On Tuesday 8th March, HFG hosted a special Women in insurance event on International Women’s Day at Davy’s Wine Bar in Plantation Place. The evening began with a sparkling reception followed by an introduction from HFG’s Director, Mark Dainty welcoming everyone to the session.
Diversity was the key theme of our speakers on this occasion and we were delighted to have three speakers who shared their careers and opinions on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in the insurance industry.
Kathy Byrne, Managing Director – Askis Limited actuary, author and vineyard owner opened the panel of speakers by sharing with our attendees her professional career path. She was very fortunate early on in her career to work at a small firm of consulting actuaries which offered her great exposure to skills and opportunities that would have been offered to more senior actuaries in bigger firms. She was also able to work in a number of areas there including Life, Pensions and Investments, which gave her the opportunity to make a decision on the focus that she was going to take early on in her career.
1) It is never too early to start networking
Kathy was encouraged from early on in her career to start networking and soon realised that it was important to be seen at the seminars and events at Staple Inn – even if the content of the event was a bit too complex for her at that stage of her career.
The importance of this is that the people that you meet early on in your career will progress through the ranks (as you will) and will soon be in senior positions in other companies. Create broad and deep networks to ensure that you have a wide coverage and a diverse group of people on your list. Kathy highlighted that aside from her first job out of education, she found all subsequent roles through her extensive network.
2) Challenge yourself to do things that you wouldn’t usually do
In 2011 Kathy’s mother came to her for advice about her savings account as she had found the information that was available on the internet and in the banks was excessive and confusing. With her investments background and experience, Kathy took the opportunity to write her book: Where have my savings gone? She also set up a savings management business at the same time to help others navigate the important decisions and conflicting pieces of information available on the internet.
3) Find something about you that’s memorable and makes you different from everyone else
Kathy was on a course in France in 2009 called ‘The Challenge of Leadership’ and the group got on so well that they suggested that as they were all business leaders, they should come up with a business idea so that we could all stay in contact after the course. The subject of a vineyard in Argentina came up and it was decided that this was the project that they were going to pursue. In March 2012 they made their first bottle of wine and the company now has 45 investors with $5million being invested in the project so far.
The second speaker of the evening was Mat Maddocks, Head of Underwriting Strategy at Sirius Group who spoke about how diversity has changed across the Insurance industry.
Mat started in the insurance industry over 15 years ago where the perception of his peers was that he was a grammar school boy, into his sports and social activities who enjoyed being in the city. Although he could potentially fit this perception this wasn’t the person who he saw as himself.
Mat is actually a working class boy from Birmingham who grew up on a council estate and lived on benefits until he was 21. He is an openly gay man who lives with his husband; people would always think he fits into the ‘old boy’ description but it just wasn’t him. He didn’t want to go drinking every lunchtime with brokers and clients and would rather sit at his desk and read a book. He wouldn’t want to go out drinking every evening – he would rather watch a film with his husband at home.
Mat didn’t want to be in the old boys club and realised from his experiences that the most important thing is to be yourself and be authentic. You don’t need to fit someone else’s mould, especially where you’re in a minority group. Confidence and being yourself is important but you need to take ownership for this. Make sure that you surround yourself with good people who can help you achieve this and try to find a mentor or a coach to help you.
The industry has an old boy’s club mentality when it comes to working practices but also in how you should behave. When an employee is engaged, that employee will perform. Engaged companies will outperform unengaged companies, as ultimately staff are happy to be there.
The final speaker of the evening was Theresa Farrenson, IT Partner at Aon who spoke about Diversity and Inclusion at Aon and about her role and objectives as Co-Founder of the LINK network.
Theresa has worked in the insurance industry for over 35 years with most of her career at Aon. The three focuses that Aon currently has in terms of diversity are:
1) To create a multicultural pool of junior staff members
Getting a broader range of graduates from different outlets to expand the workforce will (as they progress through their careers) ensure in a future diverse workplace.
2) Women returners to work
To focus on mid-career women who tend to drop off of the radar. Aon are looking at retention and how to get women back into work after maternity leave. They believe that women should be offered comparable roles, promotions and training opportunities when they come back to work.
3) Mental health
If we can’t talk about it – how are we going to address it? We need to tackle the stigma and enable managers to identify the signs.
Theresa then went on to talk about LINK which is the insurance industry’s lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual awareness group. LINK was launched in 2013 at an event hosted by the CII and they currently have 540 members representing 220 organisations. With a monthly members networking session and regular newsletter that goes out to all members, their aim is to target senior leaders to encourage them to start thinking and doing something proactively with regards to D&I.
Theresa went on to discuss the Allies Network which works alongside the LINK group and expanding the network to get everyone engaged and show acceptance and support. Theresa commented:
“You don’t want to be known as ‘the woman on the board’ but the woman who has earned her role. If we had the same people at the events all of the time we would be having the same conversations with the same people and you’re not to going to change the world that way.”
It is important to build advocates and allies so if there is a time when there’s not a gay person in the room or a woman they can be on hand to correct bad behaviours or comments and that’s when you are going to make changes – when people become advocates for you as you are broadening the conversation.
Following the speakers there were a number of points raised in the Q&A, one of which brought up the topic of a lesser publicised strand of diversity – socio economic influences. Mat commented that it used to be one of the main strands of diversity (along with gender, sexuality, religion, age and disability) but it was considered too difficult to enforce as views can be very subjective.
One attendee commented that it was a good thing that the concept of ‘allies’ was raised as this potentially needs more publicising to get more people engaged with groups such as LINK and Women in insurance networks.
Following the speakers, everyone joined in with the afternoon tea themed networking and the evening ended with the announcement of the raffle draw which raised over £250 for Target Ovarian Cancer. A huge thank you to those who bought tickets and congratulations to the winners.
We hope that you all the evening and if you haven’t done so already don’t forget to join our Women in insurance network LinkedIn group to find out when the next event is taking place.
Many thanks to everyone who attended and we hope to see you at the next event!