The recent Women in Insurance Summit in New York saw inspirational women and the allies who support them come together to celebrate what it means to be a woman in insurance. Yet despite the range of topics covered – including such hot-button issues as fighting fatigue, women’s health, salary negotiations and skills development – the clear through-line of the day was its celebration of the power of networking, learning and empowerment.
Throughout the conference, several panellists spoke with Insurance Business to share some of their key insights and takeaways from the full-day event. It was the first Women in Insurance conference for Kelly Palmese, manager, claims at At- Bay who shared her insights during a panel discussion on ‘Fighting fatigue’ and highlighted how the “energy” in the room encouraged her to be vulnerable and open when sharing her experiences.
“One of my key takeaways from this event is that everyone is on different paths and doing different things which is why it's just amazing to see everyone be able to come together and support one another in this way,” she said. “It’s been so rewarding to hear the amount of applause for people sharing their experiences – and standing ovations too. I think that in an industry that tends to be male-dominated, it’s nice to have a reminder that there are actually a lot of really great like-minded women working here.”
2023 was also the first Women in Insurance conference for Laura Hoensch, deputy general counsel at One80 Intermediaries who joined Palmese for the panel on ‘Fighting Fatigue’. Having heard about the event for years from others in her network, she said it feels hard to believe that it was her first time attending and she’s happy she finally made it.
“It’s just such a privilege to be able to connect with peers in the insurance industry,” she said. “Insurance is such an opportunity-rich field, particularly in this moment, and I think it’s a really exciting space to be in. For me, to be able to meet people in this space and to talk about these topics has been really enriching. And a lot of the topics covered are things that I’ve frequently thought about.”
Citing the example of the keynote speech from adventurer, author and MS advocate Wendy Booker, Hoensch noted that she often finds herself thinking about how to deal with challenges. But to be given a refresher, alongside the tips and hacks delivered by Booker, reminded her that there are always opportunities to learn new things, even when you’ve been interested and invested in a topic for a long time.
“The opportunity to refresh your knowledge in an area and to learn new things is so rewarding,” she said. “And, in particular, what I took away from [Wendy’s] keynote address was that it's really important, for yourself, to keep your goals, but you don't have to get there in the way that you thought that you were going to get there. That if you come at it from another angle, then you can still achieve what you initially set out to achieve.
“The second thing from her keynote speech that I really enjoyed was the idea that if you're doing something that you like, that your fears and stresses can fade away while you're doing that thing that you enjoy. I just think there's so much that she spoke about that is applicable to life generally and your career.”
It was the second Women in Insurance event for Ellen Greiper, partner at Wilson Elser, who last year delivered a keynote address at a WII conference that resonated powerfully with attendees. Thirty seconds into delivering the speech she had carefully written, she tore up her notes, she said, and instead dedicated the time allotted to discussing what it actually means to be a woman in insurance as somebody working “in the trenches” of an insurance career.
As somebody passionate about diversity and inclusion, Greiper said she’s proud that her team represents the communities it serves – and proud to be unafraid of calling out poor behaviours or company cultures when she sees them. Events like the Women in Insurance Summit are critical, she said, because they offer women a platform to share their experiences – which may differ in specifics from person to person but are shared experiences nonetheless.
“It enables women to understand that we all face the same problems and burdens and to teach each other how to get around, how to work within that and succeed and break the glass ceiling,” she said. “And I must say if it was not for my community, I would not have been able to break the glass ceiling. They lifted me up and so I lift up those around me and I can see the success of paying that forward when I see my associates moving up to partner, and when I see how they can care about our clients and work tirelessly to take care of them.”
For Angela Schaefer, Women in Insurance is a fixed date in the Safety National calendar as the specialist re/insurance provider is a long-time sponsor and supporter of the event. As vice president & chief human resources officer at Safety National, she said, she sees first-hand the importance of touchpoints like the summit which bring together colleagues, peers and partners across the insurance ecosystem.
“The key takeaway from [the event] for me as a HR professional and a leader at my company is how this reinforces that women are looking for additional guidance, and they’re looking for connection,” she said. “They want to be the amazing professionals that we know that they can be. And I’ve been inspired by the women, not just the panellists, but also the attendees and how engaged they are. It’s so exciting to see people who are newer in their careers, learning and wanting to learn more about how to be even better at their jobs.”
Women in Insurance London is taking place on November 30 at the Hilton in Canary Wharf. Registration is now open.