Zurich UK CUO on championing social mobility in insurance

Embracing the link between diversity of background and the future of talent

Zurich UK CUO on championing social mobility in insurance

Insurance News

By Mia Wallace

Time, overuse and a propensity to be found on motivational posters have gone some way to nullifying the impact of the instruction that you must be the change you want to see in the world. Despite this, across every industry sector, the presence of role models is celebrated, and the insurance profession is fortunate to play host to a range of such individuals.

Caroline Dunn (pictured), who joined Zurich UK as chief underwriting officer late last year, is one such example. During her 15-year insurance career, she has commanded several senior leadership positions in companies including RSA and Lloyd’s, and still found time to become a champion for social mobility in insurance.

“It’s a subject that I’m really passionate about,” she said. “I grew up in Wakefield which is quite a poor area and quite different culturally to living and working in London. As I was growing up and thinking about what I wanted to do, things like insurance, and careers in the City or in financial services were difficult to find out about. Certainly, I knew nothing about them.”

The daughter of a plumber and a secretary, Dunn had no family connection to financial services and career guidance at her school could offer little insight unless you wanted to be a hairdresser or a teacher or a nurse.

“My parents divorced and, after that, I went to live with my dad,” she said. “We didn’t have loads of money but he always gave me the confidence to know I could do whatever I wanted to do. I worked hard and got to university – the first in my family to do so – and I chose to study civil engineering which was quite male-dominated and then I ended up in insurance which is quite similar.”

Not having the contacts needed to know what careers and opportunities are out there creates an additional barrier to entry for young people, she said, and she feels very lucky that she was able to go to university. She was also fortunate enough to be among the last year of students to receive a full grant alongside a full loan.

Over the course of her career to date, Dunn has seen for herself how the discourse around social mobility has moved on. She has been actively involved with several committees and groups dedicated to diverse talent, she said, including with the ABI and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII).

“There’s a lot of things that individual companies and trade bodies have been doing,” she said. “At the CII, we run things like ‘Discover Risk’ where we’ll go out to schools and run games so that people can understand some of the things that we think about in insurance. When at Lloyd’s, I did some volunteering with some of the schools that were local to the office. They would come in and we would do coaching with them. That’s something that Zurich also do very well.

“There are things that are happening, but it’s usually on an organisation-by-organisation basis. And that’s good to see but I think there’s more we can do in terms of joining up some of those initiatives so we can reach places that aren’t just near the office… There’s more we need to do to make sure we are engaging broadly and UK-wide, so we don’t just focus on London.”

The wider profession needs to embrace that there is great talent waiting to be discovered in every region of the UK, and that if more is not done to tap into that talent, the industry will miss out. Insurance needs to think carefully about how it can act to engage with talent outside of London, she said, and do more outreach work to open up increased access routes into the industry.

“That means engaging with people more than once as they’re going through their latter years of schooling and thinking about their options,” she said. “Because there are so many more entry points like internships and apprenticeships that I think, by working collaboratively as an industry, we can make more people aware of.

“We’ve got such a skills need in the insurance sector that it shouldn’t matter whether we go out and speak to people at schools and they go on to join Aviva or somebody else out there. That’s still helping the industry get talented people. So, I think that collaborative working and thinking about how we can engage with schools, colleges and universities to help people understand the industry, is something we all need to do.”

As a young person considering the opportunities ahead of her, Dunn did not have the luxury of a financial services role model offering her advice and support, and so she champions the need for insurance professionals to do their part in promoting awareness of and access to insurance careers. Being able to be that role model for other young people is a full-circle moment in her career, she said, and reflecting on the people who made a difference to her along the way really cements the importance of mentorship and sponsorship in nurturing insurance talent.

“I had some great sponsors who were willing to spend the time with me and give me opportunities to learn, who took a chance on me with jobs even when it seemed I might not be fully ready for them,” she said. “Probably the two sponsors most memorable to me were men, so as I’ve got more senior, I’ve been trying to make sure I am a good role model and that I share my experiences to encourage other people from the north or other regions.

“I want to encourage people to think about what they can do, what they can achieve so they can be their best them. So, I’ve done some mentoring myself and been sponsoring some people both in Zurich but also people I’ve worked with in other roles. I think it’s just so important to try to lift other people up along the way.”

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