Bringing up two children on her own was the catalyst that pushed Ruth Owens FCPA into an impressive career.
When Ruth Owens left the family farm at 15, her only plan was to find a job.
Born and bred in western Victoria’s Wimmera district but hating farm life, she headed for the “big smoke” – the city of Horsham – and for the next three years she worked in administration. She married and had a son and a daughter, but her marriage ended when she was 22.
“I couldn’t properly support the children with the job I had, so I went to TAFE to do some Year 12 subjects and then applied for university. We packed up and headed to Warrnambool so I could do my Bachelor of Business Studies at Deakin University.
“The kids were about four and six and I remember having a little cry that first night, thinking ‘What the hell have I done?’, bringing us where we don’t know anyone … but it all worked out.”
Five years later, after combining work and study, Owens graduated, her children in the audience.
Her first job post-graduation was at the head office of clothing company Fletcher Jones, but the job only lasted a year.
“I felt they weren’t utilising me properly, as you do at that age, so I resigned without another job to go to. Not very smart – if the kids did it, I would be horrified,” she laughs.
“However, I rang an accounting firm in town and went into public accounting, my first real accounting job.”
Owens worked at Sinclair Wilson in Warrnambool for five years and became the firm’s first female associate. From there, it was into more managerial roles, including at several law firms, before becoming chief financial officer at the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
“When I turned 50, two years later, and with the encouragement and support of my husband, Kevin, I decided it was time to get out of ‘normal’ work. I did the company director’s course and then took on some board positions.
"I have often been the only woman but I didn’t have a sense of breaking down barriers. For me, it was about trying to survive and providing what the children and I needed."
“Interestingly, the college asked me to join their council as their first non-doctor participant. The dynamics were fascinating because I went from working for the CEO to being on the board, but it worked.”
Boards are now Owen’s life and she relishes the chance to use her skills in governance and strategy. She’s often the only woman in the room.
“Throughout my career I have often been the only woman but I didn’t have a sense of breaking down barriers. For me, it was about trying to survive and providing what the children and I needed rather than doing things for women.
“Now, though, I am mentoring a number of women, helping them in all sorts of roles.”
Owens has a strong sense of social justice and is now firmly ensconced in the not-for-profit sector. She’s cut down her workload to three positions and has stepped up her commitment to community work, particularly supporting refugees, and is now content with her life achievements.
“Obviously, as a mother, getting my children to adulthood, educated and living well is a great joy. So too is my mentoring work in the not-for-profit area, helping women and children through the International Women’s Development Agency, and my volunteer work with refugees.
“So often you don’t have to do very much to make a significant difference to their lives, so I am very proud of the work I do.”
2012 – present
External member, Finance, Audit & Risk Committee, International Women’s Development Agency
2011 – present
Director, VMA (Victorian Metropolitan Alliance), GP training
2006 – 2013
Board director at Cerno, Mind, Asthma Foundation Victoria, Dental Health Services Victoria
2005 – 2008
Director, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
2002 – 2004
National manager, Finance & Corporate Services, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
Graduated from Deakin University, MBA
Qualified as a CPA
1984 – 2002
Regional manager at Stockford Ltd; business manager, Intellectual Property & Technology, Freehills; associate at Sinclair Wilson
Bachelor of Business Studies, Deakin University
This article is from the April 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.