The power of financial literacy: Why Leah thinks the game has changed for women
With a long history working in financial crime, Leah Bennett has seen it all. Here, she speaks to Larisha Jerome about the importance of financial literacy, why we need to see more First Nations women in financial services and how the landscape is changing in positive ways.
Leah: I’m Leah Bennett. I’m currently on Dharawal Country. My family is Wiradjuri. My grandmother grew up Lake Cargelligo and then as she got older, she moved to Balmain in Sydney. And, so, my family settled here on Dharawal country.
Larisha: So, you’re one of the only Aboriginal women working in financial crime in Australia. What’s that like?
Leah: Well, to be honest, I think I might be the only one. I haven’t met any other Indigenous women or I haven’t even really met any other indigenous people working in financial crime.
Look, it can be lonely, not just in financial crime, but just in the corporate world in general. You don’t run into a lot of your own people. The superannuation industry as a whole, I think has a total of like five Indigenous people working in it.
I think it’s a little bit sad too, because I know that there’s a real need for Indigenous people in the financial crime space as well.
We have seen recently increases in Indigenous people being targeted for scams and I would really like to see some more Indigenous people step up into the financial crimes space.
Larisha: What are some of the challenges you had to overcome as your career started out?
Leah: I think the two main ones were a lack of career guidance coming out of school. You know, I grew up in a small country town in Orange, New South Wales, and, you know, you kind of either became like a nurse or you worked in a cafe or restaurant. And that was kind of when you left school, you thought I’ll just go into the same industry that Mum has gone into so I think the biggest challenge, not just for Indigenous children, but I think a lot of children that come out of school is, well, how do I take the skills that I have and the things that I’m good at and how do I make a career out of that, something that I love and that I’m passionate about.
When I left school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to become a police officer, and I went down the path of applying for the place and I got in, but then it just so happened that I ended up in the financial crimes space, and so I kind of got the benefits of working in the corporate world, but I still got to do things like investigations and work in financial crime and deal with the police – just on a different level.
The biggest challenge is that you come from a small country town and you’ve grown up a particular way. You then have to adjust to a very multicultural setting where, like I said before, you don’t really bump into your own kind.
You’re used to seeing your people quite frequently, and then you become the only person your way of living and just life in general is very different when you move to the city and then you have to kind of adapt to the way you know, organisations run, which is something that you’ve never experienced before.
I think my two biggest challenges when it came to starting out were what I wanted to do, but also adapting to such big changes coming out of the country and into a big city.
Larisha: Why is financial empowerment so important for Aboriginal women in particular?
Leah: It is such a big one. It’s such a big, big question because essentially I feel like we really need to go back and look at Aboriginal culture. We need to go back and have a look at the past and what’s happened when we talk about slavery and now we live in a time where we have so much opportunity to be able to do things that we could never do before.
We sometimes leave the financial stuff of our lives up to other people and whether or not that they may be a spouse or a financial planner or we just assume that our financial institution has our best interests at heart. We’re relying a lot on other people to be able to kind of make financial decisions or guide us financially.
I think we need to take that power back as women to be able to take accountability for our knowledge when it comes to finances and to be able to kind of set us up in a position where we can handle life’s challenges.
One of the big things that I see in my own family with the women in my family is that it’s kind of somebody else’s responsibility to ensure their financial security and not because they don’t care about it, but because they don’t understand it – that can cause a lot of stress on you. I mean, there’s a close link between your financial health and your mental health and that if you don’t feel financially secure, then that’s obviously going to play a lot into your emotional health. So, I think that like taking back that power and taking control of your finances, or at least allowing there to be more transparency in your finances at home, to set you up to be able to do things that you didn’t think you could do.
I didn’t learn a lot about finances as a kid. I didn’t learn it at school. I wasn’t really taught it from my parents. And what I kind of saw was just them modeling financial security. And both my mother and my father handled that. Their attitudes toward money were very, very different.
I think that we have to take accountability and responsibility, especially as we get older, to go, ‘Okay, you know, I may not have been taught how to deal with money. I may not have been taught what superannuation is or how to use a credit card or anything like that. But now I’m adult, I have to take responsibility for that, especially when we rely on other people to kind of’.
I think being a stay at home mum is probably the most important job in the world and the most challenging job in the world. But, I think that you should still be financially literate in the event that unforeseen circumstances happen in life, that the opportunities that it gives you when life throws its challenges to be able to navigate your way out of those challenges and come out on top is really important for women.
We look at domestic violence situations where women can’t feel that they, where they feel that they can’t leave those situations because how would they support themselves? How would they support their families? I think when we are not financially literate, then it puts us in difficult situations that we shouldn’t be in.
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