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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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
Insurance Business UK invited insurance professionals from across the region to nominate exceptional female leaders for the fifth 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. The survey ran from 24 October 2022 to 18 November 2022.
To select the winners, the IBUK team relied on the help of an independent and esteemed panel of judges that included:
• Ajay Mistry, Co-Chair at iCAN
• Amy Green, President of the Insurance Institute of Sussex
• Kishan Mangat, Senior Associate – Insurance at DWF/iCAN
• Melissa Collett, Executive Director of Professional Standards at the Chartered Insurance Institute
• Michael Keating, Chief Executive Officer of the Managing General Agents’ Association
• Steve White, Chief Executive Officer of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association
The judges and the IBUK team reviewed all nominations, examining how each individual had made a meaningful contribution to the industry, to whittle down the list to the final 61 Elite Women. To avoid conflicts of interest, self-voting and voting for relatives were prohibited.