If you want to have your cake — and eat it too

By Sophie Baldwin

Power suits, corporate power, working weeks of 70 hours and more or life in a regional hub where you get to deliver the same results with the same skillset and professional power — and have a life. The choice wasn't too hard for Michelle Johns. Sophie Baldwin reports

Collins St, in Melbourne's CBD, is a long way from Nish St in the retail hub of downtown Echuca.

And it might be a world ago when Michelle Johns sat in a boardroom atop that most stately of streets as a state manager for St George Bank financial planning.

Financial planning is, and always has been, the domain of the opposite sex.

But a domain in which Michelle has always done better than most, carving out a highly successful career.

At its pinnacle, she sat at the corporate table lost in a sea of 40 men in dark suits.

Success didn't come easily either — she was working upwards of 70 hours a week to prove herself.

“I always felt like I had to work harder than anyone else to validate myself and gain respect — and I don't think that environment has changed today, as much as we would like to think it has,” Michelle said.

In 2013 she left the corporate world behind and moved to Echuca to become a partner in Stubberfield Group.

Moving back to the country (she is originally from Mildura) has been a huge change for Michelle but it certainly has been a welcome one.

It has provided Michelle with the opportunity to become the second female to be an equity partner in The Stubberfield Group and allowed her to continue her love of financial planning.

It has also given her husband and twin boys a true sense of belonging.

“I think every corporate career has a breaking point and a lifespan and I had hit mine. I would have had to move to Sydney and I would have not had a life at all. My life would have just been one big long cycle of work, work and more work.

“I am now out of the banking system and even though all of my business partners are male, the team at Stubberfield has really supported me. I just love helping my clients in a much more relaxed and personal environment.”

She laughs as her corporate bag has been replaced by a nappy bag and she has become another mum, trying to balance a career, family and her personal life.

Can women have it all?

That's a tough question, according to Michelle.

“I find it difficult that I am not at work five days a week as a business owner and employee. But I am also a mum and a wife and it becomes hard when you have to balance it all. I only work three days a week at the moment — my boys are two-year-old ratbags,” she laughed.

Michelle loves every minute of being a mum but she also loves her job and helping people achieve their goal of financial security.

Balancing the two has proved to be somewhat of a struggle and a definite juggling act.

It was this struggle that became a catalyst for Michelle to create a networking group of local woman called Get Connected Echuca.

“I had spoken to other women in similar situations who were struggling too and I thought why don't we pull together to help each other and better our situations — life shouldn't be a competition and if women pull together and support each other, we can achieve anything.”

Michelle said there was a wealth of untapped knowledge right here in Echuca-Moama and many successful women in their own right.

And she has found most of them are more than happy to pass on their experiences to others.

“Some women are under the impression they need to move away from rural areas to further their careers, but there is so much knowledge right here in Echuca.

“In my line of work I have met many amazing women with many different skill sets and I really wanted to find and create a networking group to connect these local women.”

Get Connected Echuca meets in an informal setting once a month.

There are no membership fees and the group is open to women of any age and occupation.

“We usually have some sort of guest speaker each month and the meetings are all about getting together, sharing information, knowledge and having some fun.”

Michelle has been surprised by how the concept has kicked off.

“Women have a lot to offer but sometimes we are pulled in a million different directions,” she said.

“It's nice to take some time out and spend it with other women going through similar experiences.

“We always enjoy each other's company and it was a great thing to be involved in.”