Emma Rawlinson, CEO of Atlanta Group, discusses how far women have come in the insurance sector.
Do you believe insurance is a level playing field for women and men now?
There has always been a stereotype in the insurance industry and actually in the wider financial services industry of a ‘male dominated’ environment – especially for those in an executive position. However I certainly believe (and can see) that slowly but surely that stereotype is changing.
When I look around my Atlanta team, the executive function was 10% female just four years ago… today it sits at 40%. If I look past my immediate exec team towards our directors and heads of population, we have a really good and balanced mix of male and female colleagues. There is so much opportunity in Atlanta, we are always executing a plan, we’re always changing something, we’re always buying something or integrating something, or building something. So no matter what your gender, if you perform well, are driven and have clear aspirations – Atlanta will help you grow.
I would like to think that this is similar for the rest of the industry. There is currently so much demand in the market for talented individuals, and both males and females should have equal opportunities of taking the challenge and driving business forwards.
There is of course more work to be done, but I really do believe that the last few years have seen some great improvements.
Did the pandemic and the change to working practices shift things so they are better for women?
The pandemic forced businesses, even those who had been reluctant to embrace change, to re-assess the way they were operating – the spread of the virus and the serious nature of the consequences demanded action. Atlanta were very quick to mobilise, investing in both our colleagues and technology to get people safely set up in a home working environment. Some 90% of our staff now have homeworking capability. This change has created benefits and opportunities for both the business and our colleagues.
Our new ways of working have meant that our colleagues are able to work more flexibly than before. We know it’s important for parents to be able to take their children to school, or to be on hand to collect children where needed, or go to a parents’ evening, or even attend their child’s assembly. The beauty is that this is now possible across most businesses.
The days of women lacking career opportunities and having to stay at home to look after the children are dwindling (and this was even before the pandemic) but the way the world has reacted to Covid has certainly made it easier for parents to adapt their work and home life to strike a better balance. Hopefully the new approach to working has provided many women with the encouragement and opportunity to come forward for roles they wouldn’t have normally applied for due to their family/home life commitments. This is certainly a positive thing.
Who do you think is the most impressive woman in insurance?
I am very lucky to say that I am surrounded by an array of female talent within insurance. One thing I have noticed, coming from a non-insurance background, is the number of females who hold senior and executive level positions who continue to be recognised by industry initiatives. Our very own chief administration officer Jenny Devaney was a nominee for the Women in Insurance last year.
I also have the pleasure of working closely with Diane Cougill, Ardonagh CFO, who I have watched achieve some clearly outstanding results over the past couple of years. She has a great approach to work, empowerment and mentoring that instils confidence and belief in other aspiring women
What more can the insurance sector do to create a level playing field for women?
The insurance sector can only do what all industries can and should do … continue to provide opportunity free from bias and drive a clear culture of diversity and inclusion.
I, like the majority of my exec team, am a parent who loves spending time with my family, and I am also driven and ambitious. These two things don’t need to be mutually exclusive. I am fortunate to have worked alongside Ian Donaldson, who has been a prime example of investing in his team based on capability rather than gender. Progressive and inclusive behaviour, together with a respect for ‘diversity of thought’ will help any industry to take a positive step forward.
This was originally published as part of a wider article by Insurance Age on 8 March 2022.