What’s Standing In The Way Of You Becoming A Leader? M2woman Journey To Excellence Podcast – Episode 2


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Fantastic, thanks Vanessa. Look, we are going to widen the discussion throughout the next year into other diversity groups as well, but while we’re on women and boards, Kate, I’m interested in where your interest and empathy for diversity came from, and then pathways to get to a board. Because I imagine there’s plenty women in the room that want to be leaders, that want to be on boards, and it sounds to me like a lot of the barriers, especially what the three of you have brought up, is self-confidence.

Kate:  So my passion for diversity actually was born out of my trip, well, my time living in London.  When we living there, and for those of you who have lived in England and in London, there’s quite a class structure and you can identify people in terms of where they’ve grown up, by their accept.  So, they do tend to categorise people by where they come from, and I used to say it’s not like that back in New Zealand, you know, everyone can have a go, it’s a great country, we don’t prejudice against people for their backgrounds and….  Then I came home and started working here and thought, actually, we do, because it’s all white, and so I became really interested in why Māori and Pasifika in the company I was working for, couldn’t find a pathway through from the frontline and from that sort of middle management through to senior roles.  

So, I started becoming very interested and engaging with them, and learning a lot culturally around the barriers that workplaces put up for different communities and different cultures—and, without even thinking about it, you put bias up in terms of how you select people and the recruitment process you make people go through, because that’s not necessarily how it happens in other cultures.  Other cultures particularly Pasifika, you know, your church will ask you to be a leader and they will engage you, and it’s a very different process. So, I became very interested in the Māori and Pasifika. At the same time in the same workplace, I became very good friends with someone I worked with who’s gay—and, though coming into this community with his partner and understanding and talking to them about the prejudice and the bias that they experience from, you know, a very young age in their life, I just became very passionate about trying to help that community and be a very strong advocate for them, and to make sure that the organisations that I worked for supported those communities.

Obviously, I’ve always been…, as a female I am a strong advocate.  I have three children, I want my daughter and I want my sons to look and say, you know, it’s great to have a career and have a family and do both.  So, it’s something…, I’m a deep equalitarian at heart and I’m quite a socialist in that respect, and I feel very passionately that for Aotearoa New Zealand we must embrace diversity because we need to do that to win on the global stage.

So, in terms of boards, one of the things that I find interesting when I look at boards is the selection criteria that they apply to choose board members, and they often in my experience looking at boards, they’re looking for accountants and lawyers and CEOS; they’re not looking for marketers, they’re not looking for HR people, and those are the professions that women predominantly fall in.  I would hazard a guess that if we went across the NZX 50 and asked all the CEOs what the top three things they’re worried about, people would be one of them. Yet, as an HR professional, I look across the boards and I don’t see HR represented in many boards at all, so I think for me it’s around how boards think about opening, you know, what skill they’re looking for because I think they are probably over-dominated towards business skills.

The other thing that I think is a glaring gap is age, because one of the things in the banking sector that we’re looking at is this most amazing rapid digitalisation of everything: workplaces, you know, customer preferences, and if we don’t get young people who think like that and act like that onto our boards and helping us make decisions, we’re going to get left behind.  Because what I worry about is that the age gaps and the thinking across the age gaps is just becoming more and more extreme, and some of the companies like WeChat, Amazon Pay…. The biggest bank actually in America is Amazon Pay. They don’t have a branch, they don’t have a retail network, they don’t even have a banking office; they do it all online and they’re now the biggest bank.  If you look at some of the companies, the start-ups that are coming through Silicon Valley, average age is 27. So, they’re thinking about business in a very different way and they have the capability to scale and come into to countries like ours so easily. That would be the other thing I think if I were on a board, you know, I’d be looking at.

In terms of getting into boards, the Ministry for Women’s Affairs has a really good website and they have a survey you can complete where you put your skills in, and it will help you identify the best way to get onto a board.  Normally not for profits are great, a really good way to get in, but I also think if you really want to be on a board, the best thing you can do is try and find a male sponsor who’s on a board who can help sponsor you and help you get the profile you need to get on.  Because often, and like with all things, it’s often sometimes having those connections and making those connections work for you, so don’t be shy in asking someone to help you out. Rob.

