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Elite Women 2021

As IBUK celebrates this year’s class of 49 Elite Women, it’s a good time to reflect on where women are, where they’ve been and where they want to go in the UK insurance industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic – and the lockdowns it has necessitated – has put increased pressure on women. Whether working outside or inside the home, women are three times more likely to be responsible for most of the housework and childcare than men, according to McKinsey. Anita Bhatia, deputy executive director of UN Women, calls this the “care burden.” In a November interview with the BBC, Bhatia warned that this care burden could wipe out a quarter-century of women’s gains in the workplace and revive 1950s gender stereotypes.

Sam White, CEO of Freedom Group and one of this year’s IBUK Elite Women, has seen this firsthand. At the start of the lockdowns, White was hopeful that remote working would provide some sort of competitive advantage for women in the industry, but she has been disappointed.

“Unfortunately, I have found that with the majority of homeschooling seemingly falling on women rather than men in households, I have seen a number of senior female executives leave the industry,” she says. “My hope is that, when we return to some element of normalcy, we will retain the flexibility, which should make us more appealing to female candidates.”

Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO and founder of insurtech Tapoly and a fellow 2021 Elite Women honouree, is likewise hopeful that the shift to remote work could end up being an opportunity for women in both the insurance and tech industries, as work-life balance remains a major concern. According to the Women of the Silicon Roundabout, 32% of women in the tech industry said achieving work-life balance was their chief concern, while 25% said they were most concerned about career development and progression.

“I can’t say for the industry, but my personal opinion would be we need to level the playing field for women who have family commitments and increase the ability to work from home and have flexible hours,” Kaenprakhamroy says. “I think COVID-19 has potentially brought more opportunities for women to apply this to their jobs and achieve a work-life balance that would hopefully attract more women to the industry.”

Past and present problems
On her climb to the top, White has experienced objectification and unwanted advances from male coworkers and acknowledges that the insurance industry needs to do more to ensure women are treated with the proper respect. One thing that could help, she says, is narrowing the gender pay gap, which is currently 33.2% for the financial services and insurance sector, according to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics.

“Financial services still has one of, if not the worst, gender pay gaps of any industry,” White says. “We also have a tiny percentage of female board members within organizations with the industry as a whole.”

Meanwhile, Kaenprakhamroy says she’s experienced her own challenges but now feels isolated from gender bias in running her own company. Still, she feels that eradicating unconscious gender bias is important in male-dominant industries.

“There is no quick fix for this, but it is essential companies work to unpick these biases and promote diversity,” she says. “For example, at a strategic level, a company could include diversity as part of their mission statement, and at an operational level, they can make diversity and inclusion one of their KPIs to form part of the company’s recruitment and retention policy. This should be a good start toward creating a better working environment that would both attract and retain women in the workplace.”

As an insurtech CEO, Kaenprakhamroy’s chief concern is the glaringly unequal treatment of startups in the venture capital space, where there is a lack of funding for female businesses. A study by the British Business Bank discovered that less than 1% of UK venture capital went to female-founded companies, while male-founded operations got 89%.

It’s a problem that not only hurts women’s progress, but also has a detrimental effect on the UK economy. According to Rose Review, increasing the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK could add an additional £250 billion to the country’s economy.

And unlike insurance, where women make up well over half of the industry, the tech space remains stubbornly male-dominated.

“According to Adeva IT, as of 2018, women held only 25% of all the jobs in the tech industry, despite women making up almost half of the total workforce,” Kaenprakhamroy says. “This has worsened, as this number is lower than the percentage of tech jobs held by women back in the 1980s. Hence, we need to encourage more women in the tech space, as most jobs today require increasing IT skills.”

Getting better all the time
Despite the roadblocks that remain for women in insurance, White and Kaenprakhamroy want to acknowledge current advancements and underscore the importance of furthering ongoing progress.

“In the past couple of years, there has been great development by the insurance industry to promote women and diversity,” Kaenprakhamroy says. “Evidence is the increase in number of high-profile awards dedicated to showcase the best of female leaders in the industry, such as IBUK Elite Women and the Women in Insurance Awards, in which Tapoly was one of the finalists in a few categories.”

As a female insurtech founder, Kaenprakhamroy is doing her part to close the gender gap as well. “I’m proactively promoting diversity in the industry, and we love to recruit women,” she says. “As a matter of fact, most of our senior roles are performed by women.”

