‘We need to be champions of other women’

Danielle Handley left her comfort zone in 2022 – moving from a long-term senior manager position in the insurance industry to a brand-new role in a company expanding into healthcare. But by the time she arrived at the offices of international healthcare and health insurance company BUPA, the executive who had hired her six months before and the head of corporate strategy had left. She was without a sponsor, without a boss, and she was asked to lead a new strategic program of company transformation.

“There had been a lot of change across the business,” says Handley, now BUPA chief customer and transformation officer based in Sydney and in charge of about 500 employees. She has been named the winner of the Health category of the Women in Leadership Awards.

“The team I joined to lead was surrounded by ambiguity; they were going through a bit of an identity crisis about the role they would play in the broader organisation.”

Handley decided to lean in to build the right connections, provide reassurance and determine where she could add the most value to the organisation as it shifted focus.

With some psychology training under her belt, Handley began her career more than 25 years ago as a manager with professional services company Ernst and Young. In a career comprising decades of senior executive leadership, she has ticked off a master’s of business administration degree, five years working for Ernst and Young in London, many years working for leading insurance companies in Australia, and more recently another master’s degree in creative intelligence and strategic innovation.

From her first days at BUPA her focus has been on the company’s transformation from a health insurance business to a healthcare company that also has wide-ranging and connected healthcare options, including optical, digital, dental, hearing and aged care.

“Connected care is the name of our program of work,” she says. “It includes looking at our health insurance customer base today and driving for increased connection and awareness to enable greater access of all of BUPA’s health services.”

Handley’s overall responsibilities have included building and deploying BUPA’s digital health platform, Blua, and ensuring the platform has smooth and easy-to-use core services, such as virtual consultations, navigation to health programs, as well as chemist delivery.

“All these are accessible digitally for our members,” she says. “In addition, we are looking at the ways we can engage our members more broadly by identifying how a health insurance member can get greater access or benefit from using BUPA dental, BUPA optical and so forth.

“All of those elements become part of connected care because we enable the customer to move between our services. It’s important so that customer experience is more of a continuum.“

Reaching consensus

Handley is passionate about the way technology, data and digital continue to enable innovation. In one of her earlier roles, she pushed herself into difficult territory, taking on the analytics and artificial intelligence.

She knew she didn’t have the data science, data engineering, mathematics or actuarial skills usually required for these positions, but she felt her understanding of business strategy combined with the team’s digital skills could accelerate the use of artificial intelligence in the business.

As a senior executive, Handley tries to ensure there is consensus for difficult decisions, rather than ramming changes through opposing opinions. One Australian company she worked for was a market leader in its field, but accelerating costs made it clear that unpopular changes had to be made to certain elements of the business.

Handley set up a team of about 15 long-serving senior employees with a deep understanding of the different functions of the business, all well-respected by their peers, to look into the problem and come up with solutions.

“We did a heavy six-to-eight-week piece of work, really exploring all of what we do across the entire value chain,” she says. “It was a difficult project, with everyone’s sensitivities around it.”

The team considered external partners, what a model could look like, how much core capability could be partnered to build that business case. In the end the team came to the inevitable conclusion that unpopular action had to be taken, and Handley had 15 or so backers when she instigated the change.

She says she is always open to new challenges. “When there are open doors, I always feel that’s an opportunity,” she says. “Is that open door going to give you a new challenge, a new capability, and enrich your career path in a way that is positive and takes you to a new destination?

“I have a fabulous challenge right now, in terms of my role, my team and leading the transformation across BUPA APAC. I’m juggling many different balls, but it’s an exciting time and has so much opportunity to deliver meaningful impact for our customers and the community.”

She has been mentored by a boss she likes and admires, and in turn she is mentoring four manager-level women – two in the company and two outside it.

“I often think what’s even more important than mentoring is championing,” she says.

“To me, being a champion is what we really need to be for one another. To go above and beyond calling out some of the fabulous capabilities of other women across the enterprise, that you shout out and give them a voice when they’re probably a little bit more self-deprecating and aren’t as well-equipped to be self-promoters. We need to be champions of other women.”

Share the Dignity

The world changed for Rochelle Courtenay when she read a 2015 newspaper article and learned 48,000 Australian women didn’t have anywhere safe to call home. Looking for more information, she was rocked again when she read many of these women living in poverty  couldn’t afford period products, instead using socks, newspapers and wadded-up toilet paper.

Rochelle Courtenay, founder of Share the Dignity

“I had never even thought that that would be a problem,” the Queenslander says. “I was really embarrassed, to be honest.”

She was running a physical training business at the time, and she asked all her clients to bring her a pack of tampons or sanitary pads for every glass of wine they drank in the month of March 2015. The period products were then distributed to five charities in the local area.

Inspired, Courtenay founded the not-for-profit organisation Share the Dignity. Today, thousands of volunteers help to collect, sort, log and deliver period products for women who need them – homeless women, women fleeing domestic violence, living in poverty, living in remote Indigenous communities. Tampons and sanitary pads are sent to 3500 partner charities across Australia for use by their clients.

Share the Dignity has partnered with the Queensland government to install 500 bright pink Dignity Vending Machines in schools to dispense free period products. Hundreds of these Dignity machines have also been installed in places of need across Australia: in refuges, homeless centres, high-need schools, Indigenous health centres and hospitals.

Share the dignity campaigned for the removal of GST from tampons and sanitary pads – the tax was dropped in 2019.

The non-profit’s aim is simple. “We completely believe in menstrual equity, which means that everyone everywhere should have access to free period products,” Courtenay says.

Eliminating shame and stigma is also core, and Share the Dignity has been awarded a contract to run a menstruation education program in Queensland. “Period Talk is six sassy kids delivering the program to kids,” Courtenay says. “Two of them are boys, because boys have never been educated about menstruation the way they should be. That little boy who doesn’t get educated ends up being somebody’s dad, somebody’s boss, somebody’s husband, and he’s got no idea.”

From the beginning, Courtenay took pains to ensure Share the Dignity was set up efficiently. With experience as a self-employed photographer and exercise trainer and, for a time, as the manager of a health club, she had little corporate knowledge and she was keen to tap into the expertise of others.

“There are thousands and thousands of charities in Australia,” she says. “They are set up all the time, but then it doesn’t go anywhere. I was very clear on the fact that this was a business and it needed to be set up like a business, because if it didn’t have good foundations and good walls, we wouldn’t still be around to help people.”

Share the Dignity’s board of directors has included professionals with expertise in marketing, accounting, legal affairs, people and culture, human resources, insurance, and information technology.

“We’ve always had an amazing board of directors,” Courtenay says, “people with skills that I don’t have.”

Share the Dignity’s regular donation drives include bright pink collection boxes in Woolworths supermarkets. A customer shopping in Woolworths, for instance, can just add a package of tampons or sanitary pads to his or her shopping trolley and drop it in the collection bin. Woolworths also donates a small percentage of the price of every period product sold during those drives to Share the Dignity.

This year, the organisation is again conducting a Bloody Big Survey to understand more about menstruation in Australia. Data from the 2021 survey, which had 125,000 responses, was used to push for menstrual equity, including the provision of free period products in all Australian high schools. This year’s survey had 153,000 responses, Courtenay says.

“We hope to advocate for every primary school, every TAFE and every university to provide period products,” she says. “No girl should ever miss a day of education because they don’t have access to period products.”

Financial Review