For a long time, the insurance industry had been known as a male-dominated environment. In recent years, however, diversity has moved to the forefront of agendas, and there is an increasing number of female chief executives who are leading organizations with substantial assets.
Gina Hardy, general manager and CEO of the North Carolina Joint Underwriting Association and North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association (NCJUA-NCIUA) and recipient of Insurance Business’s Elite Women in Insurance Award for 2021, is one of the women who have broken the glass ceiling and are taking the lead in transforming the industry. In a conversation with IB managing editor Paul Lucas, she shared her experiences in becoming the CEO of two non-profit insurance companies with over US$461 million in premiums and more than one US$102 billion in property coverage.
Hardy traces her career beginnings to two opportunities she encountered while studying at Emory University. One of these was working for the House Committee on Insurance at the Georgia General Assembly, during the time that the Captive Insurance Company Act was enacted. Another was working for a large brokerage firm on risk retention groups for aviation clients.
“[Those] opportunities showed me the diversity of the industry and how much insurance and risk management could make a difference in the larger economy,” she said.
In her current roles as the CEO of organizations that provide property insurance for North Carolina residents who cannot obtain insurance from the private market, she leads the promotion of disaster mitigation and resilience among policyholders. She emphasizes that in a hurricane-prone area, “keeping communities intact and helping people to return to their homes is critical to our mission”.
One of NCJUA-NCIUA’s programs is helping policyholders connect with an evaluator who can help them upgrade to the use of fortified roofs, which help protect structures against weather disturbances. The organization’s programs enable it to avoid losses and achieve cost savings as policyholders benefit from having houses that are more likely to endure storms and other natural disasters. NCJUA-NCIUA also works with universities in studying roof fragility, the effectiveness of fortified roofs and what motivates people to engage in mitigation for their homes. Furthermore, NCJUA-NCIUA is calling for legislation to enact tax exemptions on the grants provided to consumers so that the money can be spent completely on mitigation, thus enabling coastal communities and states to deal with natural disasters effectively. Hardy believes that resilient construction is important because it reduces the time spent on waiting for contractors, as well as enabling customers to deal with shortages in the supply of lumber and other construction materials, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With regard to her professional success, she acknowledges the importance of mentors and continuous learning. Another key role is performing tasks outside her job description and volunteering for larger corporate projects. Success, she says, is not so much due to climbing a career ladder step by step but also making lateral moves. In her case, such a move is “a change from running operations to running a national product and being a business owner for a major IT initiative.”
“Handling diverse projects and roles helped prepare me to become CEO of an organization,” she said.
Keeping in mind the lessons she has learned from managing the impacts of hurricanes, Hardy recalls the motto her employees came up with: “[our work is] ‘a mission, not a position,’ which characterized our entire organization in that first-responder role because as we got money out the door, we could get communities rebuilt and lives restored.”
In addition to fulfilling this responsibility, she supports the Director Diversity Initiative of the University of North Carolina School of Law, which assists corporations in finding qualified candidates for their board of directors to ensure racial, ethnic and gender diversity.
“[If] you look at the research on diversity, diversity really pays dividends. It helps with financial performance and [enhances] shareholder value,” she said.
Hardy encourages women to believe in themselves and “be willing to take on new and different assignments”. In her career, the turning point was her decision to work on the issuance of catastrophe bonds, an area where she did not have previous experience but nevertheless succeeded in. She also advises women to “find a diverse set of mentors and then be willing to mentor others” as well as to contribute to the efforts of universities or professional groups.