Women Leaders in Insurance |
Elite Women 

Inspiring future generations

Insurance Business recognises 80 women leaders from Australia and New Zealand as Elite Women of 2024, a thriving cohort of trailblazers whose leadership positively influences the industry’s trajectory.

“Women who are successful in insurance rarely focus on their gender,” remarks Natasha Fenech, Avant Mutual Group CEO and managing director, who also serves as non-executive director of the Insurance Council of Australia. “They simply believe in their abilities and don’t accept failure, but rather see it as a learning opportunity to drive success.”


Women Leaders in Insurance | Elite Women


The women leaders celebrated are undeterred by industry or professional and personal challenges, underscoring that sentiment. 

Instead, they have honed a breadth and depth of skills, strategies, and expertise, enabling them to:

  • deliver top-tier business results and performance

  • advance the industry’s knowledge and understanding of DE&I

  • modernise the sector with innovative products and solutions

  • give back through mentoring and thought leadership

The following four award winners demonstrate exemplary leadership, meaningful contributions, and a commitment to making a lasting impact.

Debbie Vounakis – Gallagher Bassett
Leveraging expertise to drive positive change

Now the head of sales and client services for personal injury, Vounakis’ creative and forward-thinking approaches to tackling the significant increase in mental health claims in the insurance industry have garnered widespread respect.

“I aim to make a lasting impact by developing and implementing tailored client solutions that effectively address current and future risks within the industry,” she explains. “By combining innovative and strategic thinking, I strive to contribute to the industry’s growth and resilience, paving the way for a positive and transformative future.”

Key among the contributions she has made across her 20-year career include:

  • collaborating with mental health professionals, including renowned occupational psychiatrist Dielle Felman, to support complex claims management

  • creating a strategy that improved return-to-work outcomes for challenging cases

The program, now known as Work Life Well, is vital to the Victorian Mental Health Hub initiative.

In support of her Elite Woman recognition, a nominator notes, “Debbie’s approach is characterised by her tireless work ethic and dedication to her clients, partnering with them to solve complex issues. She consistently goes above and beyond to ensure her team delivers the best possible client outcomes.”   


Debbie Vounakis, Gallagher Bassett
“By establishing strong connections and partnerships, I stay ahead of industry trends and drive meaningful change to address our industry’s evolving needs”
Debbie VounakisGallagher Bassett


Vounakis has thrived throughout her multiple senior roles in insurance and is most engaged and fulfilled by:

  • collaborating with diverse leaders and clients

  • embracing new challenges

  • acquiring additional skills

  • breaking new ground on solutions that improve client outcomes

“Learning from mistakes, taking calculated risks and embracing resilience in the face of setbacks has had a lasting impact on my career,” she reflects. “This mindset drives me to explore new avenues consistently and contributes to my continuous growth.”


Claire Burke – CHU Underwriting Agencies
Authenticity and inclusion champion 

During her 12-year career at CHU, Burke has consistently demonstrated professional growth and seized opportunities to make significant contributions in the strata underwriting space. 

In 2022, she was appointed national specialty risk team manager, a new role created to tackle underwriting challenges in the trending niche market.

“Being in a position to provide an insurance solution, where possible, for these accounts that are otherwise difficult to obtain is something I enjoy,” she remarks. “I feel empowered when I’m educating an underwriter or a broker about a complex account because they’re often tricky, and it feels great to share all this experience I have under my belt.”

That dedication spills over into Burke’s charitable endeavours as a diversity and inclusion advocate, predominantly in the LGBTQIA+ space. She works diligently to promote awareness and education at CHU and within the industry to ensure a safe space for all.

Among the main achievements, which earned her Elite Woman status, are:

  • initiated a new insurance form that streamlined the underwriting decision-making process and improved communication with intermediaries

  • won the 2023 ANZIIF Making a Difference Award – Underwriting Category

  • selected as a panellist for the 2023 ANZIIF Diversity & Inclusion seminar, where she spoke about her lived experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community 

  • presented CHU’s highest-attended webinar on defects in strata buildings to over 1,300 brokers and strata managers


Driven by a passion for authenticity and openness, Burke aims to set new standards of industry excellence by being a caring and consistent champion for underrepresented groups. 

“I’m very comfortable with who I am and being my authentic self,” she states. “That approach has served me well in building strong relationships with colleagues and clients.” 


Claire Burke, CHU Underwriting Services
“The rewarding part of moving outside your comfort zone and doing something you didn’t think you could do can help you realise you are, indeed, capable”
Claire BurkeCHU Underwriting Agencies


Marni Jackson – Youi Insurance
Inclusive leader maintains momentum 

After nearly 14 years of learning the facets of Youi’s business in various roles, Jackson’s current role as head of product is a new position enabling her talents and expertise to shine.

