Is it more difficult being a woman in the insurance industry?
In this Elite Women 2022 special, Sarah Gavlick, chief territory officer - East, at Markel, joins IBTV to reflect on her rise to the top, the challenges she's faced along the way and whether being a woman has made life in the insurance industry more difficult.
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Paul: [00:00:21] Hello everyone and welcome to the latest edition of Insurance Business TV as we shine the spotlight on one of our elite women for 2022. Yes, every year, insurance business releases a special report on some of those glass ceiling breaking women who are acting as an inspiration for up and comers across the sector, either through their own achievements or through the support they are offering to others. But even though they are, these incredible success stories, are women now truly being presented with the same opportunities to succeed as men in the sector? And what more could insurers be doing to advance women's careers? Today, I'm delighted to say we are welcoming one of our elite women of 2020 to to answer all of those questions and more. That elite woman is Sarah Gavlick, Chief Territory Officer East at Markel. Sarah, many congratulations on being named an elite woman. Let's give everyone some insight into your background. A brief overview of your career, if you will. What led you to the position you're in now?
Sarah: [00:01:27] Sure. So I actually started my insurance career on the reinsurance side, the facultative reinsurance side. I was there for almost 15 years, starting as an underwriter, and then during that course of time, leading various teams and business development efforts for the company. And at that time, Markel was actually a client of mine. So I got to know the company fairly well and made the move over. It was a great opportunity to see what life was like on the carrier side with one of my clients. So I came over again. I came into the actually the X is an umbrella underwriting side there and then during the course of that time held various positions again in management and business development. And up until my recent role as Chief Territory Officer, I was the regional president for the Northeast region and really responsible for oversight of production and underwriting, working closely to develop our associates and to develop our customers. And if you look at my career all along, those were the pieces of it that I really loved. Developing people was really a passion of mine, along with really seeing our customers thrive. So all pieces of my career have sort of focused on that.
Paul: [00:02:39] Yeah, you're talking about developing people and sort of seeing customer success stories as well. Are there any particular highlights that you'd pinpoint from your career so far?
Sarah: [00:02:50] Yeah. You know, I thought about this one, and I can't think of anything specifically because I think the highlights for me along the way have really been watching my team. Anybody on my team that I work with, watching them succeed, whether it's, you know, being promoted into a different role or being granted a broader opportunity or winning a big deal that they've worked so hard on. Right. So I really my highlights, that's that's what that's what I love about my job. So any time I see success for one of my one of my associates or one of my peers, you know, it would be unfair to highlight one because I really that's what keeps me going, right? That's what that's what brings me to work every day is really getting my folks on my team greater success. So I would say overall, that's been I've seen several of those highlights over over the period of time that I've been doing this.
Paul: [00:03:44] Well, if you don't mind, I'm going to flip the question around as well from from highlights to challenges. Anything in particular that you'd highlight along the way and perhaps specifically related to you to being a woman in the industry? Any challenges there?
Sarah: [00:03:57] Yeah. Yeah. And and I and I get this question asked all the time and I sometimes feel like I'm dodging it a little bit. And I don't mean to do that, but I've never you know, I've I've lots of times been the only woman at a table. I have lots of time, lots of times been the youngest person or the youngest woman at a table. And so, you know, I kind of prepare the same way I've always prepared, over prepared. You know, I come into meetings. Nine times out of ten over prepared. I always raise my hands for opportunities. I always know if there's if there's something that needs to be done, I'll jump in and execute. So have there been challenges? Sure. But I looked at those challenges the same, whether I was working amongst a group of women or when if I was working amongst a group of men. I've always operated in the same manner, and that's really just preparing and communicating, collaborating, collaborating and really putting myself out there. When an opportunity presents itself, I grab it. So sure, there's been challenges and maybe it was associated with being a woman, but I've always looked at the landscape equally, regardless of who was in the room.
Paul: [00:05:10] Yeah, I think it's great. Obviously, if you can't sort of think of any obvious challenges that relate specifically to your gender, but you know, perhaps you sort of stand out as a as an exception. I don't know. But do you think that women perhaps genuinely have equal opportunities as men in the sector now?
