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Stepping out of comfort zones and taking the lead

Women in Financial Services

Off the back of recent Deloitte Insights research into female representation in the financial services industry across the world, this article is the fifth in a series about women in leadership in the New Zealand banking and insurance industries. While Oceania is leading in regard to female representation in senior positions, there is still a way to go yet. This series explores the perspectives of women in executive roles in the New Zealand banking and insurance industries about developing and supporting the workforce experience and strategies that can be employed to foster upwards mobility for upcoming talent. We delve into diversity, equity and inclusion and consider how to facilitate a positive and rewarding working experience for all.

Linda Page was drawn into the insurance industry early in her career. When seeking out career guidance in her final year of university, an advertisement caught Linda’s attention in the careers centre. A listing for an actuarial role was pinned to the noticeboard calling for statistics, maths and computing skills - aligning perfectly with Linda’s chosen subjects. From there, Linda secured a role with Guardian Assurance as an actuarial student. Since then, Linda has accumulated wide-ranging experience in project management, investment and pricing roles in the insurance industry and is now Chief Financial Officer at AIA, the largest life insurer in New Zealand.

“When I started in insurance, I didn’t know a lot about it and I never thought I would work in the industry, but it was an eye opener. It really strikes you how insurance fits into society,” says Linda, as she speaks of the important role insurance plays in people’s lives but also in reference to the external perception of the insurance sector too, acknowledging that it can be a misunderstood industry at times. For Linda, the underpinning values of insurance resonated early on, and her passion for the industry and her role in it has remained unwavering – “my job is fun and I love the variety of it. I get to be part of the decision-making process, which keeps it interesting and challenging.”

Linda recalls that when she was starting out as an actuarial student, it was the norm to see very few women represented. “Before I started in the industry, insurance companies offered staff discounted mortgage rates, but women weren’t eligible for them, but we’ve come a long way since then,” – an anecdote that seems completely unfathomable today, although not entirely unbelievable. And while society has seen a lot of progress, there is still room for improvement regarding gender equity, particularly in financial services.

Addressing inequity

Earlier this year, AIA published their gender pay gap publicly for the first time. “We’ve recognised there is inconsistency throughout the organisation at different gradings and we have a process we’re working through around addressing the pay gap,” says Linda. For AIA, they’ve established several initiatives to address gender inequities, offering flexible working arrangements, and an ongoing Women in Leadership course within the organisation – “the people that go on it, love it and you can see them flourish”. While formalised systems and processes can help women to upskill and advance their careers, support and backing from key leaders can be equally impactful.

Linda speaks of the advocacy of leaders throughout her career who have provided numerous opportunities for her. She recalls one CEO who involved her in executive strategic meetings to give not only exposure to senior leadership but also the backing to put forward ideas. “I never felt that I wasn’t an equal because he was just as interested in my opinion as the executives. That helped me a lot in my career as it gave me exposure to the executive.”

Another CEO pushed Linda out of her comfort zone to help expand a core skillset – public speaking. “I’m naturally an introvert, so I wasn’t comfortable speaking publicly, but he pushed me to do it. It has helped me afterwards too at the executive level.”

Now, as part of AIA’s leadership team, Linda’s advice for women aspiring to move up the ranks is to take every opportunity that comes along and to find a mentor who can offer guidance – “at the start of your career, you only know what you know, so ask for advice about skillsets that you’ll need. Having someone to bounce ideas off is helpful and they can then connect you with other people too.” As one of many impressive women in AIA’s senior leadership team, Linda’s example is inspiring the next generation of women in financial services.