Understanding Diversity in NZ Workplaces – M2woman Journey to Excellence Podcast – Episode 1

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To quote a previous audience member, because we get feedback after each of these things, “More men should be involved in the panels (or a man). I think the days of all women panels are gone and the inclusion and exclusion conversation is not moving forward unless this happens.” Well, we couldn’t agree more. It was just a matter of finding a willing one … and we have. He’s an exceptional one! Rob Campbell is a man of many talents and backgrounds. He’s the chair of Sky City, Summerset Group Holdings Limited, Tourism Holdings Limited, and Well Networks Limited. He’s a director of Precinct Properties New Zealand Limited as well. He’s got over 30 years’ experience in capital markets and is an advisor to a range of investment fund and private equity groups in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and the US. He is an outspoken advocate of diversity at Board and governance levels within New Zealand companies. Please welcome Rob Campbell as our first panellist today.

Vanessa Sorenson is the Enterprise Director at Microsoft. She’s got more than two decades experience in the New Zealand tech sector. She joined Microsoft New Zealand in 2017 overseeing a large portfolio of business customers and sales teams, after a career at Spark spanning 20 years, most recently as GM. Also serving as Microsoft’s Diversity & Inclusion Team Leader, Vanessa leads initiatives to improve gender and cultural diversity in technology and leadership, particularly through education. She’s passionate about encouraging more girls to study and embrace stem subjects and increasing Māori and Pasifika representation in both technology and business, working with schools and education providers to help ensure all students have equal access to technology. She’s also a strong driver of change in digital transformation across New Zealand organisations, regularly engaging with business leaders to help them unlock the potential of their organisations through the adoption of digital technologies such as Cloud and AI.

Tui Te Hau is the Director of Public Engagement for our National Library. She’s got over a decade of experience in business start-ups under her built. She’s the woman that you want to go to when you have that lightbulb moment. She’s worked with multiple entrepreneurs wanting to kick start creative businesses, VR developers, major New Zealand fashion houses, and export organisations. She was the Chief Executive of Creative HQ. She established the Lightening Lab Accelerator Programme and then went on to set up the world’s first cultural accelerator, Mahuki, which was Te Papa’s Innovation Hub. She joined us on our panel in Wellington at the wonderful Te Papa last year. Mahuki empowers communities to use culture and technology to create sustainable prosperity and entrepreneurs to succeed commercially in and beyond the cultural and heritage sector. We discovered her at Te Papa last year, we’re delighted to have her on one our Auckland panels, please welcome Tui Te Hau.

Our final panellist for this afternoon is Kate Daly. Kate was appointed Director, People and Communications, at BNZ in November 2017. In this role Kate is responsible for leading the organisational culture, talent, and capability initiatives that will enable BNZ to transform banking and deliver outstanding commercial performance through the success of its people. She’s got a background in human resources and communications leadership, having held senior roles across these portfolios since 2001. Most recently Kate was Chief People and Communications Officer with Fletcher Building Limited. Prior to that she was GM People and Performance and Communications with Coca-Cola Amatil NZ Limited, Vice-President of the Human Resources at Deutsche Bank in London, and Vice-President HR at Merrill Lynch also in London.

Carly Flynn: We’re starting off this panel discussion, and I wanted to start with personal challenges or experiences with diversity throughout your stellar careers. Kate, we’ll start with you.

Kate Daly: As I’ve traversed my career, probably some of the most challenging moments I’ve had actually were in London. I worked in banking for Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch and looked after front office bankers and had some pretty personally challenging situations where you have to call conduct and misconduct. When something’s an accepted norm and you’re standing up and saying, ‘Actually, that’s not the way I think we should behave’, sometimes that can be personally quite confronting.

But I’ve always felt you have to have your values and you have to be really true to who you are as a person, and then really use really good influencing skills to try and shape that around you. I’m also on the Board of the Blues and Auckland Rugby, and that’s been a really interesting experience for me going into organisations where it’s very, very male dominated and it’s all about a game that is mostly played by men. Trying to influence around the Board table the importance of thinking, not just about who’s injured in the weekend, but also thinking about organisation and talent and how you manage that and how we face into some of the challenges as a sport we’re facing has been really challenging for me, as a woman, to get that credibility and influence the discussion.

