If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my 21-year career as a woman in the insurance industry, it’s that nobody can ever take your experience and professional growth away from you.
I’ve grasped that as a person grows into their role, they should be patient about advancement and learn, learn, learn, making the most of any opportunities offered, whether male or female.
But while much has changed for the better in our industry over the past two decades in terms of inclusion and equality– not only for women, but also for others who have had to fight hard to stake their claim – a lot more must still be done.
Research published by the Swiss Re Institute earlier this year showed that, globally, women’s representation in leadership positions in the (re)insurance industry has been improving – but women still represented only about a fifth of (re)insurance company executives in 2019 and only 10% of CEOs.
This is just one reason why we need to keep chipping away until workplace gender equality is no longer an issue for any woman – no matter her background and whether she is at the very start of her career or at the point of breaking through that glass ceiling.
From my own professional point of view, I’m fortunate: I joined Hollard straight after finishing my studies – and never left. I’ve never had sexist managers. My leaders have allowed and assisted me to grow. I’ve enjoyed the right kind of leadership and mentorship.
I’m lucky. The boys’ club is still alive and well in many industries, and not all women have enjoyed the support I have.
It’s important to remember that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. A few years ago, for example, I started playing golf – not to be “in” with my male colleagues, but to build professional relationships, in my own way.
Women leaders who try too hard to be like their male counterparts often run the risk (unfairly) of being perceived as inauthentic or insincere.
Leading the way
Addressing workplace sexism requires the active intervention of employers, the constant foregrounding of issues related to equal opportunities, individual behaviour change and legislation – but it also calls on women to lead and set examples by preparing for, and grabbing, opportunities for advancement as they arise.
Someone who epitomises this is New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. Young, compassionate, a unifier, someone who’s clearly treading her own path, she’s nothing like your typical national leader.
Under her leadership, New Zealand is thriving, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, racial and gender issues, and more. Not only is she the country’s youngest prime minister since 1856 and only its third woman leader (she took on the role at 37), but she is also its most vocally left-wing one, and she and her Labour Party continue to grow in popularity.
Ardern is better at politics than most, and she’s nailed her job. She’s not trying to be a typically “hard-edged” leader (and even became a mother during her first term in office, only the second head of state to do so).
In 2013, Inga Beale was appointed the first female CEO of Lloyd’s, the world’s oldest and most traditional insurance market. Since then, a lot has been done to raise awareness about gender and racial inequality and inclusivity. In order for us to take the next step in this journey as women, we should have confidence in our own abilities and not doubt ourselves.
When you step into a new role, believe you’re ready. Don’t “fake it until you make it” – if you do, you risk denting your own reputation and undermining the cause for workplace gender equality.
It’s all about knowing you have the right skills to do your job well.
My team is 80% female and has enjoyed great success precisely because we have those skills, and we are committed to working hard to deliver. We appreciate and acknowledge each other, we work with empathy and understanding for each other and our customers – and we reap the results.
Women bring their own value and flavour to the workplace. Let’s bear this in mind as we continue working towards levelling the playing field.