Marsh's Ailsa King reveals a vast, previously untapped pool of insurance talent

"I think this could grow exponentially"

Marsh's Ailsa King reveals a vast, previously untapped pool of insurance talent

Insurance News

By Mia Wallace

“Don’t think twice.” That is the advice from Ailsa King (pictured), chief client officer, Marsh UK & Ireland, to women considering a return to the insurance industry.

“Instead, grasp the opportunity with all your passion and make the most of it, because there’s a world of opportunity at the moment and I really don’t think you will look back once you’ve experienced something different,” she said.

King is one of several senior leaders lending their experience and expertise to a newly formed cross-sector returners programme, developed by nine insurers and brokers to encourage more “career break” women to return to insurance. The initiative couldn’t have come at a better time, she said, as women tend to make the bulk of the adjustments acquired when starting a family, a fact accentuated over the last year with the COVID-19 lockdown enforcing remote working and home-schooling.

Walking the tightrope of balancing familial and professional responsibilities is something King has done throughout her own life and career. She noted that carrying on working in a client-facing role throughout the lives of her own three children has given her a unique insight into the challenges faced by women who have taken on child-rearing responsibilities. Living out in the countryside when her children where younger, she recalled how the mothers of children at the local school reflected on moving out of the city and giving up work while their husbands commuted into London.

“For the most part, these women had given up their career and it was a few years later and their children were older and at school, and they really missed the workplace, their career, the routine and having their own independence,” she said. “And there were quite a few mums that told me they were jealous of what I was doing because they realised they gave up their careers too soon. But really, why should that be the end? If you’ve chosen to dedicate certain years to [raising your children], it shouldn’t mean the end of your career.”

The reality, King said, is that people lose confidence in their relevance and their abilities after a period out of the office, a fact she is intimately familiar with having taken maternity leave for six months after having each of her children. But the truth is that once you get back into the swing of things, it all works out and it’s hard to remember why you were ever worried. Perhaps one of the only positive aspects of the COVID crisis is that everybody will be experiencing something similar when they return to the office, which will hopefully lead to more empathy for the struggle that career break women face.

King, who is actively involved with several organisations promoting women as senior leaders, first became aware of the returners programme, of which Marsh is a supporting partner, though her HR partner - and it was an instant match to the objectives she most passionately promotes. There is a whole army of experienced and dedicated professional women who require practical, accessible solutions to enable their next step.

She noted that the ‘Insuring Women’s Futures’ initiative has highlighted the different stages in a woman’s life where choices are made that can have long-term financial implications. She is delighted, therefore, that the returners programme is looking at a broad range of ages and not being prescriptive about who can take part. It has to be about concrete actions broad stroke discussions, she said, and she is proud to be part of an initiative coming up with real solutions.

“I also like the coaching element to this,” she said. “At Marsh, we are being very broad in what sort of skills we’re looking at - we’re open to whatever skills we can take on board and then providing appropriate coaching, and that addresses those confidence issues. We’re not dropping people in the deep end here, this is a coached development programme and lots of people in our organisation are keen to get involved and be one of our coaches and team leaders.

“One of the most rewarding parts of the job is being able to help other people, and I think people have a stronger sense now of being part of a community and wanting to give back to that community. The whole experience of living through the last year has meant a lot of people now see that as being as important as the day-to-day responsibilities of their role.”

It is no surprise to King that the programme has generated so much cross-sector support. As an industry, she said, insurance is a real community, and that connectivity aspect is something that everybody has missed while remote working over the last year. Being able to come together on initiatives like this has been a real boost and an indicator that the collaborative spirit which sets the industry apart is still very much alive.

The first wave of this programme will be the proof of concept that its partners are looking for, she said, and she would be shocked if it doesn’t work because she has seen first-hand the sheer size of the pool of talent accessible. The first cohort will set the tone of the programme and reveal the lessons that need to be considered as it expands further. With the right marketing and the right publicity, she is confident the insurance profession can tap into some of the talent it has not been able to make use of over the last few decades.

“I think this could grow exponentially,” she said, “and we could bring in a real variety of talents and outlooks that represent all different types of the customers of our industry as well… I think this could grow significantly over the next five years and the knock-on effect of this would be that, in five years’ time, it will have made a difference to the way senior leadership think about sourcing talent.”

This year represents a proof point for the programme, she said, and with that in mind, she encourages everybody to get involved and to start thinking about the people in their lives who could be positively impacted by this initiative. At Marsh, King is asking colleagues to think about their own networks, to think about the people they know like the mothers she met at the school gates years ago. The opportunity now is to get in contact with these women and let them know it is a waste of their talent not to re-join the profession which is primed to support them.

Related Stories

Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!