Do women have the same opportunities as men in insurance?

Brigid Pelino, chief human resource officer at Definity, is a newly crowned Elite Women 2022 award winner. Here she joins IBTV to explain her career path, the difficulties she’s faced based on her gender and whether or not women finally have the same opportunities as men in the insurance sector.


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Paul: [00:00:21] Welcome to the latest edition of Insurance Business TV as we shine the spotlight on one of our elite women for 2022. Yes, every year, insurance business releases a special report on some of those glass ceiling breaking women who are acting as an inspiration for up and comers in the sector, either through their own achievements or through the support they are offering to others. But even though there are some incredible success stories, are women now truly being presented with the same opportunities to succeed as men in the sector? And what more could insurers be doing to advance women's careers? Today, I'm delighted to say we are welcoming one of our elite women of 2020 to to answer all of those questions and more. That elite woman is Brigid Paolino, Chief Human Resources Officer at Definity Insurance. Brigid, many congratulations on being named an elite woman. Let's give everyone some insight into your background. A brief overview of your career and what led to your current role. 

Brigid: [00:01:24] It's great. Thank you so much, Paul. It's a real pleasure to be here. And, you know, I think where I'm a little bit different than a lot of the wonderful women who were who were promoted and put on to this list is I'm actually quite new to a chance. So I've been in the insurance industry now just for just almost four years now since I joined Definity Insurance. So my background is a little bit different than I think a lot of the women who are on that list too, which actually I just want to take a moment and say congratulations to each and every one of them as well. It's a pretty esteemed list, so my background came from a number of different companies. I've had the pleasure and real opportunity to and privilege, frankly, to be part of a lot of great Canadian companies. And my longest tenure was leading HR for Tim Hortons through the time of unbelievable growth. When I was with Tim Hortons, they went from just over 500 restaurants to almost 5000 during my tenure there, which was incredible. And also an initial public offering, so similar to Definity, where we just went through an initial public offering, I had the opportunity to participate that at Tim Hortons as well and also had the opportunity to lead HR at WestJet Airlines, another great Canadian developed company, high liner foods in Canadian Tire. 

Brigid: [00:02:44] So, you know, my my career has grown up in HR. In a number of companies that have deep, deep Canadian roots. And I'm super, super proud of that and feel very privileged to have been with companies like that. Early in my career, I did also have the opportunity to work in the US where I worked for what is now. Honeywell was Allied Signal at the time and General Electric in those early days, so had the opportunity to work for these very large multinational companies. But where I've really settled in, in my career and have loved it is working with Canadian companies and some proud to say some real Canadian iconic companies and Definity really fit that bill coming in to economical the the opportunity that I had to come in being part of preparing us again for an initial public offering which we just completed in November. Very exciting. The largest one of the year, as well as the second largest ever in Canadian history, was quite an honor to be part of that. But coming into a new industry was really exciting and this industry to me is super exciting because the transformation that's occurring in insurance these last probably about ten years has been really incredible and specifically at economical 150 year old company. Going through this massive transformation to become a public company was really something that attracted me to to the business and happy to say, I mean, I've fallen in love with insurance and I didn't expect that. I would say that. And some people don't expect to say that they love insurance. But I really have fallen in love with the industry. It's an incredible industry and is full of opportunity. And that's one of the things that I'm passionate about is is bringing that message is that this is an industry that is really full of incredible opportunity and challenge and ambition. So it's something that I think women and any group seeking equity groups should really take note and really look at our industry as a place to develop and grow their career. So a little bit different background than probably many of the esteemed women that were identified in insurance. But I think it also brought for me the opportunity to bring in a different kind of voice from different industries and different ways of doing things that I think has really helped serve that diversity platform too, for us. 

Paul: [00:05:13] Yeah, it's amazing actually how many people do say that they've fallen in love with insurance. And you know, you said that you've had quite a short career in insurance, but obviously a very varied one along the way. Is there anything that you would sort of pick out as a highlight? 

