Catherine Mulligan, global head of cyber for Aon's Reinsurance Solutions spoke to Insurance Business about her career challenges, gendered stereotypes and her career advice for young women in the industry.
Mulligan says her career journey in a male dominated industry “has been one of self-discovery. I’ve had to find my own voice…My clients and colleagues are better served when I show up authentically as myself.”
Tokenism as the only woman in the room creates pressure to be “10 times more prepared to be taken seriously. And people of color probably would say they have to be 20 times more prepared.” While “mediocrity in the majority goes unnoticed,” the performance of individual women and people of color can be interpreted as representative of the potential of an entire group. Still, “the benefit [of preparedness] has been that I’ve grown in my depth of knowledge, increasing my confidence.”
Mulligan encourages expanding the conversation: “I am a white woman in a corporate job so that’s not representative of every woman in the entirety of the workplace. I think it’s a bigger issue than just the individual performance and choices of individual women.”
When asked if there is an advantage to being a woman in business, Mulligan observes she is “afforded a broader range of emotion and communication styles.”
“The culture restricts men’s ability to show up with their full range of humanity. We use words like ‘hard’ and ‘unemotional’ to describe male leaders, but these are neither ‘masculine’ nor necessary leadership characteristics. As a woman I have tacit permission to bring a full range of styles to hard conversations.”
Mulligan believes the industry can create space for men to show up more fully. “Men have been some of my best mentors [and] champions. I really appreciate when [they] are brave enough to be vulnerable. This is a mark of true leadership.”
Reflecting on her own career, Mulligan says that being humbled early on was her greatest gift.
“Once my ego was out of the way, I could make more intuitively wise decisions as a leader and about my own career path,” she said.
She says that women don’t need to be perfect to prove competence.
“I think women in this culture hold themselves to this idea of perfection and it really creates a terrifying trap. It’s frantic and inefficient work usually done in isolation because we don’t want to ask for help so letting go of that old belief” is freeing.
Offering advice to young women working in insurance, Mulligan says that they should learn to be direct, kind, honest and straightforward.
“Don’t be afraid of conflict,” she said.