IB Talk

Lead the change: Empowering women in leadership

One of the key issues facing the insurance industry – and the Canadian business landscape – is the unequal gender balance at executive level. In this episode, IB Talk dives into what barriers still persist within the industry to getting more women around P&C executive board tables, how to overcome these challenges, and actionable steps towards a more inclusive future.

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Narrator: [00:00:02] Welcome to IB Talk, the leading podcast for the insurance industry across Canada brought to you by Insurance Business.

Narrator 2: [00:00:15] This episode is presented in partnership with Équité Association. One of the key issues facing the insurance industry continues to be the unequal gender balance at the executive level. What barriers still exist to getting more women around P&C Executive Board tables, and what will it take to overcome these? To discuss this and more, we are joined by Terri O'Brien, president and CEO of Équité Association, and Carol Jardine, EVP and president of Property and Casualty Operations in Canada and Wawanesa Insurance.

Surina: [00:00:58] Hello and welcome back to another episode of IBC Talk, the Insurance Business Canada podcast. I'm Surina Nath, news editor at Insurance Business. And today I have the pleasure of sitting down with Terri O'Brien, President and CEO of Équité Association, and Carol Jardine, EVP and President of Property and Casualty Operations in Canada at Wawanesa Insurance. Today, we'll be chatting about empowering female industry leaders and what can be done to foster more representation around exec tables. Terri, Carrol, thanks so much for joining me today. Welcome to IBC Talk.

Terri: [00:01:37] Thanks very much, Surina.

Carol: [00:01:38] Thanks, Surina. I look forward to the conversation.

Surina: [00:01:41] I am as well. And ladies, just in the spirit of International Women's Day that just passed, I was wondering if you can speak to how the representation of female leaders is changing in the Canadian business landscape.

Carol: [00:01:56] So, Surina, why don't I start as the probably most mature and age person in the conversation today? Because I really reflected back on March 8th on International Women's Day, on when I started in the industry, and I started right in the middle of the women's liberation movement, which was the late sixties, the seventies to the early eighties. And I started in those mid seventies in an entry level role where women were still wearing skirts to work. It was frowned upon to wear. We called them trousers back there back then. And you know, you wouldn't see us in jeans unless we were out of work. So I come. I entered the workforce during that era when the women's liberation movement was in full force. I'm just starting out in the workforce. I was getting promoted quite quickly and I was actually in 1984, I was the main income earner to my family, which included a husband and two small boys. And at that time, I applied to move from a supervisor role to a claims manager role, which would mean I would be transferring from Toronto to Calgary. And I had all the experience, great performance reviews, and I thought I was the right person for the job. So I applied for the role and went and spoke to the claims vice president who told me that. Basically he promoted a woman once to manager and it didn't work out and he wouldn't do that again. So when you think that was 1984 and he could get away with that and he had the nerve to say it to my face.

Surina: [00:03:42] Wow.

Carol: [00:03:43] So I left the company three weeks later into a role of a claim manager at a competitor. And to show how far we've come that on his retirement, which was about 20 years later, he actually invited me to his retirement, which surprised me. I then been a vice president reporting to a CEO of another insurance company for a number of years. And in the midst of all of his friends, which tended all to be of one gender and one nationality, you said the best thing I did was not promote Carol Jardine because look at her now and just think about that. He was taking the credit for my career and not promoting me. You know, that was that's only one incident that women who came up through the insurance community during those times, some of the issues that we faced. And my oldest son always asks me, why don't you write a book, mom, and regale everybody on how breaking the glass ceiling and the late 20th century. So today, I think the question was you asked me was the representation of female leaders and how is it changing in the Canadian business landscape? I'd say in the mid eighties, the claim the Canadian Insurance Claim Managers Association, of which I was active, was all male. And today it's not unusual to see more women than men in the association and active in the association. So I think we've come a long way in my four decade long career, nearly five decade long career in insurance, and that we've made great strides. Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not. But today, I think if you're a white, Caucasian female, you have every opportunity to have a quality of role, maybe not in executive compensation in all businesses. And we have to be more assertive than we're comfortable to be and confident to get equality of compensation. But my concern right now is more about how do we gain equality of role and compensation for people of color, for people of different cultures, people with different sexual orientation. And I think that there's a great deal of unconscious bias in people who have different social customs religions. Historic countries of origin. And that to me is the conversation we're actively talking about at Wawanesa, and one that I think we need to reflect on at International Women's Day is it's not about gender so much as it's about valuing people from the inside and not from the outside, no matter who you are.

