Originally published at home.kpmg. Laura Hay is the Global Head of Insurance at KPMG. KPMG ranked No. 11 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2022.
“Good things come to those who wait,” or “Make it happen today”? If I had to describe the ‘secret sauce’ — that is, career strategy — of my long-time colleague Brid Meaney, I’d definitely place her in the second group. That’s because Brid urges others to, “Be brave and give it a go, despite your fears,” whether that’s asking bold questions, seeking new roles or finding a career sponsor.
This approach explains how Brid after over 25 years in consulting, stepped into the role of Finance Director of the Life Companies at the Phoenix Group, the UK’s largest long-term savings and retirement business. Then, she quickly built strong team relationships and ‘walked the talk’ to help embed an inclusive culture.
Be Brave and Ask a Question:
If you wonder how Brid developed this penchant for brave behavior, she credits her mother. She explains how, “All my life, my mum told me never to be scared, and that ‘Failure is not trying.’ She’d say, ‘Give it a go; don’t overthink it, and if it doesn’t work out, don’t stress about it.’”
Brid took that advice to heart as she began her career at age 18, joining an Irish insurance company and raising her hand to work in each function until she made her way to the office of the actuary. “I was always curious about how other functions worked, and that curiosity helped me connect the dots in an interconnected environment like an insurer,” she recounts.
Brid also applied that approach during her consulting years where, to learn new businesses and client issues quickly, she’d bring teams of people together with different skillsets to benefit from their strengths. “I came to appreciate the importance of diversity and building cross-functional teams to solve problems,” recalls Brid.
She continues to apply that knack today. In fact, during our recent catch-up, amidst volatile British financial markets, Brid describes how, “I play air traffic control so my team can do their jobs. My job is to pull the right people together, ask them what they need and give them support and space to do it.”
Brid’s comment makes it clear that she leads by listening. She feels that key to her promotion after eighteen months to CEO of the Division was the strong relationships she had built within the company. “I think it goes back to the fact that I really enjoy listening to people’s stories. As a consultant, I urged my team to listen more than they talk because people want to know you are listening and connecting with them. And typically, we don’t spend enough time doing that.”
Listen, Then Take Action:
Naturally, respected leaders must also take meaningful action, to show they were actually absorbing everything they heard. Brid notes that this is especially important in building an inclusive culture, where everyone feels their voice matters and they are valued.
She explains that one of the main reasons she joined the Phoenix Group was that the Group Chief Executive Officer places a strong emphasis on a purposed based organization with a diverse and inclusive culture which we know is critical for delivering change. “It’s remarkable how this company is investing in driving an inclusive team culture through personal development and empowerment training, from the most senior to the junior levels, to help everyone speak out and support the culture we want to create.”
Reach Out to Possible Sponsors:
While Brid advocates for courage among senior leaders, she also urges up-and-coming female professionals to be intrepid. “In my career, I was very fortunate to work for amazing women who always looked out for me and offered advice. Each of them told me to ‘Be brave, and back yourself.’ Recognize that everyone has fears, and as females, we tend to worry about things too much, so be open about it, but find ways to moderate them.”
This includes being audacious enough to seek, and accept, support from a career mentor or sponsor. “In the past, I was often apologetic to my sponsors for taking their time, but now I realise that my sponsors enjoyed giving their support. Now I tell other women, ‘Stop being so apologetic,’ because it’s a two-way street, and someone who offers to sponsor you is getting something out of it too.”
“Looking back, I realise that every new job or promotion I accepted was because of a sponsorship, so today I find individuals who I can help bring along on their careers,” reflects Brid. “Really the best moments of my career are seeing people who I’ve quietly sponsored reach important moments in their careers.”
At the end of our conversation, I realized there are subtle flavors in Brid’s ‘secret sauce’ to success. Her formula might be headlined with a big dollop of bravery, but it’s tempered with a healthy dose of listening and learning from others, to bring out each element’s best traits. Speak up to access those learning opportunities, and then don’t hesitate to apply those insights, especially when things heat up.
Brid concludes, “I’m a people person, and I really believe that you must be brave, find the right people and get the right culture where everyone likes and respects each other. Since everything in life is interconnected, the results can be just magical.”