A lot has been said about ‘bringing your whole self to work’ when talking about diversity and workplace culture; for Partners Life chief risk officer Beckie McCleland (pictured), what’s worked is not trying to segment herself into the different roles she plays but, instead, looking at all of them as the combined whole.
McCleland, whose first insurance job was with a life insurer in the UK more than two decades ago, moved to New Zealand in 2010. Her credentials include time spent at the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) - Te Mana Tātai Hokohoko, prior to which she was a stay-at-home parent for a few years. Up until the end of January 2023, McCleland was a member of the Code [of Professional Conduct for Financial Advice Services] Committee, which is the country’s independent standard setter for financial advice.
The CRO, who is speaking at this month’s Women in Insurance (WII) Summit in New Zealand, joined the FMA in 2013 at a time when her kids were little.
She shared with Insurance Business: “I’d been subject to risk & compliance and regulatory stuff, but I’d never worked on that side of the fence. So, I went to work at the FMA monitoring financial advisers. My children were very young at that time – my youngest son was about 18 months old. It was a lot of travel around New Zealand, and it was quite difficult because I had no family here. So, it wasn’t sustainable, really, when you’ve got kids that young.
“Having young children and trying to do a job where you’re travelling around quite a lot – it was too much, basically, and I didn’t like the fact that I was away from home so much. Then a risk & compliance role came up at Milford Asset Management, and I went to work there and I absolutely loved it.”
McCleland then moved to KPMG where she gained insights much in the same way one does while working at a regulator, but conceded that consulting wasn’t a good fit.
“It was a very interesting role,” she said. “You get to see the inside of a lot of companies, some of whom are in a bit of a pickle, and you help them get out of that pickle. And it’s a very vibrant place to work, but ultimately consulting is not for me. I ended up looking around for another role, and this job came up at Partners Life.
“It wasn’t that I actually had planned to work back in insurance; it was more the profile of Partners Life. It was a startup firm that has grown very quickly and is very successful and that gives you the opportunity to build and create and test things – create something and test it, tweak it and test it again, and just by iteration develop something really, really good.”
The CRO declared: “That was what drew me to Partners Life. And I haven’t been disappointed because… we’ve been able to build things and be innovative.”
Having worked now for nearly 25 years, McCleland has taken a particular view when it comes to finding a balance between her career, family, and everything else.
“I don’t try to have work-life balance anymore,” she told Insurance Business. “I don’t do that because it’s stressful to me. What I do is I say, ‘This is my life’. My life is one whole round. Parts of that might be that I’m a mum, I’m a wife, I’m a worker, I’m a teammate, and I’m a sister, but I don’t try and segment that.
“Some days I’ll be a parent for the entire day; some days I might start the day as a parent, then do some work, then be a sister, then be a friend, and then do some more work. Those hours – it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t between 8:00am and 5:00pm, or whatever it is; it all bleeds into one, because that’s all of who I am.
“For me, if I tried to say I need work-life balance and between the hours of this and this I’m going to do exercise and be a parent and whatever else it is and then these are my working hours, it’s far too stressful for me. So, I’ve stopped bothering to try and do it that way.”
McCleland sees the benefit of this approach and encourages her team to do the same.
“If they want to go and watch a play that their kids are in or they want to pick them up from school or they want to change their hours because they’ve got some family responsibilities, they should be able to,” she said. “You’re the whole person, and I want everyone to bring their whole person to work.”
McCleland is among the panellists at the NZ leg of the Women in Insurance Summit. Backed by event sponsor Deloitte, gold sponsors Marsh and Delta Insurance Group, and coffee sponsor Look Good Feel Better, the WII Summit is taking place on February 28, 2023, at Hilton Auckland. Register now.