Has it changed since you started your career?

KD: Oh yeah, it has changed but it was really very, very prevalent and very accepted. When we would pay bonuses, our bankers would go and drink pubs dry of Champagne and end up at strip clubs. And you do have to stand up and actually say, ‘Well, there are females who work in that environment who find that really uncomfortable, and actually that’s not the behaviour that we want our employees to be demonstrating’.

Back then it was really accepted, so I do think it has moved on significantly and I think people are a lot more aware now around their responsibility as an employee and a co-worker, to make sure that they provide their peers and colleagues with a safe working environment. So I do think it’s moved on significantly.

Tui Te Hau: I tick a number of the boxes: I’m Māori, I’m a woman, I grew up on the rough side of the tracks, I’m a single mum and I’ve got a high voice. So, there’s a few things working there, and have absolutely experienced times when I’m like, ‘I think you’re judging me.’ But also lately I’ve been thinking more and more about how much I’ve held myself back and how much a lot of the things are going on in my own mind and I’ve already made some assumptions on some things about how they’re judging me.

So, one of the things I decided growing up on the dark side of the tracks, was I wanted to be the doctor. I wanted to be successful, and so that desire is what’s always pushed me forward. Over the last little while, as age creeps upon me, thinking about the issue of shame; how much shame has held me back? I really wanted to share that because I just want to live a joyous life now and go for it. There have absolutely been moments when it’s like, ‘Actually, that’s not right.’
I also have a background in international trade and have experienced that the alcohol levels got to a certain level and I should go now because it’s kind of getting a bit weird. I guess what I’d like to bring to the conversation today is also examining what it is within our own minds that’s holding us back.

Vanessa Sorenson: I too grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and I think really for me, starting out in tech, it was a man’s world. Nine times out of 10, I was the only woman in the room and I think went through a long period of time thinking I had to fit in and that I had to pretend to be something I wasn’t. Whether it meant partying until late in the night or putting up with innuendo or comments, most of it was that imposter syndrome that’s been loud and clear with me for most of my life, feeling this is the way I do need to be.

I think one of the greatest things that’s happened to me really in the last 10 years, is reaching out to more women, because I actually think that women just never support women enough and we seem to actually also compete with each other. I felt when we started linking arms and going, ‘Actually, the power of what we can do collectively is really and truly what’s going to get us there’. Whether it’s talking to each other and being able to be completely open and empathetic with each other, but actually taking on what is primarily seen as what the boys can do.

I have faced an amazing career, always promoted before I felt ready. I have to admit it, when I was promoted to be GM, I asked the CEO ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go out to market?’ These are things that are really, really common and his response was ‘We knew you’d say that. You are the right person for the job. Pull your head in and hold it high.’

I still accepted that job knowing I was fundamentally underpaid compared to my male counterparts. So, I think that’s where my passion comes from. Yes, I’m a high school dropout. Yes, I grew up in caravan parks. Yes, I didn’t go to the right school. And that is why I believe I can make such a difference, because we can, we will, and I did.

Rob Campbell: I can’t really provide a story that’s the equivalent of those. I’ve had a very lucky experience bumbling through a variety of roles in life. What I’ve tried to do as I’ve had various roles, be it in academia or trade unions or, more recent decades, in business, is to make a deliberate effort to immerse myself in different worlds. To try to keep an open mind to what those worlds are about and what they’re doing, and to learn from them. I think one of the hardest things in life for all of us is to break out of patterns that our life establishes.

That’s the big challenge. I’ve been very lucky in my life in many ways, and one of the ways is that I, at several points in my working career, have been challenged by very strong women to stand up and stand beside them in situations where it hasn’t necessarily been all that easy for them. That’s been one of the great gifts that I’ve had from those strong women that I’ve worked with. So, having an opportunity when I can do it, to make some small contribution back is the least I can do.

Rob, tell us about your experience with the New Zealand Trade Unions? And, where your passion for diversity and having that empathy and walking in other people’s shoes, has come from?

