Hong Kong-based Nikki Davies has had a career across varied industries including technology, education, banking and insurance. She has worked with Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse and rose to the rank of Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Asia Pacific at the latter. Currently, she is the Group Diversity and Inclusion Director at Prudential plc.

Outside of her work, she loves to volunteer her time to support causes she cares about, including a small stint with Habitat For Humanity in Kerala, India. She has also mentored aspiring entrepreneurs through the Empact Social Enterprise programme and is currently an Executive Council member for Sunbeam Children’s Foundation, managing their social media presence.

In this chat with Women Icons Network, Nikki talks about overcoming inherent biases, how corporate leaders can help bring about gender equality at workplaces, and shares her views on other aspects of inclusion.

Recognising Biases

Nikki recommends people to develop an awareness of their own biases. “We all have biases: they serve a useful function to enable us to make decisions and cope with everyday life. Often though, bias can have negative, unintended consequences. There are ways to mitigate the bias in ourselves and in others when we have the courage to challenge bias with unfair impact when we see it” she explains. “At Prudential we provide employees with trainings and interactive online content to help them evaluate their own bias. We recommend these sessions to everyone, but in particular those involved in key people decisions.”

She believes that being open to examining our own bias develops empathy and learning about bias in general helps us to recognise when bias is presenting an obstacle. When we can recognise bias and demonstrate how that bias is influencing our decisions and impacting the lives of people, it is important to then address it.

When challenging bias, she advises to approach the situation with curiosity rather than judgment. “I recognise that bias is often unconscious. So asking someone how they came to a conclusion or why they asked a certain question can often bring the bias to light in a way that creates a learning moment for all involved and can help to remove or bypass the bias as an impediment,” she elaborates.

Gender Balanced Workplaces

When asked if women could be groomed to solidify their seat at the table, she shared her opinion that generally women don’t need any “fixing”. It is organisations that should be doing more to accommodate diversity, create inclusion and strengthen belonging at the table rather than expecting women to change or be “groomed”.

“In an ideal workplace, both men and women should appreciate and celebrate each other’s differences. Our future leaders will realise that better decisions are made for everyone when we actively listen to each other with respect and value diverse perspectives”, she says.

Nikki feels that only through collective actions can meaningful change happen. We can learn much from each other as we travel the road towards true gender equality, she believes. That is why she encourages people to continue to share what works and what does not with each other.

She also points out that only when we have the hearts and minds of the majority can change really happen. Therefore, it is critical that men, who still hold the majority of leadership positions today, advocate and support gender equality in the workplace, she feels.  “Having men drive the change: creating a legacy where there is improved representation, will have an impact that is sustainable and meaningful over the longer term”, she adds.

Role of Business Leaders

Business leaders grapple with many challenges, a key one being the scarcity of ready-now talent. Nikki’s advice to avoid this situation is to strengthen efforts to provide platforms and opportunities for younger people, from diverse backgrounds to start contributing earlier to the development and leadership of the organization.

Businesses can benefit by creating leadership opportunities more broadly and deeply in the organisation, she says. “By creating such opportunities, new ideas can often be shared and the traditional approach to leadership starts to dissolve to create a nimbler and more vibrant organisation where people are valued and respected,” she shares.

Nikki talks proudly about senior leaders of Prudential Group making public commitments including to the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles. “These principles are a good guide for companies to support more women to ascend to high-level corporate leadership. The principles provide guidance on how men and women can be treated fairly and without discrimination at work and address topics like employee health, well-being and safety,” she shares.

Aligned with her passion for volunteering, Nikki also thinks that community initiatives and advocacy for women’s issues should be adopted as a priority, along with transparent measurement and reporting to monitor progress towards clearly stated gender diversity goals.

The Prudential Way

In January 2021, Prudential plc launched a global talent Sponsorship Programme, to address identified gaps in representation in the company’s leadership team. The talent management processes identified employees from the in-house talent pipeline and carefully paired them with sponsors from the most senior leaders. “The sponsorship pairs have set clear objectives for their relationship. We are hoping to accelerate our under-represented talent, which include over 60% women: creating more visibility for these individuals within the organisation and providing platforms for them to demonstrate their capabilities to the key decision makers”, informs Nikki.

Lessons from the Pandemic

The mantra “Accept the things you cannot change and change the things you cannot accept” has helped Nikki to steer a course through the pandemic. She says she tries to focus her energies positively.

“I started a new job during the pandemic and have not met many of my colleagues face to face. I have, however, learned new technology to enable me to connect with people virtually so that I can make an impact in my role despite the situation the pandemic creates”, she shares. While doing this, she always reminds herself and people around her to be kind to others at this time, and always.