Listen to our podcast interview with Karen on Spotify or Apple. 

Karen is the COO at SurePayd - a company that turns accounts receivable into a relationship engine. Whilst from a tech background, she spent the previous decade as the CEO of the National Student Leadership Forum, a not-for-profit group which inspires and supports the next generation of Australian leaders.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do? What's your purpose? 

I’m a mum of three grown kids, married to an awesome guy (who still makes me laugh after 28 years), a reader, music lover, faith practicing, outdoor adventure lover who resides in Sydney. I spend a good bit of my working hours split between helping run an Australian based financial tech company SurePayd and volunteering with a couple of community organisations that I love, mostly working with teenagers and young adults.

As to my purpose…. that’s a conversation that probably needs longer than a paragraph to cover! The most fulfilling part of what I do is seldom related to my vocation and usually a result of the relationships I have, and the people I get to live my life alongside. Although there is certainly something to be said about the satisfaction of a job well done and the cumulative effect of being faithful in the small things over a long period of time that builds trust and value amongst those we work with and for.

ARNA Talks to Karen Stephen from SurePayd COO, WOmen leaders, working women, empowered women

What is something you've learned about yourself this year? 

SO much. That even at 50, I find it hard to rest. If this health crisis and “new normal” has taught me anything, it’s been how much I am driven by performing and doing stuff. I’m discovering that I still find too much of my self-worth in being productive. It looks as if I may have a few good months to practice deconstructing this, whether I like it or not.

What do you love about yourself? 

I love that I’m courageous, awake to those around me, and a learner. These are all different qualities, partly instinctive and some more intentionally cultivated, but they constitute part of my quirky personality that I have grown to enjoy. I think it’s hard for us to talk about these things, because it feels so vulnerable. As soon as we say what we like about ourselves, we feel like it puts a target on us for someone else to judge us by, or worse yet, for us to judge ourselves by.

Often our inner voices are our harshest critics! We all know objectively that there are bits of light and dark in all of us, but it’s so hard to extend grace to ourselves. I think we have to find our intrinsic value and worth in something other than our performance, our profile or our persona. Once we know we are loved just for who we are, we find it so much easier to befriend and love ourselves, with our unique bundle of gifts and flaws, and give others permission to accept and love us as well.

When we do reach gender equality, what does this world look like to you? 

Honestly, it’s probably when we stop fighting against one another for power or opportunity based on gender, and realise that maybe we can all grow and benefit together. Maybe it’s when women don’t have to get stronger at the expense of men, and we can all get stronger together. I want the men in my life (my husband, sons and friends) to be strong, competent and confident, and I also want them to know how to care for and respect the women in their lives. I don’t want them to feel they have to be diminished as men for me to feel ok about myself.

I think as we continue to listen and get to know one another and appreciate the unique gifts we all bring to the table, as well as have some humility around our own pain and shortcomings, we can work toward a world where gender can bring a beautiful, helpful and celebrated difference to our worlds and not primarily be a predicator of inequality.

What do you believe are the behaviours that hold women back? 

I think as women we often shy away from taking risks and stepping into new things without feeling fully prepared. We like the idea of growth, but not really what it feels like. Growing usually means shedding the comfortable thing that fits, and feeling scared, exposed, unprepared, and a bit out of control. But when we stop growing, we stop really living. When I no longer feel the discomfort of taking some risks and doing new things, I stop really learning and I become diminished as a person.

What has been your boldest move to date?

Probably agreeing to do some public speaking engagements later in life. I would never have thought this was something I would be capable of or ever agree to, but the challenge pushed me to grow in so many ways. Learning how to harness, arrange and articulate my thoughts. Learning how hard it is to communicate that with other people. Realising I could flop and still get up the next time and try again. And finding out that I speak WAY too fast. ☺

What's your call to action for women? 

Be brave. But realise that bravery often comes disguised as vulnerability. This vulnerability might be in relationships, it might be in taking risks, or just letting go of striving for control over our lives. So many women grow up trying to be strong that we put up all kinds of protective mechanisms and forget how to let others in. Don’t be afraid to let those people you trust really know you, weaknesses and all. It’s ok to invite people into your mess of your life, and see the person behind the veneer, as it so often frees people to be a bit messy themselves.

If 2020 is teaching us anything, it’s that so often, we are NOT in control and that it’s not all about us and our plans. There is a whole community and a big world and out there that needs our time, love and attention. We have to just get up each day, respond to what’s thrown at us with patience, perseverance and grace and do the best we can to care for those around us.

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