The roadmap to equal gender representation - Équité CEO

How can the insurance industry get the balance right?

The roadmap to equal gender representation - Équité CEO

Diversity & Inclusion

By Surina Nath

Strong leadership is the foundation to building a resilient team and Terri O’Brien, president and CEO of Équité Association, is an inspirational industry leader who prioritizes cultivating a dynamic workplace culture.

With a focus on communication, transparency, and coaching to support the growth of her team members, O’Brien takes her past experiences and channels those skills into her role as CEO.

Prior to joining Équité, O’Brien was chief risk officer at Interac Corp and held senior executive roles at TD Bank, as well as other financial institutions, throughout her 25-year career.

Over the last decade, she mentioned that there has been a major shift in gender representation; today, there are significantly more women in executive-level positions than at the start of O’Brien’s professional career.

“The most notable change that I’ve seen was over the last two years,” she said. “While the pandemic has been extremely difficult for women in particular, it has also created new opportunities for female leaders.”

For many years women were looking for more work-life balance and the transition to remote/hybrid work has helped make that possible. Now, women can work anywhere, and are being held to their “accountabilities not their visibility”.

“The pandemic has made a big difference in the lives of both men and women, but female leaders in particular have been asking for more flexible work arrangements for many years,” she emphasized.

O’Brien noted that during the pandemic far more women lost their jobs than men based on “unconscious bias and systemic issues” and now, more than ever, leaders have the responsibility and the opportunity to support women looking to make professional strides.

“Far too often women are quietly completing amazing work without speaking up for their own accomplishments and talents,” she said. “We all bear the responsibility as leaders to promote women both specifically into more senior roles, and their skills and contributions as well.”

O’Brien takes this responsibility seriously, setting the purposeful goal of having 50/50 gender representation within the association.

“We have to consciously overcome these challenges and provide leadership teams with the tools to ensure equal representation in the funnel as well as at the top,” she added.

It has been a proud year for Équité as the goal of 50/50 representation was achieved in both the board of directors and the Équité senior leadership team. O’Brien will continue to prioritize equal gender representation for the long run.

To help ensure that representation in the funnel is diverse enough, the CEO noted that talent reviews are extremely useful tools to identify where there may be apparent gaps, and pinpoint where leadership should adjust its approach.

“It’s important to be conscious about how you hire, how you promote, and how aware senior leaders are about strategies to bolster diversity,” O’Brien stated. “It’s the consciousness of a team’s awareness at senior leadership tables that helps identify where the opportunities to be more inclusive exist.”

To enhance diversity awareness, O’Brien works closely with Équité’s culture committee to keep building on core values, listening closely to staff members, and cohesively working together as an organization to help foster a more inclusive work environment.

“The culture committee is always working on a number of initiatives. We launched our vision, mission, and values, and the next initiative is around implementing regular employee engagement touchpoints to ensure we’re effectively living our values,” she said. “At Équité we are deeply invested in each other’s success, and explore possibilities for growth together.”

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