Laura High is something of a rarity in the insurance industry – she’s a woman who’s made it to the top.
As director of Yutree Underwriting and chairwoman of BIBA Anglia she has built a sterling reputation among her peers as one of the more well-respected figureheads of either gender. However, when she looks around she finds a noticeable lack of females in positions such as her own.
“I regularly find myself at functions surrounded by men,” she said.
“I chair the Anglia region of BIBA and I was at a top table event the other day with nine other men – I was the only woman there.”
It seems that attracting women to insurance is tough – and High admits that even she got into the industry more because it was the “thing to do” in her region, rather than because she had some interest in it at the time.
“I went straight from school – I did A-levels and went straight to Norwich Union,” she said. “It was a job at the time, I wasn’t thinking too deeply about my career. Once I got in there – I was in the life and pensions environment – I quickly saw that there was huge opportunity if you wanted a career. So I moved into general insurance, I got a sales job there over the telephone, and then from that started selling to small brokers over the phone and from there became an account manager out on the road with a company car and a laptop and meeting brokers face to face.
“From there I was offered a job in Cambridge, which was a big step - moving away from home and moving from Norwich to Cambridge to be an account manager but that’s what I did. There were loads of opportunities and I thoroughly recommend it to school leavers as a career path.”
High believes that when it comes to attracting more women into the industry, insurers and brokers alike should think beyond graduates alone and also look at school leavers. Indeed they should try and get away from what many see as the boring term of “insurance” and focus on customer interaction as a selling point for the job.
“It is difficult – but it’s about getting across what insurance means,” she said. “The subject matter might be boring but your customers might be a market stall or a manufacturing company… they can be any business in the country. You have to go out and see these businesses and understand them and it really is an interesting subject giving people lots of opportunities.
“It’s about describing what the job is. I think once you do understand the range of things you get to deal with and what your clients look like you do get more interested. The profile of it needs to be put up there with other professions.
“Also the industry focuses a lot on graduates but it should get into schools more as well. There is a lot of work to be done with people who aren’t necessarily going to go to university.”
Above all, however, High believes that women need to be given confidence that they can really go places within insurance – and that means more female role models.
“This is a male-dominated industry but hopefully this is changing with some female figureheads in the industry now,” continued High. “You have Inga Beale at Lloyd’s and there are more coming through. The industry is very old fashioned, that’s just the way it is, but it is moving – Lloyd’s in particular has a diversity programme and there’s lots of really good work going on to redress the balance.
“I think it’s about putting female role models up there. If a woman walked into the industry in the environment I described – it’s quite daunting. You want to hear from successful people in the industry about what their path is. You have to give them confidence. They need to be encouraged to push through with other success stories.”
What do you think could be done to get more females into the industry? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
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