Brigid: [00:05:28] Oh, well, there's there's no doubt that when I look back on my career, being part of an initial public offering is a really special time in a company's history. So at Tim Hortons, we were coming out of an ownership with Wendy's in the US and Tim Hortons was kind of the darling in Canada, right? From a food service point of view. So to be part of of the executive team, bringing the company through a public offering was really, really exciting. And equally so here at Definity, it was, you know, when you're with a company that's 150 years old, they've been doing something right for a long, long time. And, you know, but bringing it through to a brand new kind of future of being a fully public Canadian owned company was an exciting venture to be part of culturally. It was exciting to help the culture evolve, helping our employees understand what that means now, being in a position as a public company to to really grow our business. And so I would say most definitely being part of two IPOs has been a real highlight for me in my career. I think the other thing too is, is when you're dealing with advancing and helping talent, like I've had the privilege of working on a few executive teams that are just absolutely top notch, including here at Definity and and helping that executive team and all leaders in the organization, helping their employees really grow and develop. And and that's really special in, in the HR role because you do get this, I think, a different perspective than many other leadership roles where it's one of the only roles where you see the vista of the entire company. The CEO sees that, but the HR function sitting next to that CEO looking at the vista of talent and how do you get the most out of your talent together? Is is really a kind of a privileged spot to be in as an HR professional. So I'd say those are the highlights for me is, is seeing the talent that I've seen over the years grow, develop, become C-suite executives, become CEOs over the years, but also specifically being part of those IPOs. 

Paul: [00:07:43] And of course, you've talked there about the highlights, but I can imagine there's been some challenges along the way, too. And I'm wondering specifically, has there ever been any difficulties related to the fact that you are a woman, not just in insurance, perhaps, but in your previous careers as well? Is that ever made your career a little bit more difficult along the way? 

Brigid: [00:08:05] You know, it's such an interesting question because I've thought about that a lot. You know, I've thought, where have I had some of the biggest challenges of my career? And oftentimes it's attached to being a woman. But I'm not sure that it's just because you're a woman. But I would say one of the biggest challenges, frankly, is and people talk about having balance between work life and home life. And I actually don't believe a whole lot in balance. And I know this is controversial for a lot of people, but I do believe in what I've often talked to people around me about is consequence management, because at the end of the day, whether you're a woman or a man or anyone who's who's driving to find a really, really rich career, but also want to have a really rich home life and community life, etc. It's hard to do it all. And I think early on in my career I can remember, you know, you can have it all. It was all those types of words and and I'm not sure I believe that. I think you can have it all for some moments in your career and sometimes you have to give up things too. And I think if I if I had to say where I've had the biggest challenges, I've always been the type of person that I want to give 150% to my company. I want to give 150% to my family. I want to give 150% to my community. And sometimes you can't give all of those things at the same time. So you have to really acknowledge that there is a consequence to when you put more of your eggs in in the home basket versus more of your eggs in the work life basket. There are going to be consequences from that. Sometimes they're very positive consequences often. And as long as you are making a conscious choice, that's what I always encourage, especially women, because sometimes women still there are traditional roles and there's more expectations in different areas of of home life, etc. But be conscious of your decisions. And that's always been my message when you're hitting these challenges, because too often in my own career as well, I know there's been times where I haven't been conscious of the decisions and choices that I'm making and you can't get carried away and then you have consequences that are difficult to deal with. So I would say that that's one of the biggest challenges I've had, is making sure that I'm giving the right amount of me to the places where I want them to be consciously rather than unconsciously. But I would say that that's a challenge, that whether you're female or male or or anyone in any organization, making those choices is really important to be conscious of the choices you're making. I mean, I would also say to you, Paul, that that there's no there's there's no doubt that at different times in my career, I have been the only if not the only woman in the room or maybe one of two or three at the at the most type of thing. And so you have a you have a different obligation, I think, to other women to be a voice that is a strong voice and to not be afraid. Because I think sometimes women undermine themselves as far as the confidence to to say and stand up for things that that you believe in. We have the knowledge to be in the roles that we're in, otherwise we wouldn't be there. So I think really taking ownership of that and having a strong voice in those rooms is really incumbent upon you. And it's not always easy. And as maybe as one of the only females in the executive room, or maybe you're one of the only bipoc members in a in a room, it's a similar type of thing, you know, to really be a strong voice that that voice is representing, you know, a lot of people more than just your your own opinion, right? 

Paul: [00:11:55] Yeah. And I think it's really interesting advice and if you don't mind as well, I mean, looking at your position, obviously, as as on the human resources side of things, I think you're probably as well placed as anybody to sort of comment on the corporate landscape if you want. And do you think that women are actually genuinely getting equal opportunities in the insurance sector now? Because it's great, obviously, for women to get this advice, but the opportunities have to be there for them. 

