With many companies striving towards diversity and the concept of “gender balance”, we sat down with our Head of Compliance, Rachael O’Halloran, to discuss her experience with gender balance or imbalance in leadership teams, and the benefits of finding balance.
What has been your experience with gender proportion in leadership teams which you have worked with or on?
I qualified initially as a solicitor and worked in private practice where the gender proportion in the leadership team was very balanced. Moving from there to the insurance industry, there is definitely a more pronounced gender imbalance, but it is changing!
I have had a varied experience in relation to leaders from both genders and have found that while men and women can take different approaches to work and decision-making, I have ensured that my ability to challenge has not been impeded either way. Regardless of gender, I have been able to find a way to maintain fluid working relationship in order to continue to be a valued contributor to the senior management teams within which I functioned.
What does gender balance mean?
For me, gender balance means creating an environment whereby there are no impediments or barriers for an individual to reach their full potential irrespective of gender. Gender balance has many positives to it. Men and women can bring different skills and perspectives to the workplace including different attitudes to risk and collaboration. As the CBI highlighted, it:
- Reduces the likelihood of group-think
- Reduces overconfidence
- Improves decision-making
- Enhances culture
- Improves risk management
- Increases the level of internal challenge in financial services firms
- Reduces excessive resistance to external challenge
What efforts have Allianz taken, or does Allianz need to take, towards gender-balanced leadership?
Allianz Group places a lot of importance on diversity and inclusion. Part of diversity includes gender equality. From the Board through to its recruitment of employees, Allianz p.l.c. is committed to identifying the people best qualified for the relevant role. For senior management roles, Allianz Group has initiatives to support diversity including talent development programmes that aim to have 200 female senior executives as part of the leadership teams throughout the Group. As part of succession planning with Allianz p.l.c., we also look at diversity and inclusion as part of that process. In addition, our top management team within Allianz p.l.c. has a 50:50 gender balance.
What do you feel is the importance and/or significance of having a leadership team which is gender-balanced? What is the effect on workplace culture?
For me, having a leadership team which is gender balanced avoids a uniform way of thinking. It stimulates diverse challenge, competitiveness, and productivity. When diversity is embraced by an organisation it can lead to more innovative ideas and unique perspectives which often lead to greater creativity.
What difference, if any, have you seen between imbalanced and balanced teams?
In relation to differences which I have experienced, gender balance leads to better discussion and challenge. Where you have an imbalanced team, it can lead to group-think. I would caveat with any diversity (gender, race etc.), it only works where people feel comfortable enough to speak up and present a contrarian view!
What are some potential next steps towards balance?
Allianz has a comprehensive suite of HR policies and procedures designed to ensure that we have a diverse and inclusive workforce and workplace (flexible working, equal opportunities etc.). We regularly measure this by way of our employee engagement and pulse surveys which specifically asks questions in relation to diversity and inclusion. The internal work Allianz has underway in the area of diversity and gender balance is also reflected in our sponsorship portfolio. Allianz sponsor Paralympics Ireland including a partnership with three brand ambassadors including Ellen Keane (swimming), Jason Smith (Athletics) and Michael McKillop (Athletics). Also our Golf sponsorships include our sponsorship of Paul McGinley which is now running for over 25 years and Leone and Lisa Maguire who we signed in 2018.
"We have great values here at Allianz, but culture does not come from buzzwords. It’s all about how we treat each other on a daily basis!” - Ivanka Williams, Diversity & Inclusion, Allianz Group
Register to attend the Executive Institute’s Towards a Gender Balanced Leadership Team event Wednesday 6 November, 2019 from 11am-2pm.
Learn more: https://www.womenleaders.ie