Surina: [00:06:37] Absolutely. And I do agree with your son, Carol. I believe you should write a book based on all of the experiences and challenges you've overcome. And I will be the first to line up to buy that. In theory. Do you have any thoughts to add on what Carol was speaking to?

Terri: [00:06:53] Well, I thought Carol's historical account was fantastic. I could hearken back to the early nineties, where I was very often the only woman around the table. But I agree with what Carol's sentiments were that she shared. So while the landscape is changing, we need to do our part to mentor and promote not only women, but all diversity and cultures, particularly in Canada, where we are so multicultural. And there's been a lot of research published, and I've read a lot of it. And I do believe that diversity of thought around the table, the different experiences that our leaders bring to those conversations, really makes us better organizations and better businesses when we have that diversity around the table.

Surina: [00:07:43] I definitely agree as well. That's fantastic, Terri. And so I was actually reading while more than 60% of P&C professionals are women, the average percentage of women in leadership positions are actually less than half. So I was wondering what are your takes on what it will take to kind of change this imbalance moving forward?

Terri: [00:08:08] So. Thanks, Surina. I can jump in on this question. I think that we're that we really need three things to change the imbalance. And the first one is around plans and policies. As a business leader, I have always said what gets measured gets managed. And I think we need plans and policies in place to monitor not only our gender equality in the workforce, but also a diversity inclusion goals and pave the way forward for sustainable advancement of women and our diverse populations. These need to be an accountability system. They need to be clear measurements and goals that organizations and leaders can use to abide by these plans and policies. I do believe that is the only way we will achieve our equality goals. Second, I think there needs to be positive action from both genders. I think women leaders who have made it to senior positions need to advocate for other women in particular, as well as our diversity and inclusion initiatives for folks, people of color and our LGBTQ community, to name a few. But we need to actively promote people into the positions of their most senior capability and where they can do their most contributions. And then I think we need our male executives to stand up as allies for for all diversity groups inclusive of women and push for that gender parity in the workplace going forward. And lastly, and third, most important, as you said, 60% of our workforce is women. If we're having a targeted conversation about women today, I think we are surrounded by great talent. We need to promote those women, both literally and talking about their accomplishments. There are many women that are too humble to speak up for themselves. And so I think we bear responsibility for promoting those women's to achieve those goals.

Surina: [00:10:06] And Carol, did you have anything to add on what Terri just mentioned?

Carol: [00:10:11] Well, yeah. Terri makes really great policy and business statements, and I'm going to go at it from probably more of an emotional perspective than Terri. And emotional from a perspective that. Women. People today can have more career choices than ever. And the times when we thought we had to stay at a company no matter how we were being treated. Those days are gone. And I think that if anybody of diversity, including gender, feels that they are not being given the opportunities that they should look for an organization that will embrace them. And I'm really proud to work at Wawanesa because a couple of things. I could be historical and say we're proud that Nellie McClung, one of the suffragettes in the early 1900s, actually came from the village of Wawanesa, which our company is name from. So I could say we've been working with women who are challenging patriarchy and looking for equality since we were founded. I could say that quite clearly. So we are an organization that values diversity and values equality, and it becomes it's not new to us. It's 100 year, 126 years old. Today we are with the stats that over 61% of our Wawanesa employees are are female. Nearly half of our senior leadership being vice presidents and above are women. We have a female board chair, a very accomplished leader from western Canada. And of the four businesses in the Wawanesa group, two insurance, three insurance companies, two of which are P&C and one broker. Half of the presidents of those businesses are women. So I think we're an organization that walks the talk. That we believe that having diversity and gender balance throughout our organization is of utmost importance. And we've made big strides in inclusion and equality and leadership and attainment of women in the workplace. So I'll always say that we've done a better job on gender than we have on diversity of color, thought, thinking, sexual orientation, and we've got lots of great work to do. But I would still suggest that if any woman does not believe that she's being given leadership opportunities that she's deserving of within the organisation that she's working, that now more than ever with the big churn in the workplace, is to go find that organisation that will allow you to achieve your goals and find an organisation whose culture is clear and will allow you and facilitate and mentor and give you the training that you think you need to achieve those goals. But then people would say, Well, why is it that two thirds of females are employees and they're not two thirds of females and leader? And I would say we've still got some work to do within ourselves as women. That we have to be prepared to not be able to do all the things that are. Thousands and thousands of years of evolution. Still want us to do. And that we have to be prepared. To be a little bit different still and to be a little bit risky. And a lot of the female executives. I know. Their spouses are staying at home and looking after things that might be traditionally female roles. And I'm very proud that I have spouses who've done that. So my spouses have looked after the family because I want it to be one of those leaders. But that's that's doesn't work for everybody. And I think until it does work for more people, I think we're going to be struggling. As many young female leaders ask me about work life balance, and I tell them that as an executive, I haven't had work life balance for most of my life. And I think that that, unfortunately, comes with the salary, comes with the responsibility and comes with the territory.