Rob, would you like to pick up the mantle here because I alluded at the start that you’re on some good boards and some bad boards.  I’m curious. I love that point that Kate’s made about looking for diversity on Boards with different skillsets, different age, different gender, etc., but do shareholders, do owners, demand diversity on boards?

Rob:  First, I think Kate’s exactly right.  I agree with what she says. There are investors who push for diversity on boards just as they push for sustainability programmes on boards.  That is with probably the most honourable exception being the New Zealand Superfund and [0:54:25] Simplicity.  New Zealand funds tend not to be nearly as active in that as some of the big funds are from overseas.  I’m a big of a cynic about this. Whether the enthusiasm of some of the big investment funds in the world for diversity and sustainability sustains a decent downturn, I’m not quite so sure.  I think that view could well change, and I think that the big investment funds are possibly fair-weather friends on some of this stuff, but at the moment they will certainly do that.

Boards are largely self-selective and there’s a very strong self-protection mechanism going on to appoint people like us to the board, just as there is on the local bowling club or rugby club or …

So then there’s no diversity of thought, right?

Rob:  No, there’s absolutely… and, in fact, I think most boards, unless they’re pushed quite hard, and no matter what they say, actually place a premium on uniformity of thought rather than diversity of thought still.  There are some exceptions but typically it needs someone to lead and push quite hard to make the change. Kate’s identified the need for more people with HR background, with digital skills, and frankly just younger people, to say nothing of cultural diversity to be represented on boards.  You can approach this from either end, and I think you reach the same conclusion. Some people approach it from a social justice point of view, and I think there’s a lot to commend that point of view; but there’s an equal view that simply says, if you’re going to survive as a business in an environment which is diverse, where people are diverse, then you are going to have to be diverse or you won’t be there either.  

So, I think, to me, whether you start from the business end or the social justice end, it doesn’t matter, you end up with the same position, but it does need individuals to take the lead.  It is not by mistake that New Zealand boards are moving very slowly to achieve gender diversity. it is a deliberate policy adopted by the men on the boards right now, because they can change it immediately, it’s only last year I think that the Minister for Women’s Affairs made the observation that some old white men were going to have to get off boards to achieve gender diversity, and she got held down.  It was an observation that is simply correct as a matter of arithmetic: if you can’t get people like me shifting then you can’t achieve the gender diversity that we need. So, we need to have much greater turnover on boards, we need to get rid of the idea that these things are sinecures that you achieve at the end of your career, we need to recognise that the value of a director is what they can do prospectively, not what they may have done retrospectively.  And when you start to think about your directors that way, I think you’ll develop a different skillset and you’ll develop a different group of people coming through, but we’ve got to deliberately take it on because at the moment we’re just replicating ourselves.

Tui:  I just want to say, I’m at the beginning stages I guess of my governance career, and I’ve just recently joined a board, which is the Mary Potter Hospice in Wellington.  It’s a not-for-profit and we provide palliative care for people approaching end of life. A friend shoulder-tapped me to put my hand up for it and I said, oh look, I think it will just be really sad and I just might be too sad, and she said, actually Tui, it’s a wonderful joyous celebration of life.  I went, okay. And what I realised from that was firstly, it was really important that actually, that I had a purpose and a mission for being part of that board. So many people had applied and, when I was getting ready in the morning, I was going off to the interview I thought, you know, what am I bringing?  Because actually I felt like I had 50 percent of the skills. I was new to… you know, and I wasn’t quite there, but I thought, actually, you know, I can resonate with how that, you know, that has resonated with people in my life. And so, bringing that, and I think being on a board, I’m going to be a on board and then I’m going to tick that off on my CV, actually what I found really important to have that sync that actually I care about what this organisation does.  I really want to support that, because actually what I found, and I’m sure the others have too, is being on a board is actually quite hard. It actually is and I don’t get paid, so there’s actually a lot of work, so I have to generate that, you know, what is this, why am I committing myself, and it’s actually because this is really important work and it matters to me. Then, as a consequence of that, I gain new skills, I get to help out, and that might help me move on later.

Fantastic, thanks Tui.  Let’s talk about the barriers, sorry, the benefits of diversity.  What have you seen in your workplaces, in your own lives, by welcoming people from all walks of life into different aspects of your workplace?  Kate.

