Inga Beale (pictured) needs no introduction. A titan of the insurance industry, she is easily the most inspiring woman you will meet if you ever get the chance.
She was the first female CEO of Lloyd’s of London, who made huge changes to the organisation by modernising and digitising the organisation, not without controversy for doing so.
It’s a Tuesday morning when we sit down to chat and it’s hard not to be a little in awe of the woman who is such an icon to so many in the industry.
Beale started her career at Prudential back in the 1980s, after doing an internship there over the summer holidays.
She originally thought she was going to be an actuary because she loved mathematics, but after being offered a job as a trainee underwriter she fell in love with the world of insurance and never looked back.
“I immediately got captivated by this world of insurance and reinsurance,” Beale said. “I soon realised the social value of insurance – one moment, there might be an earthquake happening in Mexico, and all these people were tragically having their lives either ended or disrupted in some way, but then we were sending lots of money to put their lives back together.”
Unlike many other women at the top of the insurance industry, Beale says that her career wasn’t a rapid rise to the top. In fact, for a decade and a half she did much the same thing—worked as a trainee underwriter and then an underwriter.
After 14 years she got her first promotion, and that was what kicked off her career progression – not your typical story of a CEO. She worked in the US for a while before heading back to Europe, and then took on the top job at Lloyd’s.
It was this position, as both the first female and openly LGBT CEO—Beale is bisexual—that made waves. Lloyd’s had been such a male dominated institution for so long, and this was a big change to put Beale in charge.
When asked how she felt about her legacy of being the first bisexual woman to hold that position, Beale is proud, but said that when offered the job it actually wasn’t the first thing that came to mind.
“I feel really proud of that legacy,” she said. “Life never necessarily goes as you plan it. I didn’t think when I got offered the role at Lloyd’s, I’ll go in and really do something for women or the LGBT community.
“I thought, I’m really excited about taking this job on, I must modernise this market because it’s so special, yet I realised if we didn’t introduce technology we would be losing out to the rest of the world. What I didn’t realise at the time was the amount of work that needed to be done around the culture.”
The culture was a major issue at Lloyd’s. There are parts of the organisation that resisted Beale as CEO and she got incredible amounts of trolling and abuse from inside Lloyd’s itself, including anonymous and signed letters, as well as emails.
This did have a big impact, but Beale said she developed coping mechanisms in order to keep doing the job and making a difference.
“To get to where I’ve got to in insurance you have to be incredibly resilient,” she explained. “I have just learned to cut things out of my mind if they’ve been criticisms that I think have been unfounded or unjustified.
“If someone came along and they were particularly rude to me or abusive, I would basically delete them from my mind, and delete them if they came by email. If they came in letter format, and I did get anonymous letters – actually not all anonymous [because] some of them were quite proud to put their name to things – I would throw those away. And that was my coping mechanism.
“If it wasn’t too abusive and I thought they were an important person to deal with and not anonymous, I would actually invite them in for a conversation. I would try and understand more where they were coming from and also give them my point of view. And most of the time unless they were very unreasonable, you can end up at the end of a conversation in a much better place.”
Given the conversations happening in the industry currently, around harassment and making it safe for women, what advice does Beale have for young women given her experiences with trolling and abuse?
Ultimately, she says she wants women to speak up, but also know their limits and know when to walk away.
“You should be speaking up. Most firms would have a speaking up policy, they will have a safe hotline for you to use,” she said.
“If a culture you’re working in is fundamentally not changing and doesn’t feel right, you can only work there for so long. I’ve done it in my past, where I thought I could stick some culture out but after a few years it starts to eat away at you and then you should make the choice to move to somewhere that feels better. But I would just ask people to please have the courage to speak up.”