Brigid: [00:12:22] I mean, I'll put it to you this way. From what I see compared to 30 years ago, the answer is most definitely yes. There is significant movement. Having said that, you just have to look at the numbers to know that the movement is not enough. So when you look at those c-suites and you look at the front end of our insurance business and and we look at this for our company and I think we look at it as an industry as well. The front end of the business in many cases is much higher numbers of women than when you get through to the to the C-suite. And so something happens along the way. And I think we have an absolute responsibility to manage that pipeline. Very assertively and not be afraid to to sometimes make sure that we're moving women along. And sometimes when I talk about women, I also want to talk about other deserving equity seeking groups. Right. That that, you know, women are certainly seeking this and have been. But there are many. Whether it's a bipoc community, the disabled community or LGBTQ+ communities, I mean, these are all communities that also we have to really do extra effort to make sure that we are developing people so that they're ready. It's not about putting people in roles because frankly, I think that's a disaster. They need to be put in roles where they are absolutely ready and then the organization has the right support so that they will be successful in those roles. So you can't pay attention to the number of getting them in. You have to pay attention to the pipeline and invest in the pipeline and ensure that you're investing in women and insurance so that they're getting the experiences that they need to be ready for those jobs. And then you give them the chance at those jobs and you make sure the support is around them. Without those other things being done, I think we can do damage, frankly. So I think that it's very important for companies to to sort of really dig deep into your pipeline and pay attention to equity deserving groups and helping them advance through the system by giving them the right kind of development needs because the numbers are just not there. I mean, you know, we I think I feel very good about my advancement through my career. I see many other women as colleagues advancing wonderfully through their career. And so I don't think that there is a an absolute sort of heavy bias anymore, like there may have been many years ago. But having said that, I'm not sure the investment is happening as quickly and as heavily as it's needed to make sure that that women are ready for those roles when those roles come up. 

Paul: [00:15:08] Yeah, well, that investment point sort of leads me neatly to my next question, which is quite simply, what more could insurance companies be doing to to advance women's careers in particular, make them feel like they have that that pathway to the top? 

Brigid: [00:15:23] Yeah. You know, it's again, a great question. And I will say, from a personal standpoint, I know I have felt like this many times in my career and and I've seen it at other women that I've led in their careers is you you often never feel you're ready for that next role, for that next promotion. And you know what I often will say to other women that that are on my team or in my organization is, you know, if you weren't ready, we wouldn't be asking you. We know you're ready. So what? The biggest thing that I think companies can do is to, one, get your women ready. So make sure they're getting the development that they need, but make sure you're building their confidence as well. Because women and I've seen this, but also the data will show it that they will often not feel ready for a promotion when in fact they are quite ready. They do have the experience that's required and but they're feeling a little bit nervous or maybe their confidence isn't as high. So you have to make sure that you give them that confidence and the support. So whether it's through a mentor relationship, through a coaching relationship, but something that helps give that extra bit of support so that the confidence level doesn't get in the way because it's rare. I mean, companies, when we manage our talent strategically and all of our companies, we don't ask people to do and promote people into roles. If we don't feel they're ready, we know they're ready, but sometimes the woman doesn't feel that way. So make sure they're getting that extra support, whether it's through coaching, mentoring or other things, so that they feel confident walking into those roles and they will be successful then in those roles. So that would be what I would say for companies to pay more attention to to help women advance. 

Paul: [00:17:09] Yeah, I think it's a great tip for the companies out there, but if you don't mind as well, perhaps as a final question that I'll throw at you, can you give us a tip for the the women insurance professionals themselves who want to reach the top, anything that they should be doing, perhaps more of to to help advance their own careers? 

Brigid: [00:17:26] Sure. Sure. That's again, a great question. First off, I always say say yes to everything. So if when you get opportunities to be involved in whether it's working groups or whether it's special projects or things of that nature, they are all fantastic opportunities to learn. So say yes, say yes a lot. And and don't allow that small inner voice that says, Oh, maybe I'll fail or Oh, maybe I'm not ready for this. Just keep that voice in some other place because it's too often that voice stops us from really taking advantage of. Opportunities that really grow our career. So that's the number one thing is say yes, even if you feel nervous, just say yes anyways. The second thing is, I would really advise women not to ask yourself if you're ready, because again, we often see that women don't feel ready for these things. Don't ask. If you're ready, ask yourself a different question, and that is, am I ready to learn and am I ready to work really hard? And if you say yes to those two questions, you're ready. You don't have to have all the experience to do those next level jobs or those next opportunities for promotion. But you do need to be ready to learn. You do need to be ready to work hard. And if you say yes to those answers, then say yes to the opportunities. Don't even think twice about it. 

Paul: [00:18:54] Yeah. Bridget, I think that's fantastic advice. My huge thanks to you and massive congratulations on your elite women's success. And we'll have some more elite guests joining us soon. So see you next time here on insurance business TV.