Does being a woman hold you back in insurance?

Anna Kavanagh, vice president at Affinity Marketing Group, is one of Insurance Business Canada’s Elite Women of 2022. In this IBTV interview she explains her background, how she climbed her way to her current role, if being a woman in a male-dominated industry has ever held her back and whether or not women truly have equal opportunities now. 

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Jen: [00:00:22] Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of Insurance Business TV. I'm Jen Frost news editor, Insurance Business. Today we're joined by Anna Kavanagh, vice president, TD insurance Affinity Market Group. Anna has been selected by insurance business as a woman in insurance. She's been described as an inspirational leader who's been able to attract and develop diverse talent. Anna will be talking about how far the industry has come when it comes to gender inclusion, and she'll also be sharing her top tips for success. Anna, congratulations and welcome to the show.

Anna: [00:01:01] Thank you, Jen. It's certainly a privilege to be recognized.

Jen: [00:01:05] It's really great to have you with us today and definitely well-deserved. Thank you. Can you share some insight into your professional journey and how you got your current position?

Anna: [00:01:15] I've been in the life insurance industry for for over 30 years, and earlier on in my career, I had roles in in finance, new business, service and claims. But I was primarily in product roles for the majority of my career, and I enjoyed the product roles because you got that end to end accountability for performance. And I had the opportunity to work in fairly new and innovative product lines like critical illness, disability insurance for blue collar workers, and then also products that maybe weren't new to the industry, but certainly new for the company I was working in. And so I worked on structured settlements and segregated funds. So I really enjoyed the product roles and I especially enjoyed working closely with the sales channels, the broker channel, the type of sales force and then the direct consumer. So when I moved to TD Insurance, I moved as a product person on the life insurance side. But a few years ago I was given the opportunity to work on the home and auto side of the business, which was which was really is has been just a great, great experience. So TD Insurance is the largest direct consumer insurer in Canada and they were the pioneer in the affinity market. So we have over 700 partnerships with professional associations, university and college alumni and employer groups, and they promote and endorse our home and auto programs to their members. And so I have the absolute honor of leading the team that manages that those relationships and this business.

Jen: [00:02:59] Thank you. I know it sounds like a really exciting role that you're in at the moment, but has there ever been a point where you think that being a woman in insurance has made your career more challenging? And if so, how do you overcome this?

Anna: [00:03:14] Oh, so I think as a woman in the industry, especially when I entered it in the late eighties, it was really important as a woman to ensure that my managers knew that I had aspirations to progress to more senior roles. So yes, I had a family, but that didn't mean that I also didn't want a career. And so I had to make sure it was clear that the job was more than just a paycheck to me, that I wanted to advance, that I wanted a career. And sometimes as women, we're not as confident as we should be. And what always served me really well was investing in my learning. So every time I took on a new role, when I started in the life insurance space, I enrolled in Loma and got my fellow from the Life Management Institute. When I started managing disability and Critical illness products, I enrolled and became a registered health underwriter. When I started working in direct to consumer, I took a ten week course offered by the Direct Marketing Association. And so these courses did two things for me. One, they gave me that foundational knowledge to really hit the ground running, but it also made me more confident, more confident as a woman. And so I was able to elevate my performance and make an impact. But the other thing that it did for me is that it signaled to my manager and others that as a woman, I wanted to advance my career.

Jen: [00:04:38] It sounds like self development and learning has really been quite key to your success. But how important is mentoring? Have you had any mentors or role models along the way in your professional life?

Anna: [00:04:50] Mentoring is absolutely critical and they actually become more important as you start to progress to more senior roles because mentors share their experience with you. They give you a perspective that you may not have and as you become a leader. Mentors actually let you know how others see you. And part of growing as a leader in any organization is understanding how you're able to motivate and inspire others. And I think maybe, perhaps my one regret in my career is that I didn't seek a more mentors to help me develop. But I was blessed. I was influenced by a lot of great role models, women and men, role models that really inspired me. They taught me how to be a good leader, how to be a good listener. Show showed me how to make good decisions. And when you're looking at when you're following role models, you get to see firsthand how they impact results, how they motivate and lead people.

Jen: [00:05:54] Thank you very much, Anna. I think this might be the big question. So do women now have equal opportunities in insurance? And if not, what more can be done?

Anna: [00:06:06] So the industry really has changed from since I entered the workforce where we're most of the leaders were male. And throughout my career I've seen many women progress to more senior roles. And now there are a lot of a great many number of women leading in the industry. And I think the industry is doing a really good job recognizing their contributions. What's what's really good to see is more women in actuarial and sales roles, which were traditionally male roles. So we're really doing well there. But I would like to definitely see more women running the insurance companies, and I don't think it will be too long before we see some great emerging leaders.

Jen: [00:06:50] Thank you. Finally, can you leave us with your top tip for insurance professionals looking to reach the top and really make an impact?

Anna: [00:06:59] So, I mean, clearly, it's it's important that you you have domain expertise, that you're intelligent. All of that is table stakes. But as you start to to progress to more senior roles, the soft skills are critical and it's just as important. You need to know how to build relationships with peers inside and outside your organization. You have to be good at stakeholders and gaining alignment. You've got to make sure that people are confident and people trust you to lead them. And what's really important is you develop the soft skills but make sure that you're authentic because you can't fake it because people know when they see something that's not real. And so to me, that would be one of the things that I would say to all of my women colleagues is really develop those soft skills because they are just so important as especially as you progress to senior roles.

Jen: [00:07:58] You can't fake it till you make it then. Thank you so much for joining us today. Anna I think that was really great advice and it's been great having you on the show.

Anna: [00:08:06] Thank you. It's been great being here.

Jen: [00:08:09] Thank you also to you, our viewers. Don't forget to check out more of our videos, podcasts and daily news at I'm Jen Frost, news editor, Insurance Business.