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Female leaders in the UK insurance industry pave the way forward
Insurance Business UK’s Elite Women in 2023 have shone brightly by delivering for clients in a competitive environment and overcoming career obstacles to become leaders in the insurance industry.
The fifth edition of Elite Women pays tribute to the challenges, excellence and tenacity exhibited by this year’s 61 inspirational female leaders who are breaking through “high and strong” barriers in a still male-dominated insurance industry.
Amy Green, president of the Insurance Institute of Sussex and insurance specialist at Specialist Risk Group, served as one of the judges on the Elite Women 2023 panel and praised the high calibre of those recognised.
“The last four years, in particular, have reflected the inequalities around diversity, race, disability, gender, and neurodiversity, and among the nominees, it was refreshing to see people who were really open about things like that, who either acknowledged their privilege, shared their experience or talked about a disability or illness,” says Green. “Our leaders of tomorrow need to be able to address those issues.”
“I really admire young women because they’re supporting each other. We’re losing that fear of not being perfect. We’re being more honest”
Donna Scully, Carpenters Group
Female leaders in insurance
When Carpenters Group co-owner and director Donna Scully relocated from London to northwest England about 25 years ago, everyone in a senior position was male.
“It was almost like going back in time to the Dark Ages,” Scully recalls. “When I lived in London, there were more women being successful and getting promoted. Looking around in insurance now, there are some amazing women who have fought hard to be where they are, and they have taken some knocks.”
Keeping those memories front and centre, Scully is “pro-women”, and her company walks the walk on gender parity.
• Carpenters Group’s executive and operation boards are 50% women.
• Sixty percent of the firm’s team leaders are women.
• Females comprise 56% of the workforce.
• The firm’s mean gender pay gap for 2021 was 0.1%.
Proving how determined she is to build the next generation of female insurance leaders, Scully is mentoring a teenager who is the same age (16) as she was when she left school.
“I really admire young women because they’re supporting each other. We’re losing that fear of not being perfect. We’re being more honest,” says Scully.
Community and charity work are part of Scully’s moral fabric; she jointly runs a Sunday morning breakfast program in partnership with Fans Supporting Foodbanks.
Female insurance leader triumphs over gender and ethnic bias
Two decades ago, fellow Elite Woman Asha Patel joined the insurance industry. She’s now a class underwriting manager at CNA Hardy.
“Early on in my career as an underwriter, I faced many challenges. I’m not sure if that was because I was a woman or because I was from an ethnic minority group,” Patel says of her early days.
“Some people just didn’t want to deal with me or acknowledge that I was an underwriter,” she adds. “For me, that’s what gave me inspiration to say, ‘No, I am here, and I have worked very hard to get here.’ It just made me more determined.”
Like many of the Elite Women 2023, who are now female leaders in the insurance industry, Patel fell into the sector after learning about the nature and scope of the work from a mentor.
“It’s so fascinating, and there are so many different aspects to insurance, but I absolutely loved it,” she says. “I thought this could become my career, and I could see myself progressing to the next stage.”
Patel now gives back to the industry through mentoring young people and those new to insurance, a volunteer effort about which she is passionate. She says she is committed to amplifying voices that are underrepresented and creating safe spaces for them. Diversity, equity and inclusion are at the core of her and CNA Hardy’s recruitment strategies.
“I’ve just been working incredibly hard to build my business. I’ve had offers to sell my company, but I’m not ready for any of that. I love being my own boss”
Suneeta Padda, Padda Consulting
Self-made female insurance leader
Suneeta Padda is another female leader in the UK’s insurance industry and an Elite Woman 2023. Being the youngest of six siblings and the fourth daughter in a Sikh family put her on the “back foot”, because boys and girls were treated differently.
“Indian girls don’t leave home, so my marriage was arranged with somebody I didn’t really know, and I married within the year,” says Padda, adding that by 19 she was living in London with her husband and his family. “I couldn’t work, wasn’t allowed to have friends and didn’t really go out on my own. For 10 years, that became my life.”
With her two young children, Padda sought help at a women’s refuge. She gained her independence and, while looking after her children and ailing parents, studied part time and graduated with a business and marketing degree in her mid-30s.
Padda opens her own insurance consulting agency
After a successful career in increasingly senior positions in compliance at some of the top insurance firms, Padda founded Padda Consulting, which has been helping the insurance industry with regulatory compliance for more than a decade. She now serves as the global consultancy’s director.
In mid-2022, Padda teamed up with Copper Ocean to create Ever Comply, a one-stop shop compliance solution for the broker community that is slated to launch in March 2023.
“I’ve just been working incredibly hard to build my business,” says Padda. “I’ve had offers to sell my company, but I’m not ready for any of that. I love being my own boss.”
“Early on in my career as an underwriter, I faced many challenges. I’m not sure if that was because I was a woman or because I was from an ethnic minority group”
Asha Patel, CNA Hardy
Policies deliver insurance industry equity
Crawford & Company’s UK and Ireland president, Lisa Bartlett, gained much from early mentors. In recent years, she has worked on self-awareness and leadership with a female coach and has now turned to coaching other leaders.
This is visible in how, under Bartlett’s stewardship, Crawford & Company and its global partners have embarked on a journey of change. In January 2023, the company strengthened its UK parental policy to provide greater support for:
• new parents
• those undergoing fertility treatment
• those seeking to adopt
• those who suffered a loss during pregnancy or adoption
Maternity and adoption leave was also extended to 12 weeks with full pay, and both male and female employees each receive five paid days for pregnancy or adoption loss.
Launch of the Virginia Crawford Awards
Bartlett beams when talking about the launch of the firm’s inaugural global Virginia Crawford Awards, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March 2023.
