Suzanne Patten, Deputy Convenor of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (DIWG) interviews Michael Liu, Senior Manager in the IAG Predictive Modelling team, who has worked across various pricing and reserving roles as an Actuary.
Michael migrated to Sydney at nine years old from China and has become a committed father raising his daughter to be proud of her heritage. Michael has also been involved with IAG’s diversity and inclusion initiatives particularly focusing on cultural diversity.
Can you share why diversity and inclusion initiatives are important to you?
My first opportunity to really look into diversity and inclusion was about five years ago when I was given the task to consider diversity in my business division. The information I gathered had empowered me to understand myself and others’ perspective of me. I now feel that I am in a strong position to encourage others to do the same.
In your own research on diversity, what did you find that show how cultural backgrounds can impact the workplace?
My heritage gave me a very strong sense of hierarchy. Consequently, it is natural for me to just listen and refrain from questioning and avoid potential conflict. Those feelings and reactions are so ingrained, that often I am not even aware that I am doing it.
In my performance reviews, I started to get feedback from my managers that I need to show more ‘presence’. That confused me. I was thinking in my head that I always arrive on time and listened. No twiddling of thumbs or playing with my phone. Isn’t that what I am supposed to do?
One day, I gathered enough courage and asked my manager the question “What do you mean by ‘presence’?”. Since then, I have tried to talk and ask as many questions as I possibly can. I kept it up until I got feedback that I should listen!
Using your own experience, what advice would you give to those starting out their Actuarial career who may have a similar background to you?
- Be brave and find out how others feel – I started out my career very wary of asking how others feel about me because I am not sure how to handle any unpleasant surprises. Instead I just assumed everyone saw me as I saw myself, beautifully of course! However, I am missing out on the information that enables to be truly what I want to be;
- Be prepared to share your feelings – I often found it easier to go with the flow, probably from a healthy mix of confrontation avoidance and laziness. It’s only much later in my career that I realised as Actuaries we are advisors. That means that being true to my feelings and having the ability to express those are pivotal for my sanity;
- Believe in the best intentions of others and that you can do something about it – That feeling of interrogation is a common occupational hazard. I choose to believe the intent is always to understand my point of view, hence it is my duty to make every effort to share my views clearly with my audience.
What has been one of the memorable moments with your family that have made you realise how important it is for us to encourage a “Proud to be me” approach to Diversity and inclusion?
I feel proud and privileged to have lived and brought up in mixed Australian and Chinese cultures. I value the Australian landscape, honesty and dedication; and I love my Chinese traditional customs and food.
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