On Wednesday, about 300 insurance professionals attended the Women in Insurance Summit Australia 2023 in Sydney.
The summit covered issues impacting women and men in the insurance industry including global and local market trends, artificial intelligence (AI) and the work-life balance. The event also focused heavily on what some in the industry are doing – and what more can be done - to tackle tough challenges like the gender pay gap and domestic violence.
The day involved a moving keynote address by tennis star and author Jelena Dokic, an engaging presentation from CEO Katie-Jeyn Romeyn about negotiating for better pay, and a thought provoking talk by Stella Insurance CEO Sam White about the industry’s gender issues and what men can do to help and connect with women
There were also several panel discussions including: “Getting ahead – accelerating career and skill development” which looked at how to develop capabilities and skill sets for career advancement. The session was moderated by Drew Schnehage, managing director of Innovation Group in Australia.
Jenny O’Neill (pictured immediately below), chief legal and governance officer with Hollard Insurance, was on the panel. She made a powerful point about resilience and mental health.
“The next time we learn of colleagues who have been experiencing a mental health episode we should understand that those people are the superheroes and, actually, I want those people on my team because they are the most resilient,” said O’Neill. “Those are the people who have an MBA in getting s*** done.”
She also encouraged people to have confidence in themselves to take positive actions to take advantage of opportunities. For example, when the next job opening arises, even if you’re not sure you have the qualifications, go for it.
“The one thing we can do, every single one of us in this room, irrespective of which hat you’re wearing, is the next time there’s a role and you need 40% of the criteria: go for it anyway, try it, do the interview, to at least get the experience,” said O’Neill.
The flip-side of this situation, she said, is the recruiter. O’Neill encouraged them to be more open-minded to potential and not just qualifications.
“If you’re the person recruiting, recruit for potential and then recruit the person who’s 40% right to actually succeed and don’t just throw them in the deep end and forget about it,” she said. “That’s how we as an industry can catalyse change.”
Skye Theodorou (pictured immediately below), CEO of the insurtech, Upcover, was also a panellist.
“Every time we’ve had a setback at Upcover what’s really driven me to get back up again is because I feel obligated now as a woman in insurance and also in the startup industry to demonstrate that it is possible,” said Theodorou.
She agreed with her colleagues on the panel about the importance of making conscious choices in life, at home and in work.
“The thing is, you don’t know until you start to experience and do,” said Theodorou. “One of the best things I did in my life, particularly when I had one or two years of a lot of self-doubt, was to just get out of my own way and start doing.”
She said just taking action can sometimes be a major positive step.
“When I have an ‘in my head’ moment, if I just break it down into actions, it’ll be a breeze,” said Theodorou. “That’s something that I would love to leave as a final point.”
Lauren Lance (pictured immediately below), Suncorp’s executive general manager of Enterprise Delivery, told the audience about how she “freaked out” when two big roles were offered to her at very difficult times. On one occasion she was more than seven months pregnant and on the other she had just returned from maternity leave. Both jobs were huge opportunities involving big budgets and teams but she felt stressed out and completely underqualified.
“Get in the driver’s seat and make the bold choices,” said Lance. “You’re not going to feel ready - that’s the reality of it - but you’re in the driver’s seat and can make the bold choices.”
Lance took the jobs - and with support from her boss – was able to succeed. She encouraged attendees to be themselves.
“Lead with who you are,” said Lance. “There’s no point trying to be someone different, it takes too much energy and we don’t have enough time in the day but being an authentic tangible leader is the way forward.”
Panellist Archana Acharya (pictured immediately below), chief general counsel for Gallagher Bassett, said a career path isn’t necessarily a straight line and people shouldn’t see that negatively.
“Your career trajectory might not be a linear progression - it wasn’t for me - and I think that’s OK,” said Acharya. “Just know that sometimes life will mean that you have to take time out for a little bit but that doesn’t mean that’s your story, there’s more that can be written.”
Acharya’s final words summarised the positive tone of the Summit: “Anything’s possible, believe in yourself.”
Sylvia Quang, partner with HWL Ebsworth Lawyers and NSW president of the Young Insurance Professionals (YIPs), was an engaging and welcoming chairperson and emcee for the event.
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