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IWD 2024: In conversation with Jessica Gabai

Sophie Gyles
 
 
8 minute read

This is part one in a conversation series across March where we’re recognising and celebrating International Women's Day by profiling some of the incredible women we have the privilege of working with. This week we spoke to Jessica Gabai, Chief Information an Risk Officer at Metricon, one of our valued client partners. Jess generously took the time to share the lessons she’s learned in her journey in becoming CIO at Australia's leading home builder.

At just 33-years-old, Jessica Gabai is a force to be reckoned with. As Chief Information and Risk Officer at Metricon, Australia’s largest home builder, her path to where she is today is as inspiring as it is motivating.

After doing a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in finance and accounting, Jess started her career as an external auditor at a big firm, but quickly realised she preferred working with people more than numbers, and moved into internal auditing.

After working at a couple of firms, she looked for her next opportunity and found herself at Metricon, tasked with setting up an internal auditing department. Carving out a new department at an industry-leading company proved fertile ground for Jess to grow in her skills and knowledge, and demonstrate her abilities.

“It was a brand new internal audit department, it was a blank canvas. There was so much to achieve and do, versus if I had applied for another traditional internal audit role in a mature business that was really big, there wouldn't really have been room to move up.”

'It was a brand new internal audit department, it was a blank canvas. There was so much to achieve and do…'

As she excelled in her role, her remit grew. First, Risk was given to her to manage, and then Business Improvement. Finally, IT projects began entering her domain, including the rollout of ClickHome, a company-wide construction management software.

“We rolled out policies, we rolled out training, and then one of the directors said, well, can you help roll out a major IT project across the business? We were also doing business requirements for our software developers, so we were taking on more and more IT functions,” she explains.

In a testament to the directors’ confidence in her ability to rise to any challenge, the Risk and IT departments at Metricon recently merged, with Jess at the helm. If she’s daunted by the responsibility, you wouldn’t know it. “I'm looking after IT now as well, which I never would have expected. But it's fantastic. It's so interesting, and so challenging, I love it.”

Combining IT and Risk has naturally brought together Jess’s strengths in auditing and business improvement, with the technology implementation required to meet the needs of the business.

“Quite often, there'll be a risk or an issue from the business, and the solution to address that risk is an IT one. So for example, making a certain field mandatory or automating a certain process, or a certain exception report. It helps address those risk audit findings—they go hand in hand.”

Highly driven and laser sharp, Jess has sought challenge and growth since she began her career, evidenced by earning a C-Suite role in her early 30s.

“I want to be challenged and ever-changing, effecting change within the business, transforming things and working with people.”

'I want to be challenged and ever-changing, effecting change within the business, transforming things and working with people.'

“I was never going to be in a role that was just set and forget and stay there for the next 40-50 years,” she says. “If I was in a role for a year or two, I'd quickly reach a point where I’d think: what's next? I never imagined I'd be in the C-suite, but I think naturally, if you're constantly hungry for more, it's never enough where you are.”

It’s a known fact that as the level of seniority in management increases, women’s representation decreases. In 2022-23, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the proportion of women CEOs in Australia was just 22%. If you narrow the focus to Chief Information Officers, only 10% of CIOs in Australia are women.

The reality of these statistics isn’t lost on Jess. “I think, particularly at the C-suite level, you do see less women. It's an ongoing challenge,” she reflects.

Why? There are of course multiple factors, one of which is biases and structural inequalities that exist in the workplace. Another is the load and pressure women are carrying at home. Statistics reveal the domestic division of labour between men and women is still unequal, with women taking on more of the unpaid labour than their male counterparts.

Jess says it’s something she and her peers regularly come up against as ambitious women with children.

“Speaking from my own (heterosexual) experience, women do still struggle to "do it all"; to raise the kids, to look after the household, to carry the mental load and be successful in their career. My hope would be that in the future it's not just this constant struggle, and it’s more equal for men and women at work and at home.”

Despite the challenges women experience domestically, on the work front, Jess has found Metricon to be supportive of her ambitions and career.

“Metricon treats everyone the same. It doesn't care if you're a male, female or otherwise. They recognise success and good performance, they look at you as an individual, and if you're doing well, and you're working hard, the world is your oyster.”

Speaking to her, it’s clear Jess loves to see the impact of the team she leads, to witness transformation up close.

“It’s rewarding when you can touch and feel the results of what you've implemented, versus an accounting type role, where you might just be repeating the same procedures routinely.”

'It’s rewarding when you can touch and feel the results of what you've implemented.'

It’s this constant hunger to find efficiencies and improve the customer and employee experience that she says drives her each day. “Finding things that can make people's lives easier, or better, or quicker, both for our staff and for our customers,” she says.

Although Jess is clearly gifted at her job, she doesn’t underestimate the impact of being surrounded by people who empower and invest in her. Jess describes her Metricon colleagues as a kind of ‘second family’, and says she considers herself lucky to love her job and the people she works with. In fact, it’s something she wishes everyone could experience.

“I think it's critical to do something that you love and work with amazing people. You're here eight hours a day, every day if you work full-time. If you're doing something you don't like and you're not working with good people as well, it will just kill you.”

Outside of work, Jess emphasises the importance of a holistic approach to life as key to her overall success and wellbeing. She highlights the relationship between moving her body, catching up with friends and family to keep her grounded when work is hectic. “My kids, the gym, my friends,” are the trifecta she credits with keeping her sane.

Speaking to Jess, it’s clear she is at a pretty special point in her life and career. The world truly is her oyster. Wherever she ends up, one thing is clear: she’ll be leaning in.

Read part two of our IWD Conversation Series with Tegan Wotton from Space Between.

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