Driving Innovation and #EmbracingEquity: Empowering Women in the Insurance Industry

International Women's Day (IWD) is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and reflect on progress towards gender equality, including the critical aspect of fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.

To mark IWD 2023, we’re excited to highlight some of the amazing women who are making a difference in the insurance world. In this article, we speak to three talented women at IQUW to learn about their experiences, insights and perspectives on what it means to be a woman in insurance.

Through these conversations we hope to inspire and empower the next generation of female leaders, as well shedding light on the opportunities and challenges women face in our industry.

Introducing Ola Bello, Head of Internal Audit at IQUW Group

Hi Ola! Great to speak to you. What is your role at IQUW, and what does your work involve?

Hi there! As the Head of Internal Audits at IQUW, my role is all about making sure we're protecting the business and working towards the greater good. It's a job that requires a lot of attention to detail and logical thinking, which I find really stimulating. I work closely with stakeholders in all areas of the business to identify potential risks and find solutions to problems, with the ultimate goal of doing everything can to manage risks and meet our obligations.

What do you think is the most important skill for someone in your role?

While discipline-specific technical skills are crucial for my role, I also believe that soft skills such as collaboration, teamwork and the ability to inspire trust are equally important. I find that when I can collaborate with stakeholders and work towards the same goal, I can do my job better. Authenticity is also important, and I value being empowered to be myself at work.

What changes have you seen in the insurance industry since you've been working, specifically regarding gender diversity, and how has IQUW addressed them?

When I first started in the industry in 2005, it was totally dominated by men, and there were very few women in positions of power. For example, when I first attended my first Audit Committee meeting in ERS, there were approximately 10-12 people in attendance with only one woman – our CFO. It was a stark reminder of the lack of gender diversity in the industry.

However, since then, I've seen IQUW intentionally placing women in positions where they can challenge the company and affect change – something which I know is characteristic of the industry more broadly too. At IQUW, we also have a dedicated mentoring programme that many women are engaging in, which is fantastic.

What one thing would you like to see change in the future to help women succeed in the insurance industry?

I would like to see mentoring programs introduced sooner in people's careers to help them recognise their strengths and develop them from an early stage. I believe that mentoring can be a powerful tool to help people realise their potential and make a meaningful impact – and it’s crucial not to leave this essential element too late.

What one thing have you learned throughout your career that you believe is important for women in the insurance industry?

One thing I've learned is that it's important to believe that we're enough and that our drive, ambition, and the desire to do well are more important than being perfect. Women in the industry can face enormous pressure to conform to certain expectations, but I believe that being true to ourselves and having the confidence to pursue our goals can be incredibly empowering.

Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Ola. Your insights and experiences have been truly fascinating and inspiring. It's clear that your dedication to your role, your colleagues, and the insurance industry as a whole is making a significant impact.

Meet Cindy Jiang, Political Risk Underwriter at IQUW

Hi Cindy - Can you tell us about your current role at IQUW?

Four months ago, I joined IQUW's political risk team as an underwriter. My role involves servicing clients such as major commercial banks, enterprises and financial institutions, and I'm responsible for mainly providing political risk or contract frustration coverage to new or existing clients. I also work on broker engagement strategies, conduct general risk analysis and monitor on a day-to-day basis the internal book of business which covers a multitude of territories, mainly across emerging markets.

As you might imagine, extensive market knowledge (at a macro and micro level) is essential, and it’s my job to be at the forefront of major events and forthcoming trends across the world. I work closely with political analysts and other experts to inform and shape our approach.

What I love about IQUW is the supportive environment that encourages and motivates me. I think this element is a little-known but essential aspect of the insurance industry – across the board is a collaborative culture where people feel valued, supported and heard. It gives me the time and opportunity to learn and work as part of a collective, and I appreciate the idea that the market works together, including clients, brokers, and other underwriters.

Another great aspect of the industry is that there are so many opportunities, at all levels. Even when I started out, on the graduate scheme, I was able to experience dealing with high-profile clients and complex transactions immediately. I found the experience challenging, but also supportive and rewarding – and I think this characterises the industry as a whole.

What changes have you seen in the insurance industry since you've been working?

I've always worked in a heavily male-dominated team, and it's not always easy. But I've seen progress being made, and I know that IQUW is actively working towards promoting more women and people from diverse backgrounds to join the industry.

