The role of a CEO in driving diversity and change

The role of a CEO in driving diversity and change | Insurance Business New Zealand

The role of a CEO in driving diversity and change

New Zealand’s insurance sector has been placing significant focus towards more equal representation in the boardroom over the last two years, and, according to industry leaders, the role of those at the top is often the most important in driving change.

Gallagher Bassett NZ’s chief operating officer Megan Ferguson, who was recently a panellist at Women in Insurance 2020, said that company leaders need to be visibly committed to fostering diversity – but more than that, they need to be able to listen to feedback from within their organisations and implement changes.

She said it’s also important for leaders to be authentic about their efforts, and if the issue is treated as a box-ticking exercise, its impact will be diminished very quickly.

“CEOs really set the tone and culture for diversity in their organisations, and they do that through visible demonstration of their commitment to diversity,” Ferguson commented.

Read more: Diversity shouldn’t just be about ‘ticking the box’

“That can happen through the things they do every day, but also through the policies and procedures they put in place to champion diversity. It’s about proactivity, speaking widely and being prepared to have those hard conversations across your organisation, but confidently and with authenticity.

“People know when you aren’t speaking authentically, so it’s about really living and breathing diversity and being able to articulate that from a business, social and cultural perspective.”

Ferguson said that a positive side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it’s moved the flexible working conversation forward, but she said leaders now need to be “prepared to commit” to what it involves long-term.

“It’s also about being able to listen to feedback and take it on board, and doing that throughout the entire organisation – not just talking about it as something that needs to be done around the boardroom table,” she said.

“You need to take the time and commitment to speak to people on the front line, really understand what the challenges are, and then be prepared to put things in place.”

“You also need to put the lens on your organisation, and be prepared to have hard conversations around equal pay,” she added. “And then it’s about being prepared to pull the levers you need to in order to balance that out.”

Teresa Tepania-Ashton, CEO of Māori Women’s Development – an organisation offering support, loans and coaching to Māori women in business – said that a CEO’s role as the head of the company is to identify the key values of the business, and to implement change based on those values.

Read more: Top executive on the momentum of change for women in insurance

She noted that a leader’s role can be illustrated by a Māori proverb – e tū ki te kei o te waka, kia pakia koe e ngā ngaru o te wā. To stand at the stern of the canoe, and feel the spray of the future biting at your face.

“The CEO is at the cold face, and not only do we implement, inform and direct both culture and change, whether it be to our governors or staff, we really need to direct and drive that canoe forward,” Tepania-Ashton said.

“COVID has helped us make that change – for those who already predicted a change in trends, the move was seamless – but others have needed to catch up.”

“For me, change in direction needs to be at the core of everything,” she explained.

“Change is inevitable, and, through that, we actually find the culture within our organisations. At Māori Women’s Development, we are really keen on life coaching and mindfulness as a key component of our culture, because it’s driven by our values – and to me, values drive what change in culture should be. Once we identify what those are, we can ensure that right at the top in governance we have diversity, and we have policies that guide our culture.

“So for me, the CEO’s role in driving change is to stand at the stern of that waka and steer, change, innovate and pivot in the right direction.”