#IWD2019: Male allies and the gender revolution

Manulife's Chief HR Officer says there is no mystery about the business case for equality – diverse teams lead to better business outcomes.
By: | March 7, 2019

International Women’s Day takes place every year on March 8. This year’s theme is #BalanceForBetter, because a gender-balanced world is a better world – for both organisations and individuals alike.

Check out the rest of our #IWD2019 coverage on our dedicated IWD tag!

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About the Author

David Thomas is the Chief HR Officer of Manulife Asia.

I was brought up in a single mother household. My mother is my number one role model: she earned the money, believed in me and supported me through thick and thin. So for me, the gender gap is personal.

The 2018 annual WEF Global Gender Gap Report is filled with alarming statistics. At the current rate of change, it will take 108 years to close the overall gender gap, and 202 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace.

This is unacceptable. As we head towards another International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, now is the time for us all to think about how we can fast-track progress. The onus is on all of us, and particularly those of us in positions of influence within our organisations, to walk the talk and create meaningful transformation.

To create wholesale societal change, everyone needs to get on board. Male Allies was started in 2017 by The Women’s Foundation to support getting more women on boards in Hong Kong. Male Allies encourages male business leaders to leverage their collective influence and personal engagement to advance gender equality.

We launched Male Allies internally at Manulife, and the program is now running in 12 markets with a fast-growing participation base. In one of our first meetings, what was interesting was that we had this group of ‘alpha males’ sharing stories of why we wanted to be involved.

Many of us grew up with powerful female role models around us, and the emotional support for gender equality in the workplace runs very deep among our group.

We are bringing together all our diversity initiatives, so that groups like our Global Women’s Alliance, an empowering network of Manulife female employees, and Male Allies can come together around one agenda: to raise awareness on gender diversity and mentor and develop our strong pool of women.

Last year, China employees of Manulife’s Global Woman’s Alliance enjoyed a special luncheon hosted by Zhang Kai, General Manager of Manulife-Sinochem and a panel discussion with women senior managers from Manulife-Sinochem.

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This IWD, GWA and Male Allies will also hold networking events across our Asia offices where representatives will explain their mission.

There is no mystery about the business case for equality – diverse teams lead to better business outcomes. So when it comes to recruiting and hiring, we need to work harder at saying yes rather than no when people need accommodations.

“There is no mystery about the business case for equality – diverse teams lead to better business outcomes. So when it comes to recruiting and hiring, we need to work harder at saying yes rather than no when people need accommodations.

We are introducing some revolutionary changes to the way we recruit to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias, level the playing field and ensure that the most qualified and outstanding candidates are hired.

These changes include unconscious bias training to all people managers, requiring a certain percentage of female candidates at each interview stage and ensuring that both women and men are involved in the selection process.

In 2017, Manulife set key performance indicators around gender diversity. Our goals are high: we started with 14 percent of women at the VP level, and our target is 50 percent in Asia.

Our CEO tasks each leader to report on progress on a quarterly basis, and we use a traffic light system. That traffic light has only green or red, meaning there is either success or failure – no in between.

Everyone has someone in their lives – for me, it’s my wife and daughter – that they want to benefit from equal opportunity, regardless of gender.

It’s 2019: the case for gender equality is clear. We can all make a personal commitment to making a difference in our lives and our organizations.

At Manulife, we are on a journey of transformation, and we are proud to say that gender equality is a vital part of the ride.


International Women’s Day takes place every year on March 8. This year’s theme is #BalanceForBetter, because a gender-balanced world is a better world – for both organisations and individuals alike.

Check out the rest of our #IWD2019 coverage on our dedicated IWD tag!