Gender quotas not all bad

When talking about gender diversity in workplaces, quotas are often taboo. But they do ensure that change happens, says a female broking head at an international brokerage.

“I’m not one who would advocate for quotas generally, but I think what they do is  ensure an organisation has to be ready to have that talent pool. So, in some ways, it dictates the thinking, it dictates the change,” says Helene Madell, Head of Broking Services at Willis Towers Watson.

“We haven’t developed a quota at Willis Towers Watson, but more of a target  –  we are trying to make sure we are providing opportunity for our talented females.

“I’m against someone being spoon-fed into a role. It’s about us recognising talent and helping people achieve what they are capable of , the key thing is that they must want to do it as well, and making sure we can facilitate the opportunity and sponsor the individual.

In fact, Madell says Willis Towers Watson has committed to a ‘Paradigm for change’ – which has top executive support and sponsorship. It includes a ‘Roadmap’, with initiatives like eliminating unconscious bias, increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions, measuring targets at every level and communicating results for accountability, and basing career progression on business results, not presence.

Madell herself is an executive sponsor for one of  the Women and Supporters Inclusion Network’s for Australia which supports Willis Towers Watson’s Australasian Inclusion and Diversity Council’s initiatives, and is keen to see greater gender balance in senior positions, particularly in P&L roles.

“Some of that is actually changing our HR principles when we are recruiting, for example, seeking a female for a senior position. It doesn’t mean that they will get the job if they haven’t got the right skillset but really encouraging them to apply,” she explains.

Indeed, it is that same story we hear repeatedly, of women not applying for roles because they lack some of the skills required in the job.

“We need to stop that type of thinking …” she says.  “We need to think, what do you need to do to achieve a positive result and how do you achieve that position you are looking for? We have to make sure we give people the tools, the skillset and support, making them feel comfortable to ask for the help to actually get on that journey and achieve the right career outcomes.

“When we identify talent, starting to ensure that we train and coach them, so that we have a population who will be ready then to go into a senior position.

“And giving them sponsorship or mentorship.”

Madell says she had two very good mentors, or at times Dementors, and sponsors in her career. It’s not only supporters that women need, but rather someone “who recognises your talent but also challenges you to do greater things”, she points out.

Helene Madell features in July’s issue of Insurance Adviser.