselves of all that education." There's no reason training has to be boring. For instance, Whiffin once organised a conference on a train. "We secured all of the first class carriages as well as a conference car. We had a range of speakers, and traveled from Brisbane to Proserpine having sessions all the way. We had lunch in Proserpine, got back on the train, resumed the sessions and we threw in some interesting activities along the way," she says.
For instance, one member dressed up as a drunk as an exercise to find out how calm credit managers really are. "He got an old raincoat and clothes from an op shop and poured fish oil all over them, so he stank. We managed to slip this guy off the train before we pulled into the station in Mackay. He was sitting on a bench at the station, drinking something in a brown paper bag and members saw him slip onto the train. "People went ballistic trying to find him. When the conference re-started our guy staggered into the conference car. Everyone leapt out of their seats and just as the train lurched, the guy fell down clutching his bottle. People were screaming – then he got up and took off his disguise to reveal himself as one of our well-known members."
Whiffin says taking the creative approach helps people to remember what they learned. "I can tell you people never forgot that conference." Her message for women and anyone who wants to advance their career as a credit manager is to put in the work to receive the recognition you deserve. "Women are very capable; half our members are women. But nobody can rest on their laurels. I encourage all women not to think of themselves as clerks but as professionals and act accordingly. Put yourselves out there, act appropriately and keep pushing forward," she says.
Jan Reeves formerly ran a consulting firm which specialised in recruiting credit and collections professionals. Jan feels there has been great opportunities for women to build a career in credit management for many years. "It's all about harnessing opportunities. Credit and collections is an area where women naturally have very good skills. You can never force someone to pay a bill; you have to persuade them. Women seem to be very good at selling people all the reasons why they should pay their account," she says. Reeves advice to women working in credit is to constantly seek out great mentors. "If the person you're reporting to doesn't inspire you, you need to move on." She also recommends only taking advice from someone who has been where you want to go or done what you want to do.
There are many avenues for women who wish to develop their career. Reeves' advice is to attend as many appropriate technical and personal development training courses as possible – and act on lessons learned. "Read, become involved in the industry and attend networking events. Professional development can be enhanced by being part of a group you can add value to, and learn from," she says.
For instance, Reeves founded the Law and Accounting Credit Managers Association. While it's no longer operational, she says this is a good example of a networking group through which members could learn from each other. "We invited people from legal and accounting firms to meet every month to share ideas and learn from each other. It was useful because everyone was challenged by the same set of circumstances in their businesses," she explains.
As for the future, Reeves says there will always be opportunities for women and men in credit. "It's important for credit managers to understand the work they do makes a huge difference to an organisation's bottom line. There is a visible and tangible dollar value gain on the P&L if a business is collecting at 60 days and someone improves that to, say 30 days. There's an opportunity for credit professionals to better communicate this advantage in the companies they work for," Reeves advises. "People who learn how to communicate the dollar difference they can make to an organisation are going to lift their own standing in a business and in the profession," she adds.
Reeves says credit is an ideal job for women. "It's something they can become really good at. There are lots of women holding senior roles in credit and there's always room for more."
*By Alexandra Cain
Freelance finance journalist who has written for many leading Australian and international business publications.