As a senior leadership team member, she prioritises creating an inclusive environment while leading her team to outperform growth targets on the company’s direct-to-market headline product in the vehicle, lifestyle and leisure lines.

“There’s a lot to be said about showing up, figuring out who you are and bringing that to the table,” Jackson notes about her authentic leadership style. “Confidence is a muscle, and you can’t just go out and run a marathon. You have to train and do the little things that help to build your confidence, especially if you find them challenging.”

Among her noteworthy industry contributions are:

  • QLD Small Business Mentors for Growth program volunteer

  • International Women’s Day guest speaker

  • long-serving judging panel member for Insurance Business’s annual awards gala   


Jackson takes pride in influencing thoughtful product designs that are straightforward and easily understood by clients, balanced to create a sustainable business model. She has also been riding the wave of emerging technology, such as AI, devoting considerable thought to its impact on the company and how best to leverage its benefits.

By emphasising the importance of momentum in getting things done, Jackson differentiates herself with a complementary approach that has allowed her to grow professionally. She prioritises teamwork, communication and connection.

“No job is done alone,” she states. 


Marni Jackson, Youi Insurance
“Sharing your story is a great way to start a conversation, to encourage and empower others to put themselves out there”
Marni JacksonYoui Insurance


Kylie Ciechanowicz – Network Insurance Group
Leading with empathy and humility

Highly regarded as an outstanding, humble executive, Ciechanowicz has led the subsidiary of Steadfast IRS’s largest division to impressive growth and prosperity.

As the general manager of Centra, she passionately drives success and inspires a diverse team of 35 to exceed targets. In July 2023, she was appointed to the Network Steadfast executive team, establishing herself as a key voice on this quorum.

“I’d like to inspire future leaders by fostering a workplace environment that promotes diversity, mentorship and an open-minded culture,” she explains. “All this leads to the company flourishing.” 

Ciechanowicz has overcome numerous challenges, including regulatory reform, compliance, and recruitment and retention by:

  • emphasising resiliency and adaptability

  • focusing on problem-solving 

  • relying on a talented team 


“Watching my team members grow and succeed, being able to contribute to their professional development, and seeing them excel in their roles is truly gratifying,” she reflects.

Her nominator attests to her effectiveness, “Kylie has already exceeded expectations and is leading several strategic projects that will see significant shifts in efficacy, efficiency and use of technology, all in support of proactive, positive customer outcomes.”

She counts among her accomplishments the positive impact she has had on her team and being nominated to participate in the Hollard and Steadfast-sponsored year-long Aspire Women Leaders development program in recognition of her potential. 

As this year’s women leaders have showcased and recent McKinsey & Company research supports, insurance companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in executive teams are, on average, 18% more likely to outperform their peers, notes industry expert Fenech.

“It is important that we continue to strive for more diverse leadership teams in the Australian insurance sector,” she adds. “In 2023, only 38% of managers were women, according to the WEGA statistics for financial and insurance services. This statistic declines to only 32% of individuals in governing bodies being women.”


Kylie Ciechanowicz, Network Insurance Group
“It’s important to lead by example, display dedication and model desired behaviours to build trust and purpose within your team”
Kylie CiechanowiczNetwork Insurance Group