Sarah: [00:05:28] Yeah. You know, we've come a long way, right? I mean, I think we can all agree that if you look at the landscape five, ten, 15, 20 years ago, it looks a lot different from a demographic perspective as far as women in the workforce overall. You know, I, I can tell you I've been really fortunate and I think maybe that's why, Paul, that I haven't had the those challenges that I always get asked about. I've worked for companies that have really put women at the forefront. They've done a really wonderful job of that. But having said that, from where I sit over the past many years, I've seen what we're doing. You know, I sit at the table when we talk about equal pay. I sit at the table when we review salary ranges, and I've seen changes be made in favor of women. So I know we're making strides as an organisation, as a as an industry. Certainly there are more women coming into the industry. If you look at training programmes across the board, I'll talk specifically about Markel's. If you look at that demographic over the past three years, five years, you can see there's more women coming into the industry and I can see it when we work with our training programmes, with our customers and our peers, there's more women. So certainly there's more women coming in. Certainly I've seen more women being put into leadership positions. So I do think there's a shift. I think that there's absolutely pockets that need to there's work to be done, but it's at the forefront. You know, every there's not a meeting that I don't attend or an industry function where we're not talking about women in the workforce or diversity in the workforce. Right. So it's definitely at the forefront of the industry's mind. And, you know, yes, there's still challenges in some pockets. Absolutely. But I think that as an industry, we are we are really working together to hold all of all of ourselves accountable, to really put that at the forefront. And I think we're doing a good job.
Paul: [00:07:15] Yeah. And it sounds like you've had some some good experiences. You mentioned that you've worked for some very supportive companies, but perhaps you can offer some advice there. I mean, what more do you think that insurance companies in general could be doing to to advance women's careers and make them feel like they have a pathway to to follow your success?
Sarah: [00:07:34] Yeah, you know, I think it's all about communication and I think it's all about leadership engaging with women and engaging with all associates, for that matter. But obviously, this as respects women, but I think it's really having leadership engaged with the women within the organisation and having continuous career development and career path and conversations, making sure that women have the tools, making sure that they're given the tools to succeed. And it's about visibility. Let's let's get those women in front of leadership, get them on projects where they can show their skill sets, expose them to different leadership, expose them to different parts of the company. So I think that's a big part of it, is really to make sure that the leaders are engaged with those women and making sure that that career development conversation continues to be had. I am a huge advocate of mentorship and you know, in some areas it's informal, in some areas it's formal. But I think anything leaders can do to ensure that women have and understand what mentorship means and have those mentors in place and sometimes maybe a corporate sponsor. Right. It's wonderful if a leader can step up and be a corporate sponsor for women. But to me, mentorship is really critical for women. And so I would encourage organizations to make sure that they at least talk about it so that it happens either organically or formally.
Sarah: [00:08:58] I also think one of the things that we have to continue to talk about is work life balance. And if you look what happened during COVID, you know, a large amount a large population of women left the workforce. Right. And I, I do think and this could be a little controversial depending on the household, certainly for my husband. But I do think that a lot of a lot of the child's care responsibilities and and the responsibilities of home, they tend to just fall to the women. Generally speaking. And I think that whether it's to the man or to the woman, I think talking about work life balance, especially in the environment we're living in today, where everything is just fast and it's a really tough marketplace. Right. I think it's important to talk about it and not be afraid to talk about tools that we can provide to our associates to make sure that that's balanced because it's an incredible, incredible added burden or added responsibility for women. And so we shouldn't be afraid to talk about it, whether a woman or a leader or whatever, to just bring it out there and talk about that. So that's what comes to my mind when I think about what organizations could be doing to continue to promote women within within their companies.
Paul: [00:10:09] And I think that's that's fantastic advice. And no doubt that, of course, the the onus is on the companies to put opportunities in front of women. But I guess the onus is also on on the women themselves to grab those opportunities when they do come along. So if you don't mind for one last question, I mean, what tip would you give to your fellow female professionals out there who want to reach the top? How can they do it?
Sarah: [00:10:32] Yeah, you know, you just said it. You took my words out of my mouth. I mean, you know, be bold, you know, ask for the opportunities. If you see an opportunity, grab it. You know, I always say to my associates, you know, your career is part your responsibility and part your managers and the leaders. It's a collaboration. So you really think about what if you see if you see something, a project or an opportunity, talk to your manager, you know, ask for it. It's I really think it's that simple, you know, and then make sure as you think about where you want to go in your career that you are that you're working with your manager to make sure you have that skill set right. So the continuous dialogue, don't be afraid to have it. And but I mean, you said it the same way. I would say if there's an opportunity out there, ask for it, because others are I mean, there are people that are asking for opportunities. So if you see something, go for it. You know, and the worst that can happen is they say you're not the right fit for it or you don't have the right skill set. And if you don't, then it starts the conversation as well. Okay, what do I need to get there and help me do that? So I think, again, for women, it's really important to communicate with your managers and with your leaders and take hold that hold yourself accountable to doing that. Right. I think it's all about holding yourself accountable for your career as much as it is holding your leadership or your manager accountable. So just keep the lines of communication open and go for it and have the confidence to do it, you know?
Paul: [00:12:00] Yeah. So I think that's fantastic advice. My huge thanks to you and massive congratulations, of course, on your women's success. We'll have some more elite guests joining us soon. So see you next time here on insurance business TV.