ANZIIF CEO Prue Willsford, who has notched up over 30 years in the financial services, says she has always been a feminist.
If Prue Willsford was asked to write a job specification for the perfect role for her, it would look a lot like the ANZIIF CEO position she has held for just over six years.
‘Being a leader is such an important role, not only for the organisation but also in supporting our local industry in terms of its education, training and thought leadership,’ she says.
‘I’m very excited about ANZIIF’s current business in Asia-Pacific. For me, the opportunity to really understand the needs of these markets and how our services can support them is mission critical.’
Financial services background
Willsford, who started as an accountant at Macquarie Bank in Sydney, later took a position handling policy and regulatory work for an industry association, which is now the Australian Financial Services Council.
From there, she moved to Melbourne in Victoria, where she worked for Colonial Mutual in product roles, including a short stint in insurance as the Group Life Product Manager.
For almost five years, Willsford ran the National Bank of Australia’s investment business before joining State Trustees, which is the public trustee for Victorians.
‘We looked after about 10,000 Victorians who are unable to take care of their own financial affairs, in addition to writing wills and managing estates,’ Willsford relates.
‘Being responsible for all the corporate functions, I gained lots of experience in running a company.’
Willsford has also always been heavily involved in community activities, having come from a from a volunteering family. Consequently, she always has some kind of sideline project on the go.
‘I sat on the Council of Victoria University, which has 55,000 students globally, and became Deputy Chancellor, which is the equivalent of the deputy chair of the Board,’ she says. ‘Through this I learned quite a lot about education.’
A self-declared and proud feminist
Willsford, who has always declared herself a feminist, believes it is critical for the insurance industry to think about diversity and inclusion holistically.
‘The research shows that diverse teams are associated with greater innovative capacity for an organisation and tangible benefits, such as increased efficiency, productivity and improved employee engagement,’ Willsford says.
According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), ‘There is significant evidence from across the globe demonstrating the positive impacts on company performance of female representation on boards, in executive management and senior leadership’.
For example, research into over 500 US companies found a link between a gender diverse workforce and the organisational performance using measures such as sales revenue and number of customers (Herring, C, 2009).
Insurance industry lags
Australia has made significant progress towards gender equality in recent decades, particularly in education, health and female workforce participation, but the insurance industry is still lagging.
While most insurance workplaces have gender diversity policies (75.4 per cent), their implementation does not necessarily result in a diverse workforce. There remains a gap between policies and action.
In the 1969 Equal Pay Case.