Virginia Crawford was the company’s first female director. Today, the company boasts:
• close to 50% representation of women and minorities on its 11-strong board
• the election of at least three female directors
• a global senior management team comprised of 30% women and minorities
Women in senior leadership roles can act as a magnet for other females who aspire to reach the top of the insurance industry.
This is happening at Crawford and Company. One of the key reasons Holly Marchant joined the company in 2020 was its representation of women in senior positions.
Marchant is a major and complex loss adjuster. She obtained the qualification of Associate of the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters (CILA) in 2021. She is an active member of the Chartered Insurance Institute and is a panel member of CILA’s special interest group, Women in CILA. Marchant’s volunteer work at CILA includes addressing the gender imbalance in earning CILA qualifications, researching barriers to female progression and providing role models in loss adjustment.
“I think it’s good to push women into higher management-type roles, but it’s also equally important to push them into technical roles,” says Marchant. “There’s no reason why women can’t be adjusters; the role is not male-specific, but the challenge for women comes from other personal issues that women have in the workplace.”
Female insurance industry leaders pass the baton
As managing director of people experience, Joanna Browning is a member of Markel International’s executive team. Her team has harnessed the power of storytelling to drive change.
The company’s “See the world through my eyes” internal communication campaign saw employees at all levels share their personal stories of challenges and successes with such things as being female in insurance, cultural backgrounds and health issues.
“That started conversations, and sometimes when you’re trying to make cultural change, a lot of the good stuff actually comes from peer to peer, from people sharing across the company,” adds Browning.
Markel International colleague Kate Gardner, senior manager – communication and engagement, was heavily involved in the campaign and presented important feedback and observations from the wider employee base to management and the executive committee.
“I think it’s good to push women into higher management-type roles, but it’s also equally important to push them into technical roles”
Holly Marchant, Crawford & Company
Feeling supported as a woman in the insurance industry
Since joining the insurance industry five years ago, Gardner says she has felt supported. “It’s wonderful to have role models that are female, but it’s equally important that men now have the language and understanding to support us.”
Browning and Gardner credit mentoring, both formal and informal, with helping people navigate their career paths and guiding positive change in the industry.
They both work tirelessly to improve the workplace for future female insurance leaders. Browning is dedicated to ensuring the recruitment process is free from bias and that men and women have equal access to paid caregiver leave.
For Gardner, serving as co-lead of Markel’s Inclusion Network has been rewarding.
“That’s important because it is made up of employee volunteers who are passionate about diversity and inclusion,” she says.
Meet the judges
- Abbie Conneely
- Adobea Astrefi
Senior Claims Operations Lead
- Amanda Blanc
Group Chief Executive Officer
- Amanda Scott
Managing Director, Global Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) Leader
- Annmarie Camp
Head of Personal Risk Services
- Asha Patel
Class Underwriting Manager
- Baljinder Mahil
Head of Distribution Operations
- Barbara Schönhofer
Founder and Chair
- Caroline Pritchard
Head of Distribution Management, EMEA and UK
Swiss Re Corporate Solutions
- Caroline Spence
Head of UK&I Chief Risk Office
- Claire Ladwa
UK HR Director
- Clare Talbot-Jones
Co-Founder and Director of Business Development
- Eleanor Moore
Director of Private Clients
Broadway Insurance Brokers
- Elisha St Hilaire
UK Early Careers Development Lead
- Emma Francis
Head of Inclusion
- Francesca Campbell
Director of ESG, Inclusion & Diversity – EMEA
- Hannah Montagu-Clark
Diversity and Inclusion Lead – LV= General Insurance
- Hélène Stanway
- Irene Stavrou
Head of Commercial Claims
Liberty Specialty Markets
- Jane Harley
Senior Delegated Authorities and Digital Tools Manager
- Jen Denby
Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity
- Jennifer Bruce
- Joanne Safo
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
- Julia Graham
Chief Executive Officer
Airmic (Association for Insurance & Risk)
- Kay White
Way Forward Solutions
- Kirat Nandra
Credit Control Manager
- Lara Pedley
Managing Director, Global
- Laura Horrocks
Head of Fraud Technology and Intelligence
- Laura Wright
Senior Vice President and Head of International Learning and Development
- Lauriel O'Neill
Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – UK & EMEA
- Lavinia Johnson
Director of International Casualty
- Lea Cheesbrough
Movo Partnership and Durell Software
- Lorna Feeney
Head of Mental Health Risk, Marsh Risk Consultancy
- Mandy Hunt
Chief Underwriting Officer – Commercial Lines
- Marjorie Adejumo
- Mary Bowie
Senior Legal Counsel
Miller Insurance Services
- Michaela Gibson
Head of DEI Transformation and Programme Management
- Nadine Haschka
Customer Service Manager
- Natalie Albert
Diversity and Inclusion Co-Chair
- Nazaneen Challawala Hatimi
Internal Communications Director
- Nazmin Mohal
Senior Internal Auditor
- Nicola Dryden
Chief Client Officer
- Penny James
Chief Executive Officer
Direct Line Group
- Pravina Ladva
Group Chief Digital and Technology Officer
- Sam White
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
- Shali Vasudeva
Chief Operating Officer – UK and Ireland; Member of Executive Committee
- Shamini Rajan
- Sheila Cameron
Chief Executive Officer
Lloyd’s Market Association
- Shula Coward
- Stephanie Ogden
Managing Director, UK and Ireland
HDI Global SE
- Tasneem Patel
Head of Risk Management
- Teniola Tijani
- Yasmin Carter-Esdale
Schemes Account Executive
- Zemfira Knott