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Sovereign boss gets gong

Sovereign chief executive Symon Brewis-Weston has become one of five CEOs around the world to be recognised in 2015 by the United Nations for his progressive approach to workplace diversity and community engagement.

Wednesday, March 11th 2015, 8:30AM

Brewis-Weston, who is only the second New Zealand CEO chosen for the honour, received the 2015 Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) CEO Leadership Award at the UN headquarters in New York City yesterday, where Hilary Clinton provided the keynote address.

“While it’s humbling to have won this award, the truth is that I never set out to purposely create a diverse workforce. What I always want to achieve is a team that represents our customers, our community and has the skills to deliver amazing work,” said Brewis-Weston.

The WEP is a joint initiative of UN Women and the UN Global Compact aimed at empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors. The awards recognise global business leaders who have demonstrated leadership on gender equality through the WEP.

“This year’s competition included extremely strong nominations from a substantial number of companies implementing strategic and innovative strategies to realise gender equality.  The competitive nominations made the assessment process very challenging. The nominations came from all regions of the world, representing diverse sectors and business sizes,” said WEP Special Advisor Joan Libby Hawk.

Brewis-Weston joined Sovereign in March 2013 with a clear purpose to “shake up the insurance industry in New Zealand” by growing the market, making a more meaningful difference to the lives of customers and achieving greater impact in the community.

Over the past two years, he has addressed diversity and gender imbalance, which was reflective of the male dominated financial services industry, by initiating a programme of change that has included re-setting organisational structures, communicating a compelling vision: “Being the difference in life’s moments of truth”, introducing innovative leadership training and championing flexible working hours.

This resulted in a reduction of the gender pay gap, which is now sitting at 4%, and an increase in female representation on the executive leadership team, from 18% in 2010 to 45% in 2014.

“The reality is that there are some societal groups that are generally under-represented, especially within the financial services sector. For businesses that are struggling to achieve the right levels, quotas are a good option. It takes a lot of work and forward planning to put the right succession plans in place and unless you have to do something, you don’t do it,” said Brewis-Weston.

“Change is simply not happening fast enough. When the majority of New Zealand’s university graduates are women but only 14% hold directorships in the country’s top 100 companies there is something very wrong.”

Sovereign Chairperson Gavin Walker said Brewis-Weston proved harnessing a diverse workforce is good for business.

“As our diversity has increased we’ve enjoyed the benefits of new skills, competencies and experience. We’ve got fresh perspectives that increase our ability to innovate and I’ve seen us become more adaptable and ready for change as a result. The financial services industry is traditional and slow to change. We are showing what is possible by making our workplace more reflective of the real world in terms of age, gender, experience and culture.”

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