As Executive Director at the Reinsurance Group of America (RGA), Fang Zhong works with the Business Development and Regional Marketing teams to bring innovative and customer-centric life and health insurance propositions to clients, partners and the market.
In your experience, what are the benefits of diverse teams in organisations?
A lot of research has gone into the effect of diversity in teams and it consistently shows that it improves performance. For me, there’s no question that when management supports and encourages diversity, and if it is well managed, teams will reap benefits together. They can bring different ideas together, they can help you to innovate faster, adapt quicker and survive better. Innovation is all about synthesising ideas and it’s the companies that adapt which survive and strive.
What are your thoughts on diversity within the insurance and banking industries?
I think diversity has many different dimensions from gender, age and race to experience and personality.
The industries with long histories particularly need to welcome and embrace diversity because if you look at the solutions and products from many years ago, they were simpler. In today’s business world, those that have simple, one dimensional solutions are not sufficient to the market anymore so they need to bring in people with different backgrounds.
Within the banking and insurance industries there has been a lot more focus on this topic in recent years - especially when it comes to gender diversity. There’s still a lot to do however and not just with one-time initiatives – this needs to be an ongoing journey.
You worked in Europe before you worked in Asia, did you find there was a difference in the culture around progression for females and diversity?
I found that working in Europe, there were more specific diversity and inclusion initiatives, and even roles setup to drive D&I initiatives. In Asia, I am starting to see and hear more of these initiatives being brought in. For example, companies in Hong Kong are now allowing maternity leave which is much longer than what government regulations stipulate.
What are some of the initiatives RGA has employed to help empower female employees?
RGA carried out a compensation review initiative last year which looked at employees from all around the globe in different positions to ensure that salaries are equitable. There are also internal training development programmes and there are regular discussions across all levels taking place about what can be done to help bring out successful female leaders.
RGA encourages women in senior leadership position, such as our Group CEO and closer to home, our regional C-Suite and Functional Leaders to discuss their journey in various forums. This helps to lead by example and encourages and inspires other women to go down the same route.
Finally, RGA has created a collaborative culture where everybody is encouraged to speak up whatever their background is.
What's your advice for leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?
Dare to feel uncomfortable because bringing in people who are different, listening to their views and creating a space for them to grow and contribute is utterly important. This is very hard to do however and it takes a lot of courage. Once leaders can do this, it creates the culture that others can do it as well. Trust that when managed well, diversity can bring greater success.
What's the value of having a mentor or role model throughout your career?
One of the key benefits is that it raises self-awareness. Seeing how another person does something can be like seeing your reflection in a mirror so it helps you to understand how other people might perceive what you do and how you behave. This is the first step to change because unless we truly understand the current state, we can’t make improvements.
Because mentors are usually more experienced, you can learn a lot from them as well. Learning how they solve problems and how they connect with people is probably one of the best training experiences you can have.
Mentors can also provide life-long friendships. It’s a long-term relationship which means that you can get a lot more from it compared to a normal business working relationship. At RGA people are encouraged to have mentors, even informally.
If you had to choose the one factor that's helped you the most in your career, what would it be?
One of the things that has really helped me is being open-minded. This was very important coming from an engineering background and then going into academics and then into the insurance industry. Being curious and open-minded about accepting new ideas has really helped me.
If you’re just starting out in your career, explore and don’t close the door to opportunities. Also trust yourself that if you put time into it, you can achieve things you haven’t done before. Don’t doubt yourself and think that just because you haven’t done something that you won’t be able to do it.
If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
I would tell myself that it’s ok to be imperfect. A lot of women can probably relate to this as we tend to be perfectionists. I think a lot of this stems from wanting to do a job properly, and not being seen as incapable or less qualified.
Sometimes in a business environment though, solutions, suggestions, and having the courage to speak up quickly and adapt, is more important than getting things right the first-time around which is actually extremely difficult to do anyway.
Do you have any advice for working mothers on how to progress and succeed in their careers?
The reality is that it’s not easy. As human beings, we have limited capacity to juggle all the balls at the same time so it ends up being about give and take. If you give one area more attention, you have to take from somewhere else. It’s about balance and managing expectations because nobody can do everything 100% of the time.
Working mums will often feel guilty and that’s normal but there’s nothing wrong with women seeking a good work life balance. Find out what works for you and choose a job or career that really fits with your values. That could be a part-time job for example. As long as you’re doing things that you believe are contributing your value, that’s success.