Allianz Workers Comp CGM attends forum on women’s leadership in public life

Helen Silver, Chief General Manager for Workers Compensation at Allianz Australia, recently participated on a panel at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Global Forum held in Paris in April 2014.

The forum was attended by many high profile attendees from around the world, with video and personal addresses also given by Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany; Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile; Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica and Viviane Reding, Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Commissioner, European Commission.

With the theme this year being Women’s Leadership in Public Life: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth, the key objectives of the forum were to identify and address strategic challenges faced in closing gender gaps, to generate dialogue on gender equality and to promote key elements of women’s empowerment in public life.

Focussing on the topic of Achieving Gender Balance in Public Sector Leadership, Helen was invited to share her insights, drawing on her experience in senior management, with a particular focus on her previous role as Secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet (Head of the Victorian State Public Service).

The forum reviewed the role of women in public life in leadership roles, with a focus on the mechanisms required to integrate the needs of women in programmes and policies. From a learning perspective, the forum also sought to highlight competencies that have enabled women to hold leadership positions in political, parliamentary, legislative, economic, social and civil areas.

In her address, Helen concentrated on two particular areas impacting gender diversity at a senior level, namely cultural change and leadership, and the role of sponsorship.

Noting that while much regulatory and structural reform has gone a long way to address discrimination in Australia, Helen outlined that unseen obstacles still hinder progress in this area.

“Regulatory and structural reform will not be sufficient to get women into senior leadership at appropriate levels. There also needs to be policies to deal with invisible barriers such as unconscious bias, workplace culture and gender stereotypes,” she said.

Helen stressed that committed leadership that values diversity in teams, diversity of leadership style and thinking is necessary to achieve cultural change.

To help women overcome obstacles in an effort to successfully progress their careers to leadership levels, Helen recommends formal sponsorship as a valuable component of the HR strategy.

“Australian research indicates that women in organisations find a lack of confidence to do the bigger jobs, coupled with the lack of role models, inhibiting. The role of formal sponsorship policies and highly committed senior leadership teams are crucial to tackle this issue,” she said.

Using Allianz as an example of how this can be implemented in the workplace, she highlighted the impressive range of initiatives available in this area with strong HR support – but highlighted the importance of ongoing commitment.

“We will need to be highly committed to the implementation of these initiatives at all management levels if they are to have a strong impact,” she warned.

In conclusion, Helen outlined the importance of the understanding and implementation of gender diversity throughout our society.

“While it is agreed that there is a strong business and political case for gender diversity at all levels, it is clear that a more concerted effort is required to build this understanding across all sectors of society and within organisations,” she said.

Outcomes of the materials and discussions covered at the forum, which was attended by government and non-government representatives and a wide range of international speakers, will contribute to the development of OECD guidelines on Gender Equality in Public Life. These guidelines will also be produced in collaboration with OECD and partner countries as well as bilateral and multilateral development agencies.