We caught up with Kelly MacDonald (SVP & Team Leader, Aon Risk Solutions) – who is soon to speak on a panel at Toronto’s upcoming Women In Insurance conference – and asked her to share some thoughts on the current state of gender equality in the insurance industry.
Insurance Business: What can the insurance industry do to retain successful, ambitious women?
Kelly MacDonald: I think we are doing a better job than we used to at identifying high-potential individuals and making them stay engaged – but it is not a one-time thing, it really needs to be part of an organisation’s corporate culture to ensure that women are supported and there is a network for them. One of the biggest struggles I had – which I’m now trying to change – is lack of mentors. When I started out in the business, most of the senior folks in the industry were white men. So, when I was trying to climb up in my career I was thinking, where am I going to find these mentors?
I think organisations also need to find ways to support their staff outside of the organization. There needs to be a fulsome approach; you need to scale it and tailor it. It’s not like you can easily just say “this is what our new corporate plan is.” It has to be something that lives and breathes and can change and pivot when needed.
IB: How do you think the industry is doing in working towards those kind of goals?
KM: I think it’s doing better than it has been – but there’s still lots of improvement needed. If we look at senior leadership in lots of large insurance companies and large brokerages, it’s still largely men. I’d say that brokerages have done a better job with gender diversity, and some of the smaller boutique firms have been good at supporting women. There are some phenomenal women leading small boutique firms that are achieving great things. But I still think there’s a lot of work to be done to level up female executives. We’re still lagging behind and not seeing that 50/50 number. Most organisations that have a more diverse board get better results.
IB: How do you feel the fight for gender inclusion ties into other elements of inclusion, like race or sexuality for instance?
KM: When you look at race, you realize that the insurance industry is mostly white people. So, there’s not a lot of diversity there. And we need to make sure as an industry that we’re properly recruiting, looking at people from all walks of life. All those people should feel like this is a great career full of opportunities, because it is. We need to make sure that insurance feels like an industry in which their input is valued and their expertise has a place. So, we need to think about what that inclusion looks like.
IB: What would be good initial tips for mentoring and encouraging successful women in this industry?
KM: I am a mentor right now. I have somebody who’s outside of my organization who I’m really excited to be mentoring. She’s really keen on the mentoring process and fully invested in what she can get out of the mentoring process, so she’s very easy to work with and very coachable. So, for me, it’s about letting her understand that there’s not just one end-game. It’s not all about being CEO. You don’t have to fit into one certain mould, just because you want to see more women in senior leadership and you want to get ahead in your career. We are working on a tailored plan and approach, and I’m helping her to identify and crystallize those things that are important to her. We need to get away from those stereotypes of ‘there’s only one path’, which I don’t believe. That’s really important as we mentor both young women and young men in this industry.
IB: So it sounds like having strong female role models is very important to young women in the industry?
KM: Absolutely. Relatability is important. And I’m going to be able to relate to a woman in the industry for many reasons I won’t be able to relate to a man. This isn’t to say that men don’t make good mentors of women, and vice versa, but certain challenges can only be seen as an outsider looking in. So a young woman coming into the industry thinking ‘wow, how am I going to navigate my career through the industry and keep a life-work balance?’ needs someone like her to say ‘I’ve been through it and it may seem daunting right now, but here’s some ways you can make some amazing progress throughout your career and stay sane with a life outside of work’.
IB: So, what do you think the industry will look like, say, 30 years from now?
KM: I think the industry will be absolutely, radically different. I think, stepping away from the male-female gender balance issue, we’re on the cusp of going through our version of the industrial revolution with what we’re seeing – disruption, AI, machine learning and so on. I think a lot of the jobs that exist today won’t exist tomorrow – underwriting and claims settlement are going to be replaced with computers, very slick algorithms that will be able to manage the tasks that we have had people doing. So, the jobs that make up the industry are going to be so very different. There’ll still be a need for people with specialized skills, but we’re going to see a very different and multi-generational workforce. It’s not even going to look remotely similar to what it looks like today.