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Why good leadership leads to equality in the workplace

Today’s society features many global citizens. People who lived in multiple countries, speak several languages and embody different cultures. In 2019 alone, more than 100,000 migrants arrived in New Zealand. That’s why diversity matters. It brings out the best in everyone and unlocks what no one person or group could achieve alone.

On Friday, 6 March 2020, IML ANZ hosted our first International Women’s Day event in Auckland. It was a morning of informed discussion about the importance of equality in the workplace, the strategies that organisations can employ and the leadership that must underpin all these activities.

We had the chance to chat with one of the event panellists, Jacqueline Parekh CMgr FIML. She is currently the Strategic Projects Lead at Asahi Beverages and before that held a senior manager role in the field of talent and organisation with Accenture. Parekh is also a Chartered Manager, one of the first to be accredited in New Zealand.

She shared her thoughts on transitioning from a technical expert and becoming a leader, the qualities of a good leader and why she is hopeful about the future of gender equality in New Zealand.

Not just a piece of the pie

Parekh recalls that it was when she became the manager of other managers that she fully understood the crux of her role.

“Once you start to assume a management role, that’s when you’ll realise that it’s not just about competency – understanding your subject matter and executing it with excellence by then should be a given. It becomes more about rallying, motivating and coaching people to realise a goal or ambition that they otherwise wouldn’t have done by themselves,” she says.

Revealing a fondness for analysis, Parekh explains the perfect illustration for this transition. “Think of your career as a pie chart. When you start, a larger slice of the pie naturally focuses on establishing sound technical competence in your subject matter specialty,” she points out.

“But as you grow in your career, what you’ll find increasingly is cultivating leadership skills like coaching, mentoring, facilitating, resolving conflict, communicating — basically managing people – becomes the larger slice of the pie. This is the time where you realise you need to pivot from being a doer to a leader.

Good leadership underpins diversity and inclusion

Creating diverse and inclusive workplaces must start with leaders. According to Parekh, leaders must display certain qualities to influence a change in their team’s behaviour. Her top two includes:

  • Integrity. Parekh believes whether it’s giving proper credit for accomplishments, acknowledging mistakes, or putting safety and quality first, great leaders exhibit integrity at all times. They do what’s right, even if that isn’t the best thing for the current project or even the bottom line.
  • Self-awareness. Parekh reaffirms that this quality is one of the core components of emotional intelligence and has been cited as the most important quality for leaders to adopt. She is a firm believer of removing any blind spots that prevent you from improving as a manager and leader. Leaders must understand where their natural inclinations lie and use this knowledge to boost or compensate for them. In fact, she believes highly self-aware leaders lead higher-performing organisations.

On a positive path towards equality

Parekh counts herself lucky for joining organisations, like Asahi, that have a clear focus on equality. “Right from my first job as a graduate, it was clear to me that these organisations I’ve been a part of base their hiring decisions on merit,” she explains.

“They weren’t just interested in my achievements or whom I’ve worked for but asked many questions around cultural fit based on my experiences and personality. I could see that they wanted the richness that diversity alone brings.”

For example, Parekh’s current employer, Asahi Beverages annually review and report the gender pay gap which, as of September 2019 was around 3% against the WGEA average of 14%.

Her previous organisation, Accenture, set two clear goals: first, to achieve a gender-balanced workforce by 2025 and second, to increase the diversity of their leadership by growing the percentage of women managing directors to at least 25% by the end of 2020.

So Parekh remains positive about the future of gender equality in New Zealand. And with good reason. In 2020, New Zealand ranked 7th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.

“Empowering equality is not only morally right but economically smart,” Parekh explains.

Parekh concludes that we can see the numerous benefits resulting from a truly equal society. “Be it in employment, leadership or legislation, when we take on a more diverse outlook, we always put ourselves a step up higher than before.”


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