White adds that she’s seen “a lot more senior female appointments in the last couple of years, more female-driven groups, etc.”

However, there’s still much work to do on that front – the Association of British Insurers (ABI) reports that only 37% of women work in senior management, and an even smaller proportion (21%) has reached the executive or board level.

“These concerns are valid, and the industry is making progress forward,” Kaenprakhamroy says, “but there is still further work to do.”      

On that note, IBUK would like to congratulate the 49 women who made this year’s Elite Women list, who have put in the extra hours while juggling the challenges of COVID-19 and navigating a locked-down economy. Their achievements have set the standard for a new generation of female leaders in the UK insurance industry.

Elite Women 2021

  • Shashi Adatia
    Director, Moneywise Investments
  • Marjorie Adejumo
    Head of regional development, ERS
  • Mahima Agarwal
    Head of regional development, Deloitte
  • Kim Alcock
    Head of UK casualty & TPA operations, McLarens
  • Abbhi Bala
    Finance director, Gallagher Re
  • Lisa Bartlett
    President, UK & Ireland, Crawford & Company
  • Amanda Blanc
    CEO, Aviva
  • Henrietta Butcher
    Managing director, Tysers
  • Lea Cheesbrough
    Managing director, Movo Partnership
  • Jane Chewins
    Managing director, Jane Chewins Ltd
  • Claire Davies
    HR director, Gallagher
  • Christine Dearden
    Senior project manager, Sedgwick
  • Janette Evans-Turner
    UK head of sourcing & procurement, Zurich Insurance Group
  • Sara Fardon
    Managing director, Willis Towers Watson Networks
  • Sian Fisher
    CEO, Chartered Insurance Institute
  • Louise Flood
    Vice president, Lockton Companies
  • Emily Fraser
    Underwriting effectiveness and strategy director, RSA Group
  • Caroline Hairsine
    Head of construction, Aviva UK
  • Nadine Haschka
    Customer service manager, Atradius
  • Jackie Hyde
    Managing director, Stanmore Insurance Brokers
  • Penny James
    CEO, Direct Line
  • Janthana Kaenprakhamroy
    CEO, Tapoly
  • Kishan Mangat
    Senior associate, DWF
  • Alison Martin
    CEO, EMEA & bank distribution, Zurich Insurance Group
  • Victoria Mavin
    Head of commercial services, Zurich Insurance Group
  • Sandra McDonald
    Head of client services, McLarens
  • Milena Mondini de Focatiis
    CEO, Admiral
  • Angela Moran
    IS Group and UK&I director of business management, RSA Group
  • Jennette Newman
    Senior partner, Clyde & Co.
  • Shradha Patel
    Head of conduct and customer, claims, RSA Group
  • Bethan Perris
    Account executive, Tysers
  • Jane Portas
    Co-founder, Insuring Women’s Futures
  • Leonie Rainbow
    Operations manager, Anthony James Insurance Brokers
  • Shona Robertson
    Partner, H&R Insurance Services
  • Linsey Scott
    Branch director and head of office, Marsh Commercial
  • Louise Sharifi
    Operations manager for specialty and multinational, Aviva UK
  • Kirsten Shastri
    Specialty underwriter – life sciences, Beazley
  • Fiona Shaw
    Head of strategy & operations, Willis Towers Watson
  • Holly Shepherd
    Managing director, Shepherd Global
  • Helene Stanway
    Head of market engagement and adaption - data for the future at Lloyd's
  • Clare Talbot-Jones
    Business development director, Talbot Jones
  • Teniola Tijani
    Associate underwriter, Travelers
  • Kay White
    Owner, Way Forward Solutions
  • Sam White
    Founder and CEO, Freedom Group
  • Irem Yerdelen
    Client & business development director, Willis Towers Watson


Insurance Business UK's 2021 Elite Women report was launched in December 2020 with a call to insurance forms across the UK to nominate the industry's most noteworthy female trailblazers. Nominators were asked to provide details of each nominee's achievements over the past 12 months, with specific examples of their professional accomplishments and contributions to the industry as a whole.

To compile the final list of Elite Women,, the IBUK editorial team reviewed all nominations, examining how each individual had made a meaningful and tangible difference to the industry. The winners were judged by the substance of their nominations - namely, those that illustrated specific outcomes in support of their peers the industry.