Leading by Example: GMHBA's Claire Higgins on women, balance and building a healthier future

Published 20 Feb 2024

Claire Higgins was the first female chair appointed to lead the Board of Geelong-based private health insurer GMHBA in its 90 years of operations.

Taking up the opportunity five years ago, the Ocean Grove resident has a wealth of experience, with more than 20 years on boards for organisations including the Country Fire Authority, Ambulance Victoria, Barwon Health and various privately-owned companies.

This International Women’s Day, Claire reflects on leadership, diversity in skill and the important role GMHBA continues to play in the community.

Can you share insights into your career journey and milestones that have shaped your leadership role at GMHBA? 

I have been very fortunate throughout my career to have people that have believed in me and encouraged me to believe in myself.  I have developed a curiosity to try things that are different, and the understanding that if I am willing to try and give my best effort, I can do things that I never considered possible – from steel manufacturing, mining, and water supply to emergency services, healthcare and aged care, insurance, property investment, philanthropy, and even medical device development.  I have been a 'first female’ leader in several organisations, learning more about my values and what is important to me.


How do you perceive the impact of women in leadership roles?

I see my role as a leader as being to encourage people to try, set aspirations, and celebrate achievements.  I’ve learned to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously, understanding that we are all a long time working and we should set about enjoying it!

Knowing that when things don’t work out, or go wrong, that blame does not have a place, but understanding and learning are more important.  But what I would put at the very top is to care about people, be honest, and be willing to be part of the team on the journey. 


In what ways has your experience influenced decision-making and strategies at GMHBA?

The importance of women in leadership roles is all about balance.   I am not talking about balance of numbers, but the balance of skills, thinking styles and life experiences.  I have seen time and again this balance play out in better decision making.  I have experienced first-hand how changes in the balance of leadership styles can have either deleterious or enhancing impacts on culture and business successes.


From a health perspective, how does GMHBA prioritise the well-being of women?

We have good people who are setting about building a culture of work built on care, respect, and accountability.  We’re proud that our leadership teams reflect this commitment – our Board is 42% female, and our Executive Leadership Team is 50% female. We recognise that to get the best out of people, we need to trust them and give them the flexibility in their entire lives, to bring their best to their work.


What’s next for GMHBA?

We are developing our health services to provide better access to health care and recently opened the Belmont Hub and announced a second multidisciplinary hub on Moorabool Street.  We have been working closely with Hospital providers regarding the sustainability of obstetric and other services.  And we have been working with Deakin University to help ensure that the health workforce needs in the region can be sustained.  We are always striving to be our best for our members.