Insurance has long been seen as a field dominated by men. However, while this may have been true in the past, the industry is taking steps to promote diversity and represent both men and women in its ranks, and draw on their varied backgrounds and approaches.
Insurance Business spoke with Alicia Leong (pictured), marine liability underwriter at Munich Re Syndicate Singapore and committee member for Lloyd’s Under 35s Club (Singapore) about her experiences as a woman in the maritime and insurance industry.
“One of the greatest misconceptions around this industry is that it is a man’s playing field,” she said. “And I might agree with that statement if we’re talking about the landscape 20 years back. When my father set up his own marine insurance broker firm two decades ago, 80% of his employees were men.”
However, according to Leong, the reason wasn’t so much that men were the ones needed for the job, but it was because there were only a few female applicants, mostly due to societal factors, as many women were reluctant to travel extensively for work.
Fast forward to today, Leong believes that the maritime industry has become much more inclusive and more women are entering the industry. She credited initiatives such as the Maritime Singapore Connect (MSC) office that make it easier for people to get connected with pathways into the industry, as well as the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) that supports women in shipping.
“We also see many more women travelling as part of their work – I myself travel frequently to speak at conferences and keynote events, and to present at client meetings across Asia-Pacific,” she said. “It is an enriching experience, being able to learn from the seasoned delegates and attendees at these conferences, and I’ve also made good friends along the way. Travelling for work has never been much of a concern for me since I still have the energy to. I try to seize the opportunity while I am young.”
According to Leong, there are now more ways to get aboard a maritime career compared to when she was a student. She pointed to the MSC’s website as a good starting point for interested individuals. It consolidates information from across the industry – from career opportunities to education, training, and available grants that individuals can take advantage of. The website lists open positions and even has a resume depository function where maritime employers can reach out to job and internship seekers directly.
“My advice for those interested in getting their foot in the industry – step right into it,” Leong said. “The industry is a supportive one where there are people and avenues to help you learn and develop. We’re a tight-knit community, and although we are technically competitors, we really prefer to consider ourselves ‘friendly competitors’. We could be competing over an account one day and the next, we could be laughing and shooting the breeze over drinks at a bar.”
However, despite her father being in the marine insurance industry, Leong said that it was not her first career choice, and she had studied to become a lawyer.
“After graduating, I did a traineeship with a law firm but knew it was not for me. Working at the law firm did not suit the extroverted me,” she said. “I did not want to be chained behind a desk for long hours and have little interaction with client or even co-workers.
“Back in law school, as a third-year student, I had been offered the opportunity to intern with a Lloyd’s registered insurance broker, which was a very niche outfit as they only specialised in marine placements. There I learnt the various types of marine insurance covers, the role and responsibility of a broker, risk analysis, and underwriting preferences/appetite. Since then, I just knew that this was the job for me.”
While she has met many wonderful mentors, both male and female, across her career, Leong recognises her father, who has been a marine insurance broker for over 40 years, as the greatest of all.
“It was daunting at first for me to follow in my father’s footsteps, as he has an illustrious reputation in the industry and connections across Asia,” she said. “When I visited clients in Hong Kong or Thailand, for example, they would bring him up in conversation.”
Leong recalled the most unforgettable moment of her insurance career, and it involved her father.
“The most memorable would be receiving a call from my dad after I had given a presentation to the Malaysia Institute of Insurance,” she said. “He told me how proud of me he was after hearing from his peers that they enjoyed my presentation.
“There are too many fond memories to count, and the culmination of everything I’ve done thus far has been nothing short of incredible. I’m glad I made the professional switch from what I had initially studied in university.”