Surina: [00:14:52] And I believe maybe that the pandemic has really helped foster more work life balance for for women in the industry and just any anyone male or female.

Carol: [00:15:04] I think that's great. Surina, you are absolutely right.

Surina: [00:15:08] Yeah. And I think many organizations are kind of waking up and realizing that they should be moving in the right direction when it comes to gender equality or just de initiatives in general. But there are still a lot of barriers for women when trying to reach executive levels. Could you maybe speak to some of the most prevalent barriers that women still have to work through to reach that that top level of leadership?

Terri: [00:15:37] Surina Actually, it's Teri. Before we jump into barriers, I would just like to echo a few of Carol's sentiments and add something that a key thing that you just said about the pandemic. So similar to Carol, in my almost three decades of my career, I never had work life balance. And I led and fostered and formed many, many women in leadership groups and mentoring groups. And I heard many women ask for flexible work arrangements over the years, but at a senior executive level it was never available. And then you keyed in on the pandemic, Surina, which I think Carol was agreeing with as well, something I witnessed on March 15, 2020, is that all of a sudden everybody was working from home and everybody had flexible work arrangements and the tools and technology to enable that very, very quickly rolled out in all of our organizations and institutions. And I do think as I look forward to the coming decade, I think that will be a game changer for a lot of women in particular. But I think a lot of parents and men and women as well, even just for myself, never having worked from home in my entire career, I've really enjoyed seeing my teenagers before they head off to school and sometimes they can pop their head into my office when they get home. And it's a new aspect of time and connection that I get with them that I never had before. So not to interrupt your question about barriers, but I did just want to put a footnote on that, that I think that is a key change that could be a game changer going forward.

Carol: [00:17:25] I think that's really I think that's really well said, Teri. And I think, though, as we as women have to make sure that we still put up the barriers and we've had well, people have been working from home. We've had the dogs barking and people trying to get on muteness, just all learning that the cat is going to walk across the laptop at some point. But what worries me more is some of the families where the women are trying to or have had to do full time child care duty while working. And to see the strain on these on these people where the kids have been at home learning and they're eight or nine years old. I'm so glad to see the schools coming back. And I hope that COVID is behind us, because I think the pressure on women through COVID and through the work at home and the shutdowns has probably been really hard, might have been hard on the males and the family as well. But I've seen more instances of being in a in a large teams meeting and children popping in and out, as I have. I've seen it more with women than I have with men. So I'm glad that COVID is over. The kids hopefully are back to school. And I hope that that some of that balance will come back for for women who continue to work from home.

Terri: [00:18:46] Yeah, I fully agree, Carol. The shutdowns were really, really difficult.

Surina: [00:18:50] Yeah. And I do hope that, yes, the flexibility was very nice. But as children end up waking up early, it was that much easier for women to just start their working day much earlier and ending much later as well. So getting back to the balance that we all need is something I think everyone is looking forward to. And yeah, just backpedaling to the question I asked earlier, ladies, when it comes to just some of the most common barriers that women are still facing to get a seat on executive tables and high level positions, what are the most notable ones that you guys have noticed throughout your careers?

