Empowering. Positive. Authentic. Welcoming. Honest. Transparent. Those were all words used to describe Insurance Business Canada’s packed-out Women in Insurance Canada event, held in Toronto’s Arcadian Court on June 22.
“There’s just something very special that happens when you get women in a room together,” said Patricia Chiodo (pictured, far right), director of human resources at Burns & Wilcox Canada. “The energy, the psyche, the conversations, the anecdotes that you’re sharing with someone you’ve just met or haven’t seen for a while – there’s a lot of comfort and a lot of strength in that.”
Sponsored by Arch Insurance Canada, the event drew in a crowd of 410 insurance industry professionals, all eager to reconnect face-to-face for the live summit dedicated to empowering women and allies, developing a new generation of leaders, and celebrating all that the industry has achieved over the course of the last 12 months.
Featuring impactful speakers from leading companies, the agenda was packed with powerful sessions on hot-button topics, including creating an inclusive workplace, achieving growth in a hybrid work environment, developing a personal brand, making an impact with emotional intelligence, proactive problem solving, and lessons learned from a multigenerational workforce.
The tone of the event was set by keynote speaker Barb Stegemann, CEO of The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc., which is the #1 top clean and planet positive perfume brand at Sephora. Once a single mom trying to launch a start-up from her garage, Stegemann has built an international brand thanks to intuition, innovation, and smart risk-taking. She brought the house down with her witty anecdotes and unashamedly human (aka imperfect) journey towards success.
“Barb’s keynote really resonated with me,” said Mary Guinta (pictured, far left) assistant vice president, casualty auto manager, Arch Insurance Canada. “She turned the room into a safe space, and she was so authentic and genuine. The whole event was very relatable, and you really felt a sense of community.”
That idea of workplace or industry community has been challenged through the COVID-19 pandemic because of remote working and restraints on in-person meetings and networking. After the initial excitement of remote work, people had to find a new work/life balance at home, juggling family priorities and work commitments, while also figuring out new ways to conduct business digitally.
For Emily Crewe (pictured, middle right) divisional chief financial officer, Arch Insurance Canada, the in-person Women in Insurance Canada event was “a great opportunity” to bring women together – some of whom have never even met in person due to the pandemic. She said: “It builds that human interaction that we’ve been lacking, especially with new staff who were onboarded during COVID.”
One thing that stood out about the panels to Crewe was the human touch. “When I think back to other conferences over the years, and listening to different panels, it used to be more by the book. Panellists would talk about their business, and they would have very technical conversations, whereas I think there was more of a personal element to the panel discussions at this event. I think that’s a big change, perhaps due to COVID, but that human element was definitely on display.”
Chiodo noted that organizations are starting to talk more openly about personal matters. She gave the example of Jodie Kaufman Davis, president of Burns & Wilcox Canada, who speaks very openly about how she has three children and how she manages everything – and that encourages others within the organization to share their own experiences, both positive and negative.
“Leaders have really had to hone their soft skills,” said Deanna Cain (pictured, middle left), vice president, claims, Arch Insurance Canada. “Prior to COVID, leaders could assess performance based on productivity, attendance, and commitment, but in a post-COVID world, I think it’s more about the employee engagement and the individuals themselves.
“Today, leaders are looking at productivity and success based on their employees’ happiness, and their engagement in terms of what they do as opposed to what they’re producing. Obviously, results are always going to be the driver of every factor, but I think we’re now looking at things holistically, which is something that I don’t think was done prior to COVID. In order to pursue better together, we have to look at individuals on their own and what they bring to the table.”
Regarding why Arch Insurance Canada chose to sponsor Women in Insurance, Guinta said: “This isn’t just lip service for Arch; it’s something that we practice every single day. Three out of five of our executive team are women, and on the underwriting side, there are now five female leaders. Arch is really standing behind and supporting women in the industry, and this event was another way to put that into action.”