Women in insurance event round up

On 14 November, Kennedys were thrilled to host two inspirational female leaders from the London market.

On 14 November, Kennedys were thrilled to host two inspirational female leaders from the London market. Dawn Miller (CEO of AXA Insurance Company) and Mary O’Connor (Head of Client, Industry and Business Development Global Head of Financial Institutions, Willis Towers Watson) participated in our second ‘Women in Insurance’ event, hosted in London by Kennedys’ partner Suzanne Liversidge.

In an informal, humoured yet candid ‘interview’, Dawn and Mary provided a valuable market perspective from those in senior leadership roles. Discussion points covered a broad range of topics, including:

  • The chance to bring diversity to the Board table and respond to the innovation opportunity.
  • Why organisations need to educate themselves on the reasons more diversity leads to better outcomes.
  • The importance of putting the client in the centre.
  • The influence of Big Data and driving change in an innovative world.
  • Delegating to empower those around you and being prepared to deal with discomfort when pushing for change.
  • Developing your personal brand; not being afraid to talk about your value and being asked to be paid for it.
  • Being active in asking for mentors and sponsors to advance your career.
  • Striving for goals outside of your comfort zone and learning from failure.
  • Keeping your network fresh and paying it forward.

The future is digital

Both speakers agreed how data can allow those servicing the industry to influence more change and add more value. They spoke about how they have seen digital enablement in certain markets, including, in particular, the SME market. Reduced innovation in middle markets where firms are going local represents a current gap and, therefore, opportunity for the industry to drive change and cover more risks. The focus needs to be on outcomes and those in an advisory role need to be able to offer a global market view: the days of beers in the pub are gone.

Both stressed the importance of being agile to the opportunity that Artificial Intelligence brings. A successful business needs to be one that responds to market disruption.

Keeping perspective

Both speakers agreed there remains structural challenges to ensuring woman are able to achieve senior roles within the industry. It is about more than just the ability to achieve a work-life balance. An example of an obstacle is the ability to be sponsored. To help overcome such challenges, the audience was encouraged to take a view on the future: take risks, build a network and be prepared to fail.

A particularly poignant tip offered centred on the notion of “pinch points”. In speaking about balancing work and two young children, Mary repeated the advice she had been given by a peer: is the issue you are being faced with a deal breaker, or is it just a short term issue (a pinch point in your life), where a re-adjustment is needed?

Identifying such pinch points (and distinguishing them from deal breakers) in personal and professional capacities is vital to understanding how to overcome them and achieving a successful work-life-balance. That should involve asking for help and delegating to empower those around you: It is possible to have it all [career, hobbies, family- but, you just can’t have 110% of everything.

Dawn and Mary also emphasised the importance of not dwelling on “small road bumps” or perceived failures – be it a bad meeting or a presentation you feel went poorly. Every CEO has a history of failure. What is important is the lesson learnt and moving on.

Our speakers advised how re-setting one’s leadership approach is important. A simple but effective tool to keeping one’s cool (when required) is to count down from five, before thinking of something positive: “Five, four, three, two, one – ice cream”.

Paying it forward

On talking about networking, both agreed it takes about 18 months to form a strong network that starts to yield benefits. The key here is to network at all organisational levels, as well as inside and outside of your organisation and industry. Doing so allows good deeds to be paid forward.

When discussing more broadly the importance of seeking career support, a distinction was made between a mentor and a sponsor: while a mentor typically sits within your organisation, a sponsor is someone who can sit inside or outside of your organisation. The role of a mentor is personal. It is about helping to ensure their charge becomes the best they can be. Importantly, the mentee should not feel afraid to retire one mentor and seek another as they progress their career. A sponsor, on the other hand, is someone who has an interest in their charge’s career – someone who will travel with you for the duration of your career journey and set you challenges.

It’s good to talk

In response to a question about how best to establish a women’s group within other organisations, Dawn emphasised the importance of creating inclusive forums instead of ones that are gender-specific.

Another question raised, which Mary addressed, related to the notion that networking is typically perceived as something viable only to a certain age demographic. As agreed by all on panel, there is no limit to when you can network, or ask for a mentor. Mary went on “any mentor would be thrilled to develop a colleague- age isn’t important”.

The event concluded with glowing feedback from the audience, owing to the honest and insightful advice given by our guest speakers.

This particular event forms part of an ongoing international initiative set up by Kennedys to partner with clients and industry figures to provide a shared discussion forum about the issues facing women in the insurance sector.

However, this is not just a forum for women. It is important that everyone is included in the discussion to ensure that being open, inclusive and supportive of talent forms part of the DNA of all organisations that make up the wider market.

Both AXA and Willis Towers Watson are committed to setting up more global network events and we look forward to being able to support the continued discussion.