Putting the human back in people

Young Coralle Fitzgibbon and her dad

My dad was a car salesman. A gentle giant, very tall and practical, and all business, but with a heart of gold. He would often say to me: “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks – it’s about how you make people feel. If you’re a good person, that’s all that matters.”

It’s these poignant words which have led me down the sometimes-broken path to where I am today – diversity and inclusion practitioner, mental health advocate, and fanatical believer in bringing humanity back into the workplace.

I guess my passion stems from childhood. I’ll be the first to admit I had a privileged upbringing. But I was lonely. By the age of eight, my much-older brothers had both moved overseas and I was largely raised as an only child. Throwing myself into dance, and with a life in leotards, I grappled with body challenges as a teen. I was bullied, too, for being the kind of kid who worked hard, got good grades and followed the rules. By 22, in the throes of depression, I finally struck up the courage to ask for help and, as a result, ended up with the therapy and medication I so desperately needed. It was a pivotal moment for me, realising that it’s ok to ask for help; and to receive it.

It’s a philosophy I’ve taken into the workplace, across my career in market research and customer experience. I’ve thrived on talking to people and understanding what makes them tick, and where their issues lie. I’ve been an advocate for mental health, standing up and sharing my story, which has motivated others to share theirs. And I’ve got involved wherever and however I can in well-being related initiatives – always absolutely believing it’s the right thing to do.

Now I’m lucky enough for that to be the focus of my full-time role as Diversity and Inclusion Partner at BNZ. It’s a role I truly enjoy, but one that’s subject to some misconceptions. When people see my job title, they often think I’m responsible for ensuring we have an equal number of men and women, or ticking the box when it comes to different ethnic groups. Sure, we do report on those things, but it’s more than that.

It’s about creating an environment where people feel like they can come to work and be themselves; share their view, have it taken seriously, and not have to leave something at the door when they walk in. It’s about creating a space where people can be human. That’s the inclusion part.

It’s not an easy task, but I’m lucky to have support right across the bank. Our CEO Angie Mentis chairs our Diversity and Inclusion Council, and is committed to driving this change. We’ve also set up numerous working groups, and I’ve been stunned by the hundreds of BNZers who’ve put their hands up to get involved. As an organisation, we understand that what we do for our people directly translates to what we do for our customers and communities.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m still learning on the job, but I’m relishing the challenge and, for me, it’s helped shape a strong interest in Māori culture and language. I’ve loved embracing bi-culturalism and learning how to talk to my two children in Te Reo.

I’m also proud of the relationships I’ve created, including those I’ve built with some of BNZ’s leaders. It’s made me realise those at the top are just human and that everyone’s got a story. We’re all just people and we all have lives and experiences, and things we’ve been through. Freeing up the human aspect of people is the key to unlocking our potential and working together to make great decisions – for us, our customers and communities.

I’m sure my dad would agree.