Carol: [00:19:29] So I think it's changed. So I'm probably the wrong person to ask because someone reminded me the other day that for the last 25 years I've been at an executive table in either in the role of president or vice president, but usually reporting to a CEO. So I'm the wrong person to really ask about barriers, about getting a seat in the executive boardroom. I do think there are still a lot of challenges in getting women to a director level of public corporations, and there's quite a move afoot to make sure that there is diversity at the boardroom table. And that may be where there has not been enough of mentoring or the support that Terri outlined earlier of male allies in helping women get board seats on publicly traded organizations. And I recently took the Institute of Corporate Directors course through Rotman and through the ICD. And there are a number like a large number of women taking that course, all with an attempt to get on get on into director roles for publicly traded boards. I've sat on a lot of not for profit boards, and we're always welcomed there, but I don't see us being as welcome on publicly traded organizations. But I'll let you know as I continue to try to get a board seat if if what happens there.

Carol: [00:21:04] But for women who want to be in an executive role within a property and casualty company, either being the CEO or reporting to the CEO, I think the one thing you have to get your head around is this whole arena that you may you may not be you will not be a traditional mother and a successful executive. And my one son loves to tell the story of him running around a corner at a recess in grade six, bumping his mouth and having a bloody mouth in the school, calling me in the morning. And I was a vice president at the time of a internationally international insurance company in in the city. And the school called and I said, I'll get there as fast as I can. I got there just about as the school was closing at 3:00, which was as fast as I could get there, getting out of meetings, delegating work, and got up there and took one look at him and went, Oh my God, I should have been here earlier. And he tells he likes to tell the story of he waited for hours in the in the principal's office waiting for me with a bloody tooth. And the first words out of the dentist was, You're lucky you got here. Within this hour, the tooth would have died. So, you know, it's not a story I'm proud of, but it's a story that my child now tells as he's now starting his own family and telling his own wife, who's trying to climb her career ladder, that you can't you can't have it all. Something will give. And at that time, my son was very mad at me for not being there when he needed me for having to go to the dentist after hours, whatever. But now, 30 years later, he graduated with a university degree. With no debt and a family that could support a great deal of activities that he wanted to do as he was growing up. So if you want to be an executive, there is a price to pay. And the price may be that you're not the best mom that you want to be. And I don't think I was the best mom I wanted to be. And I carry guilt around with me for that, probably for the rest of my life, because I'm still telling this story. No, but but I've had to accept that that was the price that I paid. And I'm lucky that my kids are now adults and respect me for it and now tell my grandchildren the story.

Surina: [00:23:37] I think that's incredibly important advice for any female aspiring female leaders that are listening right now is just setting realistic expectations for yourself and knowing that there are probably going to have to be some sacrifices to be made to better your career. And Terri, I was wondering if you have any thoughts on what Carol just said as a CEO yourself.

Terri: [00:24:02] Yes, I do. And I appreciated Carol's story. And of course, it pulled a few heartstrings in my own heart of the time. My youngest broke his arm and I had to race home and the Toronto traffic thwarted me. I think it took me about an hour to get there and then another hour to get downtown to the hospital. But I would also say that the way I framed it for my children helps me to shed the guilt. And so I have four children and I often get asked about that. How do you have a career with four children? Noting, My husband doesn't get asked that question. However, the way I framed it for my children was I would say to my children, I want you to have a big, beautiful life. I want you to live beyond the four walls of this house. And I love myself enough that I also want me to have a big, beautiful life. I want to do interesting work and interesting things in the world. And I want that for you, too. It's interesting, my hope for both of us. And so if I limit my life to just the four walls of the house and you and your siblings, your schoolwork and taking care of the house, which is its own full time job, and I abandon my business career and my other full time job. My life will be very small. And when my children were younger, I used to say to them, Imagine you never really leave the house. Imagine you don't see your friends, you don't go to soccer, etc. We tailor the story to each of the four of them. And it would help them understand and appreciate why I wanted my career and why I wanted to go out and do interesting things. And then as my children got older, my two oldest university ones graduated but a little bit older university age and my two teenagers. I always looked for interesting opportunities for them, whether it was volunteer opportunities abroad or volunteer opportunities locally, job opportunities, interesting activities and camps as a way to show them. There's a lot out there that is really exciting and great things that you can use to build a life beyond having a nice, a nice, safe home, which is a lovely thing to have too, but go out and see the world and build a big, beautiful life. And that helped me get over the mom guilt that it's not possible to have two full time jobs. Some of us have killed ourselves trying, but running the house is its own job. And so I always had people that either helped me with that or paid people to do different things, and that allowed me to focus on having those important conversations with my children while I was pursuing my career really well.