Kate:  Well, was anyone here at the dinner last night?  No. Okay. So, three years ago a group of us corporates and global women got together and decided that actually we need to create an organisation that’s a pathway for young Māori and Pasifika into corporates because corporate environments are really not welcoming to this community.  So, we had 150 undergraduate Māori and Pasifika last night here celebrating their graduation, who are all working in corporates in Auckland, which is an amazing achievement. This is our third year. And when you talk to those people…, so what we do now is we have a powhiri when we welcome our graduates, and with, and we actually take half a day to really try and celebrate inclusion and celebrate welcoming people spiritually into our organisation, to the point where that’s actually going to become part of our onboarding.  We have a Māori Business Unit and we’re going to be making that a deep part of how we welcome people, because we feel that’s really special. As the Bank of Aotearoa we want people to come in and really feel that connection.

So, we’re thinking a lot more about that and when people come in, because I think your first day at work signals the approach your organisation has to diversity and inclusion.  We are building a new induction programme and one of our modules, when you learn about the BNZ and who we are and all that stuff on the first day, is going to be about bringing your whole self to work and how we want people to embrace flexibility, we want people to talk about their culture, around their personal, you know, what they want to help them be successful.  So, I think thinking is changing in terms or organisations. I’m sure there are other organisations who do that, but I think often we get it so wrong because people turn up on day one and you actually don’t take that time to actually welcome that person in a really engaging way. It’s sort of get to work, often you don’t have devices, or you don’t have stuff set up, and it’s just this flurry of panic for a week trying to make that person productive, and at the end of the week they sort of sit there and think, well, that wasn’t much fun. So, we’ve got a long way to go but we’re starting to think a lot more about that.

Vanessa: Yeah, look, I’d love to add as well.  When I first joined Microsoft I heard of this pillar that they’d set up called Māori and Pasifika, and one of the senior leaders had left and so they said, right, who would like to be part of this—and I absolutely put my hand up.  Because one of the things I noticed when I came into Microsoft, amazing amount of women, that was phenomenal, but I said, wow, you’ve got this pillar, where are all the Māori and Pasifika people? What I heard back was, ‘Well, they didn’t really interview that well’.  I was like, ‘Oh, okay. Well tell me a bit about that?’ ‘Well, you know, we got a few in and we asked them questions, and they just didn’t look that into it, you know, they sort of looked down and they weren’t really engaging’. I was like, wow, maybe you kind of need to go to their whānau.’

So, I went and spent quite a bit of time with Ngati Whatua in Oraki, and we’ve got an amazing partnership with them, to really understand actually what is their culture, what have they actually been brought up, how do they interview, how … you know?  And it’s been phenomenal. We’ve just bought in our first Māori interns, and we’ve got the most incredible young lady called Venus, who’s joined us.  And you know when you get to my age and you go, ‘If only could talk to my 22 year old self’, well I had that opportunity yesterday and I sat there with Venus and I said, Venus, what is this like for you?  And she said, actually, “Vanessa it’s pretty scary coming into this tech- company. I never in my wildest dreams when I grew up in Gisborne and left my whānau and came to Auckland, that I would ever be in an office like this”.  But she said, it is so welcoming, there was a powhiri for me, there was a welcome. Everybody has embraced me. All of the senior leaders keep coming up and asking, how am I doing. She said, you meet with me every fortnight. How many of us had that 20-odd years ago?

I do believe it takes change one person at a time, certainly at Microsoft we have an incredible CEO, Satya Nadellah, who came up with this global phrase, that he wants Microsoft to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.  And a lot of people looked at him and said, well, you’re a bit strange, you know, it’s not like we’re going to leave this earth. What do you mean, on this planet? And he said, well I was a kid who grew up in India and my world wasn’t like what this world looks like, and we have to walk in the shoes of others.  So, when an organisation at the top down really believes in change, really believes in diverse and empathic thought, it filters down.

Satya Nadellah came to New Zealand and Ngati Whatua did a huge welcome for him, and in fact there’s a photo of Te Araha and Satya doing a hongi in Satya’s book called Hit Refresh, New Zealand’s on the World Stage.  But this is so important, this is not only diversity of thought and what we can achieve together, it is phenomenal what these young people are bringing.  This Venus, she’s a professional drummer, she’s a leader because she’s been part of a kapa haka group, and she sits there and goes, wow, I’m working for Microsoft.  So yeah, it’s phenomenal.

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