“Possibly because I chose law as a profession. I knew what I was getting into in terms of the fact that when I did my law degree there weren’t as many women in law as there are now,” she elaborated. “When I started there were more women as administrators than there were lawyers.
“I think the insurance industry has been reasonably male dominated but there are some outstanding women who are leading insurance companies like Naomi Ballantyne at Partners Life and Nadine Tereora from Fidelity Life – those are just two women leading major insurance companies in New Zealand.
“At board level there are a lot of women in insurance, and I have been lucky to have had Dame Paula Rebstock as my chair person for the past eight years and now I have Sue Suckling.
“There are a lot of women involved at high levels, but I think it has been a male dominated industry for a long time, you see a lot more men at the upper levels. Younger women are coming through but it’s going to take some time for them to get into those senior roles, just like it does in any other sector or profession.
“I think we need to encourage young women into insurance because it’s a fascinating industry and because there are opportunities for women.
“Other women like to speak to women about issues and services and there is potentially an untapped area for woman who need financial advice or insurance advice who are not getting it because they are not seeking it because they haven’t created the relationship they need to get that type of advice.
“With more women in the market you could potentially see an upswing in the numbers in other women purchasing insurance products.”
Stevens added that a lot of cases that come through to the IFSO deal with disclosure disputes due to health claims. Stevens said many women feel more comfortable speaking to female brokers just like many women prefer a female GP because women are empathic, are good listeners and are understanding on sensitives issues and disclosure.
“I am absolutely sure that in some of the cases (brought to the IFSO) the issues were between a woman as a potential insured not disclosing her full medical history to a male adviser,” she said. “And being too embarrassed or reticent of disclosing full details of the health condition.
“On the flip side, we had one case of a male insurance adviser being too embarrassed to write down what a woman was telling him about her medical history.
“So, when it came to make a claim she found out he hadn’t completed the detailed information she had given him. We don’t agree with advisers completing application forms on behalf of clients. There was a level of embarrassment for him (the advisers) and that has to change.
“With more women coming into (the industry) I think that will change, and women will be better provided for in their insurance needs than they possibly are now.”
Stevens has been at the IFSO for the past 20 years and is a trained lawyer who currently holds a practicing certification as a barrister.
“I started as a lawyer and did my OE and came back and went into a big law firm for five years in Wellington,” she explained. “I went into partnership, had my own business with my husband, and then left the legal practice to come into this role, almost 20 years ago.
“I had been working as a lawyer looking at legal issues for a few large insurance companies - the areas of insurance really interested me, and this role came up and I applied and was fortunate enough to get it and I have never regretted it.
“I’ve never looked back wanting a different career path, it’s really been quite exceptional.”