Carol: [00:26:54] That's really well said.

Surina: [00:26:55] Terri Well, I agree. And both of you are are providing such unique insights as working mothers at that top level. And I was wondering if you could also speak to overcoming the barriers and some strategies that you use to implement support systems within your families to be able to make your career successful.

Carol: [00:27:20] Well, I have to be honest, I was a single mother for the times that my kids were in grade school and I didn't have family here. Most of my family had left and gone out to British Columbia. So I relied quite heavily on neighbors and friends and knocking on doors and getting involved with the school. Because I was traveling for work. I had to find a grandmother in the area who would come and stay with my children when I was traveling for work. And I can tell stories of how I was crying in a hotel room while they were baking chocolate chip cookies with her. And hiring to Terri's point about, you know, asking people to help, but also hiring the right people to help. I put two kids through university because they were my high school team and they were high school students who would come collect my children from public school, take them to soccer scouts or their community work. And I would be home for 730 to finish off, but they would work three or 4 hours a night for me. And, you know, I got notes from both of them that they got through university and thanked me for giving them the bank account to do that. So I think you just have to be you have to be very creative. You have to be very willing and open and you have to be quite you have to be prepared to be vulnerable, but not in a negative way, vulnerable to accept help from others that if the neighbors are saying, hey, it's payday, you know, can we do this with your kids and you trust that neighbor, then maybe that's what you need to do. But I had a huge community of supporters, but at one point we also opened a not for profit daycare and the local school, a number of women, just because we needed that for our kids. So you have to be really willing to do what is necessary. I'd say, number one, be willing to help others and then they will help you and then be willing to take that help as well. So not something we all often want to do. We want to think that we can do it all ourselves. To Terri's point, you know, have the nice home and have the good job and do two jobs at once. I think you framed that really well, Terri. We can't have two jobs at once, but when you pick the one that you want, then you have to be prepared to be creative, to make it work for you and to make it work for your for your family. So I did not have family support, so I had to rely on a community of of community of women. And when I think back on it, yeah, it's a community of women. Terri might have a different story, but that was kind of mine.

Terri: [00:30:05] Actually, while I wasn't a single mother, per se, Carol, my story is fairly similar. I believe it takes a village and it certainly was a community of women when my children were young. I had a nanny who was a wonderful, wonderful woman, too. She was like my sister and helping me raise my children. And we're still friends to this day. And then her ambition was to become a nurse because she was new to Canada and she was a nurse previously in her country. And so I helped her through nursing school as well. And but I always used a mix. I didn't have family that lived anywhere close to me. So after that, I had a mix of daycare and neighbors. And yes, Carol, trusted neighbors that were stay at home moms that could take my kids on a PA day, for example, to a fun activity. And I looked for interesting things for them to do in their time off when I wasn't available. While I did have my husband. He has more flexibility now. Later in his career, he had very, very little flexibility ten or 15 years ago. So I believe it takes a village. And I think you're quite right, Carol. It's usually a village of women. Occasionally there'll be some dads in the mix, and I am heartened to see more of them now. But but a community that can come together to help raise the children, I think is actually a gift to all of our children.

Surina: [00:31:38] I love the the similarities between how both of you have really helped curate this community and support for yourself. It's quite incredible. And I was wondering, just as two female leaders in the industry, what are some steps that could be really taken today to create a more inclusive environment for women in the future?

Carol: [00:32:02] Terri, why don't you lead off on this one?

