As one of the founding members of AXA XL’s inclusion committee in Australia, Catherine Carlyon (pictured) is a keen advocate for promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace, and she encourages others to do the same.
“Be yourself and don’t be afraid to challenge the norm. Speak up if you can see a better way of doing things,” said Carlyon, who holds the title of head of Asia-Pacific claims, AXA XL, a division of AXA.
Early on in her career, Carlyon challenged an outdated policy at a previous employer that specified women were not permitted to wear trousers to work. The result was a change in policy.
More recently, she supported the decision of a male colleague in her team who wished to take primary carer’s leave. At the time, the company had a maternity and an adoption policy in place, but the guidance was otherwise unclear for male primary carers.
“I had to challenge my own assumptions,” said Carlyon. “Ultimately we were able to adapt our existing policies. All employees should feel supported and policies should be gender neutral.”
AXA XL’s focus on providing a flexible working environment has empowered Carlyon to balance her career with her family life. She works from home one day a week, and has the flexibility to manage her own calendar, enabling attendance at some school events or occasional school pick-ups. Of course, it does also work the other way, with evening meetings and calls a necessity as part of her role.
Carlyon has been fortunate to have many supporters and mentors throughout her career and she has always welcomed opportunities to challenge herself by traveling and experiencing different roles and industries. Having started her career as an accountant, she spent 10 years with KPMG, during which time she worked in the UK, Australia and the US, gaining valuable insight into the different cultures and systems used around the world.
“I always had the desire to live and work in different places. It was a character-building experience,” she said.
As an accountant and consultant working with many insurance companies, Carlyon developed an interest in the industry and jumped at the chance to take up a job offer from one of her clients at the time, XL Group in London. She subsequently relocated to Sydney with the company; then XL Catlin. She worked in global claims management for 11 years before taking on her current role in 2017, in which she is responsible for all aspects of the claims business across the Asia-Pacific region.
Carlyon believes that the insurance industry is a great career choice for women.
“The industry really undersells itself,” she said. “Women in the insurance industry support and encourage each other, becoming unofficial mentors and sponsors for one another. Changes in flexible working policies over recent years mean that both women and men in insurance feel more empowered to balance healthy work and home lives. We are also starting to see a shift in the senior ranks so there are more opportunities for women to succeed. Build the right network around you, don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe, but also let your work speak for itself.”