RC: I, like most things in my life, really fell into the trade union movement. I thought I was going to be an academic; I was an economist and a bit interested in labour history. And, because it was fashionable to be left-wing in those days at university, I fell into the Committee On Vietnam and Anti-Apartheid Movement and those things. Through that, met some trade unionists and they asked me if I would help them draft a wage claim once and that led to a career for a decade or two in trade union work, and it was very male.

It was even quite shocking, frankly, for a middle-class white guy to go into the trade unions. Working class movement was very heavily dominated by men and by extremely sexist attitudes. So that was quite a surprise to me and quite hard to deal with. While I was working out what my right role was there to do, I came across a woman called Sonja Davies, who I hope you’ll read about her. She’s got a wonderful book about her life called Bread and Roses.

Sonja Davies was a very early Labour movement person who fought for a thing called a Working Women’s Charter that was laughed at when it was first raised in the trade union movement. Sonja incredibly bravely, along with obviously many other women, fought hard for that. I was lucky enough, fortunate enough to be someone working alongside her while she did that. I learnt an enormous amount for it, and I can recall a Federation of Labour Conference in the old Wellington Town Hall, Sonja actually booting me in the arse and saying, ‘There’s been four women talk to this, it’s about time you got up!’ and so I did, and we sort of managed to get that through.

Then again, some years later, the Labour Party in the 1980s wasn’t the most women-friendly place in the universe either and I happened to wind up on the national executive there alongside Margaret Wilson and Helen Clark. Both of whom had quite strong attitudes on the topic, to say the least, and were intolerant of anyone who was active there to not be very supportive of what was happening in the Labour Party in those days.

Again, two very strong women who were fantastic leadership to me in thinking about how you involved women in organisations that had been previously been very male-dominated. Of course, I left there and found yet another male-dominated world in the business world and Boards. While there are many, very strong women working in that environment, I’ve got to say I think it’s sort of the last bastion. Boards are being incredibly slow in New Zealand to adapt to the need for gender diversity, which I think is a pressing business issue for all of us. It is down to sexism and nothing else.

I spoke this morning at an Institute of Directors breakfast. I don’t always spend my life at luxury breakfasts and lunches too much of the time, but I did go down to the Northern Club and I talked a bit there about gender diversity. It wasn’t the main topic, but I did talk about it a little bit, and nobody took any objection to what I was saying. But two people came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Yeah, very good Rob, it’s always very popular at these things but the truth is, you can’t find women to do these jobs, can you?’

In some ways, that was quite shocking because the point I had been making was exactly the opposite, and it is untrue. Watch for people who talk about appointment on merit, because it is the big trap that people fall into now. They say, ‘Look, yeah, no, absolutely we should have gender diversity, but it has to be merit’. But what they mean by merit is men. What they mean by merit is the characteristics that male directors currently have.

If you challenge them to say what constitutes merit for what a business needs today, you will quickly be able to disaggregate that and show that, in fact, what is being talked about is not merit but privilege.

VS: Everyone knows that the saying is: You see that role that goes up and you go, ‘I want that.’ The woman goes ‘But I’ve kind of only got 80 percent of all of the things that they’re looking for.’ A guy goes, ‘Oh, I’ve only got 10 percent, I’m going to be fine’. And this is part of what we’ve got to change, because that inner critic and confidence is why I believe so many people, or women especially, aren’t putting their hand up.

I think for many of us, all of the stereotypes of, don’t show emotions at work, don’t cry. Or you being that woman that’s stamping, getting the fist on the desk, ‘Oh yep, she’s just like a bloke.’ So it’s goddam confusing, right? What are you supposed to be? Well, just be yourself. Merit. Go for that role because you truly do believe in yourself.

Lean into people that are actually going to tell you the things that you need to hear, not what you want to hear, and find incredible male mentors like this. People that truly say ‘I believe in women and you can do this.’ That’s what most need, because nine times out of 10 women go, ‘You know what? I can’t be bothered. I don’t want to be involved in that sort of thing, if that’s what’s going to be the underlying behaviours.’ So, find incredible male supporters and mentors. That would be critical.

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