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‘Self-full’ vs. Selfish Leadership


When I accepted the job to lead ARAG Canada as the CEO, following the acquisition, I’d almost retired. Twice. It was a business I knew well, had worked hard to build up over the years and had invested a considerable amount of my time and energy to create a team that felt like family. It was great to come back and work with the team through the integration, and support very talented and committed people as much as I was leading them. It was indeed a team effort and experiencing what can happen when a company truly works together was inspiring.

ARAG is unique in that it is family owned, and while it’s one thing for that to be true on paper and not be completely driven by driving shareholder value, it’s an entirely different proposition to live up to the responsibility of leading a family of employees. I feel lucky to be part of such an organization.

Things have changed a lot in the 40+ years since I joined the industry (for example, different pay scales for men and women when I first started!) It wasn’t all an uphill battle, fortunately. I remember being offered and accepting promotions on two occasions when I was several months pregnant! Clearly a boss who was not too hung up about stereotypes in spite of the logistical challenges. Still, my hope was always to leave my organization, my colleagues and the industry that has been my life for many years in a better place than when I joined. This is something near and dear to my heart.

I do believe much has been accomplished, but I’m going to continue to advocate for change and progress on the equality and diversity front.

A recent article on LinkedIn indicates that boardroom equity may still be 15 years away, according to MSCI’s global index of companies: Boardroom equality 15 years away: MSCI. Let’s hope it’s closer than that!

Don’t get me wrong, we have made progress towards equality, but this progress is mostly noticeable when we look at small wins. One of the things I’m most proud of in my career is creating these successive smaller wins, such as seeing the look on people’s faces when they feel empowered and better represented. Or the look of feeling understood and respected when they voice their opinions and feel like they’ve been heard as they intended, and not based on being cast as a stereotype.

But we need bigger wins to make the small wins worth it. The more closely an organization’s leadership and governance aligns with the diversity of the customers they serve and the buyers that represent them, the better. The last time I checked, the global buyer wasn’t represented by a 65% male to female ratio (Workplace gender gap worldwide in 2020, by type). And the current gender imbalance in the workplace doesn’t align with the fact that women control or influence more than 85% of consumer spending. (Source: Forbes 2019).

At this stage of my career, I feel like I’ve gained perspective and am better able to influence and coach colleagues on the path of continuous improvement. Leaning into a winning spirit that we all share is what empowers us to embrace our colleagues and customers with meaningful purpose that drives results.

I do believe we have an opportunity to do this and be ‘self-full’ and not be seen as being selfish and still align our personal values with the kind of culture we want to be part of. It’s one of the reasons I came to Canada: the country itself and opportunity to work for organizations and in an industry that was putting a priority on equality.

However, we are not perfect, ‘Canada ranks 22nd in the world with respect to its citizens having access to our civil justice system, and that score has been declining since 2015, according to the World Justice Project, largely driven by access and affordability. And of course, that’s one of the reasons I believe so strongly in the work we do at ARAG and how legal expense insurance can make a difference.

Until this point, change has been primarily led from the top down, but for real change to happen, it needs to come from across the entire organization and from the customers these organizations represent. Our role as leaders is to pave the way for others and create an environment that fosters performance through continuous improvement and a commitment to diversity and equality.

The legacy I’m proud to have been a part of is one where women have an equal opportunity to lead, contribute and develop a career defined by these fundamental rights without having to fight for them anymore. I’ve been fortunate to work for several organizations that prioritize equality and champion change. I sincerely hope this trend continues across the industry as it’s truly in the best interests of companies, customers, and employees alike.

Barbara Haynes
ARAG Canada