Fifita Ngaue, our Head of Claims shares her thoughts on being a woman in financial services and how the industry has changed over the years.

Why did you choose a career in financial services?

My parents were a big influence on why I landed in Financial Services. They were immigrants from Tonga who met in Sydney in the early 70’s after coming here separately in pursuit of a better quality of life for their respective families back home.

They were adamant “a good office job” through education and hard work were the key measures of success, so they worked tirelessly to ensure that all six of us (my three brothers, two sisters and I being the youngest) had every opportunity to be successful.

I was also very lucky to have such a strong hard-working woman in my mother, who taught us the importance of “independent” financial stability. She encouraged us to build a future for ourselves and not look to rely on anyone else. In her mind the Financial Services sector was influential and would be a great way for me to use my “calculated mind” (as she would put it), to good use.  

I’ve been in the industry now for over 15 years and whilst there have been many challenges along the way, I have seen firsthand the opportunities this industry offers to influence and make a difference - so here I am.

Being a part of MetLife has enabled me to continue my development as a leader and an influencer in an environment that is safe and encourages me to bring all of me to the table.

What are you most excited for in the industry as a woman? 

What most excites me is seeing other women in the industry thrive! 

I know women across executive levels, middle management and administration who all love their jobs, and seeing an increased number of women in the industry influencing decisions, negotiating deals and lifting each other up has been an amazing journey to be a part of.

There’s always the ongoing debate of family vs career which is a choice that tends to unfortunately fall more on women than men, but the reality is, we shouldn’t have to choose. I’m grateful that MetLife is a huge supporter of diversity and flexibility for both men and women trying to balance work and home commitments.

I’m really pleased to see that many financial services organisations are actively taking steps to change the industry. At MetLife we have the advantage of being part of a global life insurance company, which has partnered with the UN Global Compact and UN Women to help drive leadership accountability and commitment in addressing gender equity in the workplace, by signing the U.N. Women’s Empowerment Principles. The Principles demonstrate a firm commitment to building a workplace that works for women and aims to close gender gaps.

Do you think you’ve faced any challenges in your career because of your gender? 

Interesting question. I’ve always seen challenges as opportunities to learn and develop.  My go-to mantra has always been: “I am enough”. I don’t try to be someone I’m not and I am completely comfortable and confident with who I am and what I can bring to the table.

While I’ve certainly faced challenges in my career, but whether I could contribute them to being a woman, has never been entirely clear cut.

This is perhaps one of the reasons that gender inequalities continue to exist in society – they are often difficult to see and expose. Greater awareness and education will help, for example, MetLife has been educating its workforce globally about breaking down barriers to inclusion, including the subtle and often untended micro-aggressions that many people experience day-to-day.   

What is one change that you’ve been grateful to see occur over your time in the industry? 

Women actively networking and advocating for each other!  

The formation of groups such as Women in Super and Women in Finance has built awareness and created opportunities that were not really known or readily available when I first started in the industry. At MetLife, the Lean In Circles have been an opportunity to network and support each other to advance their career aspirations.

Do you think women in financial services are rewarded or penalised for speaking up about gender discrimination?

I think women in general have always felt that they would be penalised for speaking up about gender discrimination.  

My older sister (who is an amazing role model and is also in the financial services industry) and I often share the different challenges that we have faced and we’ve used this to remind each other that we do have a voice and that the only way that change can happen is for us to be brave enough to step up and call out when things are not right, and in turn take action to make it right.

At MetLife we have a speak up culture and everyone is encouraged to use their voice. All women should have the opportunity to  raise concerns without worrying about repercussions.

How do we most effectively address the gender pay gap?

Easy - take the gender out of it and pay the person based on their work and their merit! If there is clear disparity within roles due to gender, then as a leader - act and make it right.

If your daughter was entering the financial services industry tomorrow, what three pieces of advice would you give her?

I have four children under the age of eight and with all of them, the key characteristics I have instilled in them is to be: kind, brave and strong.

If my only daughter chose a career in financial services, I’d provide further context on these characteristics:

  • always be kind - no matter who you are dealing with; 
  • be brave enough to challenge and speak up if things are not right; and
  • emphasis on the strong - to remember her worth and don’t let anyone tell her otherwise!

Find out more about working at Metlife.

A version of this article was published in the Financial Standard.