Insurance leader says diversity & inclusion not a tough conversation anymore

Executive general manager "incredibly proud" of the shift

Insurance leader says diversity & inclusion not a tough conversation anymore

Diversity & Inclusion

By Terry Gangcuangco

There was a point in time when Suncorp New Zealand executive general manager (EGM) for people & culture Catherine Dixon (pictured) was the only female at the senior leaders’ table; now she is “incredibly proud” of the industry-wide shift and believes diversity & inclusion (D&I) is no longer a tough conversation to have.

A panellist at the International Women’s Day event organised by the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance (ANZIIF), Dixon pointed to how critical it is to take a structured and thoughtful approach to D&I within organisations.

Suncorp, for instance, runs career resilience programmes aimed at supporting and developing female talent, while at the same time having employee resource groups such as Suncorp Women Connect. According to the EGM, many opportunities are also provided in terms of working in different parts of the business by way of rotations.

“We use a combination of different approaches, and we have seen that pay absolute dividends over the years,” said Dixon during the panel discussion. “We’re at 50/50 [split of] senior women [to men] across the organisation in New Zealand now, and we’ve had the benefit of seeing some incredible female talent really build their confidence and make those moves.”

Nurturing talent and changing mindsets

Part of the progress, according to Dixon, is challenging people’s mindsets and recognising potential.

“I have [always been passionate about talent development], and I’ve worked in the core insurance part of the business and in people & culture or human resources over the years, so I get the insurance industry,” she declared.

“One of the reasons I love the role I am in, from a people & culture perspective, is that nurturing of talent… It’s the joy of seeing people move towards reaching their potential or progressing their career and overcoming some of those obstacles, which are often other people’s mindsets.”

To illustrate, Dixon used technical roles as an example.

She noted: “[With] a motor vehicle assessor or any form of assessor, there’s this mindset that you have to have been a mechanic or a panel beater or a builder. We’ve proven that wrong by nurturing talent, where people who have a bent for that kind of work have proven that you actually don’t have to have a particular background to be successful in a role.”

When recruiting, said Dixon, it helps to think outside the box.

“Think about the capabilities, the qualities, the approach, the relationships that roles have, and so on, and you might find yourself some amazing talent that is actually going to do a fantastic job,” she shared with the panel. “And I love seeing those changes… and people really reaching their potential or going beyond what they think their potential is, and actually seeing that the sky is the absolute limit.”

“Phenomenal strides”

Years ago, Dixon herself had doubts when it came to her own career but has since recognised the importance of support and sponsorship from others.

“As a [working] mum, I never thought I would get into a role at this level,” she recalled. “I had complete expectation it would never happen, but I also had the support to get here. And when you’ve been in that position, you do really want to make sure you can turn around the other way and help others do the same.”

In Dixon’s view, it’s not particularly hard to make the changes happen in terms of female representation at senior levels, especially when an organisation is committed.  

“[When it comes to supporting women in the workplace], I think we have made phenomenal strides,” she said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, of course. We still have issues like the gender pay gap, which we haven’t nailed yet but we’re improving constantly. We still have some of those mindsets that we have to work on.

“But, overall, I’m just incredibly proud of the shift I have seen, and that’s not just within my own organisation but more broadly across the insurance industry.”

For Dixon, the progress has been significant.

“I think we’ve made the most incredible progress over the last 10-plus years,” she asserted. “I think the whole focus on diversity & inclusion has been embraced by most people – certainly enough of a groundswell for it not to be something that is a tough conversation to have anymore, particularly when it comes to women.”

Dixon, who has been with Suncorp for 24 years, was joined by other female leaders from Australia and Asia for the discussion, which was made public on International Women’s Day 2023.

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