MetLife's CIO Zia Zaman is a man at a global summit for women

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Zia Zaman, MetLife CIO, speaks at global summit for women

Zia Zaman, MetLife CIO, speaks at global summit for women

Zia Zama, SVP and CIO for MetLife Asia, stepped off the plane in Sydney, Australia, a city where he often visits for business, but this time, for a completely different purpose. He had been asked to speak on a panel with three other male leaders at the Global Summit of Women.

Zia was grateful to join this important conversation, not just as a male leader who speaks up for gender inclusion, but as a leader of innovation, which needs a multiplicity of voices and perspectives to succeed. "As I thought about the opportunity and responsibility I’d been given, a couple of questions swirled in my head," comments Zia. "First, how is it that we still can’t mobilize to provide gender equality, pay equity and leadership inclusion when the benefits are so stark?"

"On a more personal note, what could I say that hasn’t been said before? It wouldn’t add anything to the dialogue to just repeat the same things we hear in “Diversity Training”. Then I remembered the best advice from my wife, which was to be authentic, be yourself."

Buzzing with energy

The welcome proceedings were unlike any Zia had ever seen. The 2,000-person theatre was buzzing with energy. He sat down and listened to the opening speeches. One in particular on gender pay equity, by McKinsey, stated that if all countries were able to match the rate of improvement of the fastest-improving country in their region, we could add as much as $12 trillion in annual GDP.

The next morning, Zia met with fellow panelists in the Green Room. They discussed some forward-thinking D&I programs and impressive statistics at their own companies, but they agreed that when they spoke they should emphasize real stories of how inclusion is having a deep impact on their workplaces.

Personal stories with deep impact

Brian Hartzer, CEO of Westpac, one of Australia’s largest banks, made the simple case that diversity is good for business, both gender and ethnic diversity.

Tim Reed, CEO of software powerhouse, MYOB, shared that in Australia, women make up only 19% of computer science graduates. He’s been working with Male Champions for Change, a local institute dedicated to gender equality programs, encouraging code training to women looking to return to the workforce.

Johnpaul Dimech, Chairman of Sodexo, Asia-Pacific, told a heart-wrenching story about Rosemond, a facilities worker who was told she would never amount to anything, and through perseverance, hard work, and strong inclusion policies has now risen to the company’s head of Health & Safety.

Zia spoke about how they teach learning behaviors at LumenLab that favor collaborative skills where women excel. "While I didn’t cite it, there is strong research that backs this – such as a recent Kuhn and Billeval study: “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?” which says yes," says Zia. Later, he cited statistics from MetLife's Developing Women’s Careers Experience – or DWCE program – whose graduates get promoted from AVP to VP at three times the global average.

Teaching selflessness and empathy to boys

"When the subject of #MeToo came up, I shared how the revelations about unacceptable workplace behavior made me think of my son and how we need to bring up boys differently," Zia comments. "I try to teach selflessness and empathy — how to be tolerant and when to be righteous. We should be raising them not just to be on the right side of the issue, but to speak up and to be champions for inclusion, fairness and to allow everyone in the world to have their fair chance at happiness."

The positive reaction to the panel from the crowd was humbling. Many women from all over the world told Zia their stories about their countries’ gender inclusion efforts, how we need to change education in STEM, and how men need to speak up to demand change. "The experience made me realize that to reach our full potential, we need each of us to feel included, to have a sense that we belong at the table, and that we can bring our own unique experience and perspective to reach our goals."

"Optimistically, I think we will get there. Certainly, the global dialogue on the issues raised at the Global Summit of Women in Sydney will help."


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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