Women Leaders in Insurance | Elite Women

  • Abigail Edney
    Global Head of Insurance
  • Aimee Henderson
    WA State Manager
    Grace Insurance
  • Alisa Martins
    COO Underwriting Operations
    Pen Underwriting Australia
  • Amanda Morris
    Chief Executive Officer
    ARMA Insurance Group
  • Anita Lane
    Solution Underwriting Agency
  • Anna Schubert
    Head of IFA and Group Distribution
  • Annemarie Jamieson
    Co-Founder, Head of Product and Customer
    Advisr and AdvisrME
  • Berlinda Hall
    Manager, Bikesure
    BMS Group
  • Cara Carpenter
    Operations Manager
  • Catherine Dixon
    EGM, People Experience
    Suncorp New Zealand
  • Celia McCormack
    Head of Operations
    BMS Group Australia
  • Charmaine Field
    Claims Manager
    North Queensland Insurance Brokers
  • Chris Cupitt
    Chief Executive Officer
    Council of Australian Life Insurers
  • Dasha Goryacheva
    People and Operations Manager
    Delta Insurance Group
  • Elise Pretto
    Regional Manager VIC/TAS
    MECON Insurance
  • Fiona Hayes-St. Clair
    Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer
    QBE Insurance
  • Heather Blanco
    Chief Executive Officer
  • Jane Brewer
    Executive General Manager, Consumer
    Vero New Zealand
  • Jane King
    Chief Underwriting Officer
    Underwriting Agencies of Australia
  • Jen Bettridge
    Clear Leader and Director
    Clear Insurance
  • Jessica Jenkins
    National Corporate Relationship Manager
    Solution Underwriting
  • Kate Bolton
    Client Manager, Corporate Insurance and Risk Solutions
  • Kate Greaves
    Goldsworthy General Insurance Services
  • Kay Jackson
    Director/Senior Broker
    Simplex Insurance Solutions
  • Kerrie Coxell
    National Manager, Care Liability
    Pen Underwriting
  • Kezia David
    Special Counsel
    Hicksons Lawyers
  • Kim McEwan
    Head of Casualty, Australia
    AXA XL
  • Kimberley Jonsson
    Chief Executive Officer
    CHU Underwriting Agencies
  • Kirsty Owens
    National e-Business Manager
    Berkley Insurance Australia
  • Kriti Osondu
    Insurance Broker
    Ark Insure
  • Laura Murray
    Distribution and Product Manager
    Elantis Premium Funding
  • Lindsay Turner
    General Insurance Manager
    Warren Saunders Insurance Brokers
  • Lisa Carter 
    Managing Director 
    Clear Insurance 
  • Liz Geden
    Casualty Manager and Team Leader
    Delta Insurance New Zealand
  • Machelien Sherry
    Senior Investigator
  • Mary Kater
    Client Services Specialist
    Haven Financial Advisers
  • Mary Ann Noureddine
    Client Manager
    Claim Central
  • Monica Maharaj
    Regional Claims Manager
  • Nese Akay
    Executive Manager: Strategy & Culture
    Community Broker Network
  • Nichola Young
    Executive Manager: Underwriting Practice
    Vero Insurance New Zealand/Suncorp New Zealand
  • Nichole Frame
    NLT Insurance Brokers
  • Paula Sheppard-Jones
    General Manager, New Zealand
    DUAL New Zealand
  • Payal Sharma
    Fundagroup Insurance
  • Prudence Chang
    Executive Manager, Business Development and Partners
    National Credit Insurance Brokers 
  • Prue Willsford
    Chief Executive Officer
  • Rachael Milne
    CFO and COO
    Elliott Insurance/The Green Broker  
  • Rachael Walley
    Head of Corporate Cyber
  • Racheal Greer
    Head of Claims and Risk
    Donaldson Brown
  • Sacha Cowlrick
    Executive General Manager, Business
    Vero Insurance New Zealand/Suncorp New Zealand
  • Sara Malins
    General Manager of Operations
  • Sarah Phillips
    General Manager, Corporate Affairs and CEO Office
    AIA Australia
  • Sarogini Millott
    Chief Underwriting Officer
    Community Underwriting Agency
  • Satpreet Chandra
    Head of Affinity NZ
    Marsh McLennan New Zealand
  • Seema Bangera
    Executive Manager, Claims and Customer Solutions
    Asteron Life/Suncorp New Zealand
  • Sharon Richens
    Head of Customer
    Altius Group
  • Simone Dossetor
    Chief Executive Officer
    Insurtech Australia
  • Sky Leigh
    Senior Financial Adviser
    Haven Financial Advisers
  • Skye Theodorou
    Co-Founder and CEO
  • Sonya Wilmen
    Principal, Marine and Logistics
  • Tanushree Arora-Sopori
    Executive Manager/Broker, Broking Operations
    Imperium Insurance and Financial Solutions
  • Therese Dharmapala
    Product Owner, Mergers and Acquisitions
    Resolution Life
  • Tracey Cross
    Tracey Cross
  • Vannessa Hennessey
    Business Development Manager
    Auto & General Australia
  • Wendy Foweraker
    Executive Manager, Broking Operations
    Community Broker Network


As part of our editorial process, Key Media’s researchers interviewed the subject matter expert below for an independent analysis of this report and its findings.


Insurance Business invited insurance professionals from across Australia and New Zealand to nominate exceptional female leaders for the annual Elite Women list. Nominators were asked to provide details of their nominee’s achievements and initiatives over the past 12 months, including specific examples of their professional accomplishments and contributions to the industry as a whole. 

The Insurance Business team reviewed all nominations, examining how each individual had made a meaningful contribution to the industry, to whittle down the list to the final 80 Elite Women. 

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