In a recent post we considered how insurtech might offer one pathway to leadership in the insurance industry for the large number of women who feel shut out of the top roles at traditional insurance companies. We spoke to two women with experience working throughout the industry, to find out whether they saw this as a viable option, as well as some of the pros and cons of working in tech.
Pat Renzi is a Principal and CEO of the Life Technology Solutions practice of Milliman. She has worked closely with many tech companies making big waves in the life insurance industry, and has seen first-hand the effect a representative workforce can have on a company’s success.
“Early in my career I had the opportunity to be the only junior resource in a team that was starting a life insurance division of a P&C company. I learned so much so fast. It was an incredible experience and in hindsight, a bit like an insurtech.” Pat has gone on to have a lot of experience working in tech throughout her career, and acknowledges it has not been a particularly welcoming place for women for a long time. “Hopefully that is changing, but tech has a long way to go in gender diversity.”
Catherine Edgar is the Director of Business Development at life insurance pricing software company Montoux, and has previously worked at large financial services companies. She has seen the benefits of working in environments where there are more women in leadership, and appreciates when companies encourage these leaders to mentor women throughout the business. “I think often women might be deterred from going for some of those senior positions because they think they can’t achieve the work-life balance they’d want, or because ‘if I want kids, people aren’t going to put me in those positions’. Seeing people in those senior positions who have been along those life paths and are showing that you can do that if you want to - and this organisation supports you to - that’s a really positive thing.”
It seems intuitive that having more women in leadership positions would lead to attracting more women to work throughout a business. But Pat points out that it’s not enough for a few women to be leading at a company - diversity and inclusion needs to be identified as a priority for the business in order for this to be successful. Recent research showed 53 percent of surveyed professionals were unaware of their organization’s diversity strategy - or whether it exists at all. “One thing I do know is that it is hard to change the culture of an organization and especially hard for a very large organization that is hundreds of years old. Insurtechs are starting from scratch, so if they consciously focus on hiring for diversity and creating a culture that values diversity, they should be able to make an impact.”
Particularly for early stage insurtechs, it’s important to write policies around hiring and recruiting early on, that promote the building of a diverse team. “It is natural for us to want to hire people we know; people who remind us of ourselves; people who have similar interests and backgrounds,” says Pat. She also points out that a hiring mistake is proportionately a much bigger problem for a startup organization than it would be for a large insurance firm, which can make it more difficult to hire people different from yourselves.
Troubling statistics in a report from McKinsey indicated women in insurance have less substantive interactions with senior leaders at work during the week compared to men, and that this disparity actually worsens the higher they climb up the corporate ladder. Pat believes achieving a more representative leadership team leads to a far more dynamic workplace. “The organization will be more open to considering and debating different views. I think a diverse leadership team impacts recruiting at all levels for both men and women. Everyone wants to feel they can be themselves, that their opinions are valued, and that there are people who look like them running the organization. It is empowering.”
“Smaller tech companies are often willing to offer more flexibility than what larger companies currently do - with options to work from home, or be more flexible with their hours,” Catherine says. She also believes insurtechs can offer a way for women to accelerate their careers faster than at a traditional insurance company, but doesn’t think the uncertainty of that environment would suit everyone. “I think insurtech can offer you a lot of responsibility and ownership very quickly. It adds a lot to your skillset compared to a traditional organization where you can only influence so much. But being a less-established path, it can be less clear what that progression looks like. You can lack the defined career ladder of a larger, more traditional company, so it feels risky.”
Another approach can be for women to raise their own profile in the industry, by getting involved in writing articles and applying for speaking slots at events. “It is challenging to speak up, to be yourself, to challenge the status quo when you see or perceive that you are an outsider,” says Pat. Now more than ever there is a great deal of pressure on event organizers to have better representation of women on their speaker and panelist lineups, and these opportunities only encourage more women in the audience to help shape commentary of the industry.
Catherine’s own decision to move to an insurtech when it was still in its early stage wasn’t an easy one to make. “It was a risk to leave quite a stable position and do something different. But I wanted to expand my horizons, and get exposure to new technology I was really interested in. It’s a big move to leave a stable, established company, that has policies for everything in place, so you know where you stand. On the flipside, at an early stage insurtech you can have a big influence in creating their new policies as they grow, and ensuring these really serve the team’s needs.”
Pat sees the pros and cons of working for an insurtech, but believes it can be a great path for some women to grow their careers and truly make an impact. “It is important to take a hard look at the organization and their values. If you feel you will be welcome and valued, the experience of working in a small, dynamic organization is unique and gives you a tremendous opportunity to understand and experience all aspects of building and running an organization.”
If you have a topic you'd like us to cover, or you'd like to become a contributor, we'd love to hear from you! Please email our editorial team with an overview.