I think the insurance world is generally supportive and wants to push for more diversity, but the reality is that – just as in so many other industries - progress is slow. It's important to actively and purposefully work to create an environment where people feel they can be themselves and harness and develop their own unique skills, rather than looking at numbers or quotas in isolation. I think it's important to keep pushing for change.

What more does the industry need to do to drive this change?

Simply, to promote and recognise diversity of thought and background at all levels. Different experiences and perspectives can help to identify new opportunities and challenges, which ultimately benefit the company. I believe hiring processes need to change to purposefully harness a range of different experiences and backgrounds. By doing so, we can continue to push for progress in the industry and ensure that everyone has a voice.

How do you think you can personally play a role in promoting diversity and inclusion in the industry?

I think it's important that I continue this in my own work by supporting women to have as many experiences as possible and meet people at all levels. I want to help them see that they can excel in the industry and be part of making positive change. While cultural change needs to come from the top, I believe that everyone has a role to play in promoting diversity and inclusion.

Thanks, Cindy. It was fascinating to learn about your experiences and insights. Thank you for sharing your story.

Introducing Tilly Howson Ray, Pricing Actuary at IQUW

Hi Tilly! Happy International Women’s Day. What is your role at IQUW, and what does your work involve?

I joined ERS (the motor syndicate in the IQUW Group) in 2018 as a pricing analyst in the commercial team, where I worked on projects related to heavy goods vehicles and specialist commercial vehicles, before moving to the fleet and agriculture side. A year and a half ago, I moved over to IQUW as part of a new pricing team, which has been a huge opportunity – giving me the chance to work with energy, marine, aviation and cargo underwriters.

As a Pricing Actuary, my main responsibility is to support the underwriters and provide them with the tools to assess the adequacy of premiums for often unique and complex risks. As well as technical skills like data analysis and modelling, I’ve been able to develop and use soft skills like collaboration, communication, critical thinking and much more.

Working closely with the underwriters, I have to understand the nuances of each class of business to provide them with the best possible tools and insights. I enjoy the challenge of finding solutions to complex problems and working collaboratively to achieve our goals. It's a great feeling to know that my work has a real impact on the company and helps to ensure that we're providing our clients with the best possible service.

What progress have you seen throughout your career, specifically regarding gender diversity?

I've been fortunate to work in a well-balanced pricing team at both ERS and IQUW, where women are empowered to succeed, and I’ve worked with a number of strong and knowledgeable women in Pricing who have inspired me and demonstrated the opportunities available to talented and hard-working people to progress through the ranks.

We also put much emphasis on nurturing early talent. We have seen the real impact that talented women have in the workplace, with their opinions being well-received and having an impact on other people in the room.

What needs to change to develop a more inclusive workplace?

The insurance industry can do more to foster a culture of openness and inclusivity by promoting a wider range of social opportunities that cater to the diverse interests of employees from different backgrounds and teams. This can involve activities that appeal to everyone across the business and build a sense of community internally. Additionally, it's important to ensure that external social events are inclusive as well.

Furthermore, it's important to maintain the flexible working policies that were introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rise of remote working has given employees more control over their work-life balance and has enabled them to better manage their personal and professional responsibilities. I believe that this flexibility is a positive change that many people appreciate and value, and it’s great that we’re continuing to promote flexibility.

As a woman working in the insurance industry, have you faced any challenges or obstacles in your career?

Personally, I've been fortunate to work in a well-balanced pricing team at ERS and IQUW, which actively works to empower women. It’s so important to have role models and mentors who can help guide and support women as they navigate the industry.

What advice would you give to other women who are interested in pursuing a career in the insurance industry?

My advice would be to find a mentor or role model who can help guide and support you as you navigate the industry. It's also important to be persistent and to keep pushing yourself to learn and grow. Finally, don't be afraid to take on new challenges and to step out of your comfort zone. The insurance industry is constantly evolving, and there are always new opportunities to explore.

Thanks so much Tilly, for your insights and experiences – so interesting to hear.

So, as we wrap up our discussions with these incredible talented women in the insurance industry, we're reminded of the importance of celebrating and empowering women in all areas of business. It's clear that there is still work to be done to ensure that women have equal opportunities and are given the support they need to succeed. But by continuing to promote diversity and inclusion, and support women, we can work towards a more equitable future for all.

At IQUW, we're committed to being part of this ongoing effort. We're proud to be part of an industry that is making progress towards gender equality and we will continue to do our part to support and uplift women in the workplace and beyond.