Among the numerate subjects explored during the recent Insurance Business ‘Women in Insurance Conference 2022’, few could be considered quite as pressing as the panel discussion around ‘Creating a space for everyone’.
In the post-COVID working world, the responsibility of effective leaders to act and react in accordance with shifting expectations around company culture has become an integral part of their remit. And given the critical role that strong leadership played in facilitating the move to remote working and continues to play in establishing directives around the future of work, it seems more evident than ever that a great leader can drive seismic shifts in a company’s culture.
During the discussion moderator Stephanie Ogden (pictured left), MD, UK and Ireland at HDI Global SE, touched on the question of where change starts within an organisation and whether it must come from the top. Offering her view on this, Carolyn Blunt (pictured centre, left), growth & client success director at Davies Group noted that enacting change starts with setting out the right policies – and the targets and objectives that go along these.
“But actually,” she said, “if we don’t look at ourselves and our own individual behaviours, it’s hard to move forward into that collective change. When you look at the number of women CEOs in the FTSE 100, there are eight and there are no women of colour at all in those roles. And obviously, we can set targets but I don’t see those working alone in our lifetimes, or our daughters’ lifetimes or their daughters’ lifetimes, unfortunately, without real change from every single person.
“So, as a woman, for me that means creating allyship with men and speaking up. It means mentoring and pulling other young women along and helping them grow in their confidence more than anything – by showing interest, asking questions and letting people know they can do what they want to do. One of the biggest things that do hold women back, I think is imposter syndrome and that lack of confidence and having that self-belief.”
Changing views on leadership
Continuing on that theme of confidence and self-belief Ogden highlighted that so often leadership qualities become conflated with dominant characteristics. What advice, she wondered, would the assembled speakers have for introverted personalities who want to achieve leadership roles but don’t necessarily feel they have the personality profile associated with ‘typical’ leaders?
Blunt recommended an activity in which individuals should practice signing their name in both their dominant and non-dominant hands. When you use your dominant hand, it feels natural, normal and instinctive, she said, and you don’t even have to think about it. That’s what it’s like when you’re playing to your own strengths. If you use the opposite hand, however, it will be slower, more difficult, more awkward and often quite messy.
“That’s what your non-preferred strengths feel like,” she said. “But you can practice that signature and you can do those things, they just take more thought, or effort, or energy. For me, that’s where leadership development is key, and self-awareness is key. You can’t develop those non-preferred strengths if you don’t know what they are.”
She suggested that aspiring leaders invest in some self-awareness tests to gain further insight into their strengths and engage in 360-degree feedback to foster a fully-rounded view of how people see them externally as well. Then they can work on the things that need to be developed, she said, but also develop a new appreciation for their own strengths.
“And actually, through that process, you might be pleasantly surprised that there are things you don’t think you’re good at that other people tell you, actually you are,” she said. “I think it’s really making sure you are your authentic self but then also develop[ing] what people need. It’s not about being bossy or dominant in the boardroom. It is about having that authentic confidence to speak up. Because if you do not use your voice, then people will not know your views and your opinions, so that is the fundamental thing you must be able to do.”
Raising the quiet voices
It’s important to talk about the quiet voices in the room, said Weneika Steede (pictured centre, right) finance business partner and head of capital management at Zurich Insurance, because they have so much to offer but often just don’t feel that they’re in the right setting. That’s because they feel they don’t have the support of the room - and empathetic and inclusive leaders will recognise that.
Inclusive leaders know the quiet members of their teams who put their heads down and do the work, she said, and those individuals do contribute but are rarely empowered to lend their voices to settings that are dominated by more extroverted individuals. She sees it as a key challenge laid out to leaders to amplify these voices and to find safe spaces for them where they will feel empowered and encouraged to share their insights and talents.
Sharing some of the tips that have worked for her as director of underwriting for international casualty at QBE Insurance Europe Ltd, Lavinia Johnson (pictured right) said: “I try to break some of the larger meetings down to smaller meetings, which gives people the confidence to speak up. We have a hot-desk policy and what I find is, even though it’s hot-desking, most people sit in the same space every day.
“And especially with the new recruits that we bring in, I do encourage them to move around and to sit beside different people to gain new perspectives and help build their confidence. Another tip that I often use for the quieter ones is to find them a project, something that they’re interested in. And something that’s ideally outside their department to encourage them to go and expand their network.”
On the subject of encouraging the quieter voices in the room Lisa Bartlett (pictured centre), president, UK & Ireland at Crawford & Company emphasised the importance of a “culture of participation”. That means thinking about inclusion and engagement separately, she said, and then also thinking about them together because you can’t have one without the other.
“In terms of building an inclusive culture and giving everybody a voice, you have to put the right structures in place,” she said. “So that’s the informal structures, that’s the team environment and that’s also the set forums where we can bring those conversations to life. [We also need] to have much more discipline about future focus. Because it’s all too easy to look at the past and say, well, we’re not moving quickly enough.
“But we have to take the time to acknowledge the progress we’re making. Conversations are changing, the world’s changing, and workplace attitudes are changing. Just go back two years, there was much more focus on bricks and mortar, and there was much more focus on presenteeism. All of the agile working policies we now have today, mean that we can have much broader opportunities for women and for those preparing responsibilities. We’ve got to acknowledge the progress.”