Terri: [00:32:05] Sure, I can. I mean, if I'm speaking specifically to an inclusive environment for women, my strategy has been to simply promote more women. And in my career, I was fortunate enough to continuously be putting transformational roles where I was building a brand new business and that I was moved to build another new business after a couple of years. And so my strategy has been to always promote strong, brilliant, capable women in behind me. And then as I was building, those leadership, teams continue to promote women around me. So from a personal perspective, I'm quite proud of the fact that at Équité Association our board of directors is 50% women and our extended leadership team from director level and above is 50% female as well. And I do think building a more inclusive environment for women means you have to hear more voices of more female voices. You need more women around the table, and they will, in turn, continue to build more inclusive environments. Women, in my experience, very much of a community. And when they start to bring up those community conversations and business tables and how it builds the business, the men join in as well. But I think having women's voices around the table is the most important thing we can do to create that inclusive environment. Carol, what do you think?

Carol: [00:33:42] I'm sitting here nodding as I'm listening to you, Terri. So you mean you're talking about mentorship and leadership and that as women who have been able to achieve success at other women would like to have in their careers. It is our responsibility to pay it forward. I would say not only pay it back, but pay it forward. And I worried recently that I was promoting too many women. And somebody laughed because the majority of my direct reports in the few years that I've been the president at Wawanesa says I've I've promoted a lot of women and they've been the right people for the job. And it reflects that 61% of our employees are females. So it only makes sense. But I think what I can do today to create a more inclusive environment for women in the future is to be the strongest mentor and cheerleader that I can for women, and I probably do it for everybody. I would I'm not doing it for women in particular, but I think I do it for everybody is if people are doing a good job to make sure that they know they're doing a good job and how much the organization appreciates the value that they're creating for our our customers, our policyholders as a mutual, you know, I don't have to worry about shareholders. I only have to worry about our customers and I only have to worry about our employees. So if they're creating business value for fellow employees or they're creating business value for our customers, then I want everybody to know what a great job that they're doing. So being a big cheerleader. And then when I see people struggling, maybe not sure if they should take a promotion or if they should apply for a job, really taking the opportunity to reach out to them, not waiting for them to ask, but reaching out to them and encouraging them to take that risk. Because sometimes family situations are such that people don't want to take on a risk. So I'm pretty pleased to work for an organization that's really supporting diversity, Équité and equality and inclusiveness. And one of the ways that we're doing it is, is we have what we call employee resource groups. These are any group of people that want to get together to be supporting each other can get together. Probably the most active groups we have are the the black professionals and the LGBTQ+. But anybody could start an employee resource group. And while Wawanesa will work with them on career development, programming, health and wellness, anything, training, difficulties, a crisis, how they're feeling, health and wellness. So I think it's really important for us as leaders to embrace the whole person and be the strongest mentors and leaders that we can be to the next generation. And if there's one one footprint or one mark that I can leave as a leader is to make sure that people are valued for for who they are on the inside and what they bring to their organization and their peers, and that we just don't judge people from the outside ever again. Now, maybe that's a little Pollyanna, but I really want people to be judged from the inside and not from the outside. And I was judged from the outside at the beginning of my career, and it was hard to get over. But I think I'm now judged by who I am from the inside, and I don't want anybody else to have to go through that long a journey.

Surina: [00:37:32] Both of your organizations are so lucky to have just your style of leadership that's so encouraging, proactively providing support. You both are truly inspirations just for young women everywhere. So I wanted to thank you both for just taking the time to chat with me about such an important topic in society today.

Terri: [00:37:58] Thanks very much, Surina. I really enjoyed today's discussion. Thanks, Carol.

Carol: [00:38:02] Well, thanks, Surina, for the invite. And I hope that we have helped somebody, don't you, Terri? I hope that we've helped somebody achieve their goals.

Surina: [00:38:11] Oh, I without a doubt. I 100% believe that if it's even just one of our listeners or just me, myself, as a young woman in just the professional world, there's a lot of takeaways that are extremely valuable.

Carol: [00:38:27] Great. Thanks.

Surina: [00:38:29] And that wraps up another episode of IBC Talk. Thanks to our listeners for tuning in. I'm Surina Nath, news editor here at Insurance Business. Until next time.

Narrator 2: [00:38:46] Thank you for listening to this episode of IBC talk. For more from Terri Carrol and the team at Équité Association, visit them at equitéassociation.com

Narrator: [00:38:59] Thank you for listening to IB talk. For the latest episodes, be sure to follow us on SoundCloud, Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.