Award-Winning Executive on Becoming a Leader, Becoming a Guide, and Female Mentor

by Deborah Capras

To succeed as a leader in a male-dominated insurance business there’s no need to copy the men, says Delphine Traoré Maïdou, COO Allianz Africa. Portrait of a fighter and female mentor

It’s been quite a journey for Delphine Traoré Maïdou. From her origins in Burkina Faso, a landlocked nation in west Africa most famous for being ranked as the of the poorest in the world, to her being ranked as one of the most influential women in French-speaking Africa in 2017, she is now one of the highest-ranking women in the insurance industry–quite an achievement in a business predominantly defined by pale, male, and middle-aged executives.

Delphine graduated with a MSc. from Boston University and first worked as an underwriter in the US before moving to Canada and then to South Africa. Along the journey to her current position as regional COO for Allianz in Africa, she has pocketed various prestigious awards including the title of Insurance CEO of the Year at AfricaRe’s African Insurance Awards for her previous role as CEO of Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) Africa.

“The ‘first-female’ label shows that there is still a lot of progress to make when it comes to diversity.”

As the first female to lead such a company in Africa, Delphine is clearly proud of her success. But the emphasis on “first female” is one that she still finds slightly disconcerting. It’s only necessary because it’s still unusual, she notes, “The ‘first-female’ label shows that there is still a lot of progress to make when it comes to diversity.”

Driving diversity and female leadership

Delphine clearly feels an obligation to drive diversity and pave the way for other women. She’s keen to share her story and hopes to inspire, support, and guide other women (and young men, too!) to take on the challenge of high-profile positions of leadership. Even if the kick-off for such a career may not always go smoothly. Hers almost didn’t, as she points out.

“My love story with Allianz started within two months of joining the company,” she explains. In 2005, she took up a position as underwriter at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty in Canada only to discover that she was two months pregnant with child number two. Still in the probation period, Delphine felt she was in a precarious position.

Allianz would be under no obligation to keep her on. To complicate the issue, in Canada women are obliged to take a year off work after giving birth. It’s a policy that is meant to protect women in the workplace, but Delphine was concerned that it could backfire in her case. How wrong she was.

It all started with a ‘pop’

“Until I’m ready to pop!” was the optimistic reply Delphine gave when she was asked how long she could keep working before the birth. She laughs about it now, showing her warm sense of humor and delight at the memory. She was true to her word, as was Allianz. The company kept the job open for her.

Delphine returned and went on to forge a successful career that also included spearheading a project to develop more business opportunities for Allianz on the African continent. Which eventually led to her moving back to her home continent and her current role at the helm of Allianz Africa as COO.

“I knew immediately back then that this is a company that believes in women,” she continues. “One that understands that we are not always as flexible as men.”

Being a female mentor

Delphine may be working in a male-dominated business, but she sees absolutely no need to become less feminine. “What’s the point of diversity if we all take on the male leadership traits?” she asks. Clearly none.

“To deliver the numbers you have to understand the human beings behind them. I call this ‘leadership by nurturing’. I was called Mama Africa because of my leadership style.”

Women bring a higher level of compassion and empathy to the business. They try to understand the motivation and personal story of each individual, she believes. “To deliver the numbers you have to understand the human beings behind them. I call this leadership by nurturing. I was called Mama Africa because of my leadership style,” she notes with pride.

Keep focused, keep alert, jump in

Nurturing is not the full picture, however. Her main advice to women is not to focus too much on the career itself. What sounds counterintuitive actually makes a lot of sense. “For me, it’s always been about how can I give the best of myself now in the situation that I am in. Don’t just focus on your own official responsibilities or job description. If there are gaps that I see elsewhere in the organization, in areas where I think I can provide support or give guidance, I give my opinion. I tend to always jump in. So, raise your voice, support others, and contribute.”

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