Episode 10 Transcription – Insurance State of Mind

Misha: Welcome to the GSD Factor Podcast. I’m your host Misha Bleymaier-Farrish, and today, I am honored to have many guests from around the world. I have Jennifer in Boston. I have Theresa in Australia, and I have Vinita in Canada. Welcome ladies.

GROUP: Hi there. Theresa: Hi Misha.

Misha: So let’s quickly go around the room and introduce yourselves to our GSD Factor podcast listeners.

Vinita: Sounds great. Thank you, Misha. I’m Vinita Jajware-Beatty, President of the Toronto Insurance Women’s Association where I represent TIWA as part of the global Dive In Lloyds in London, Diversity and Inclusion Festival as chair of Canada and on the steering advisory board for the Americas.

Vinita: So, thank you so much. Misha, I’m very thrilled to be here with you.

Misha: Thanks for being here, Vinita. You are a very busy woman, and I really appreciate you carving out the time to be with us. Theresa, thank you for waking up so early on your time. Share with everybody a little bit about yourself.

Theresa: Yeah, thanks, Misha. Happy to be here. My name is Theresa Blissing and I’m also running a podcast, the Asia InsurTech Podcast, which is the first and largest podcast around insurance and InsureTech in Asia.

Theresa: I’m also working with the Digital Insurer, and I am the head of TDI Connect. So, that’s me in a nutshell.

Misha: Thank you, Theresa. And my US counterpart, Jennifer. Thank you so much for being here. Share a little bit about yourself.

Jennifer: Hi, Misha. Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of this podcast. I’m Jennifer Wilson. I work for HUB International. I’m the Director of Specialty Claims, and I’m the Cyber Practice Leader for New England. I’m thrilled to be here and honored to be amongst Theresa and Vinita’s company in this podcast. Thank you.

Misha: Awesome. So GSD Factor podcast listeners, as you can tell, I have some amazing dynamic GSD women in my midst. And I’m really excited. First of all, we’re gonna talk a little bit about the importance of empowering yourself.

Misha: We have women from around the world throughout a lot of different industries and both the insurance space, as well as the tech space and the digital space. And so we’re gonna talk about how you empower yourself in these roles, in these industries. And so I’m gonna open it up to Vinita.

Misha: Vinita, what is that landscape of women in the insurance space today? As we sit here in 2022.

Vinita: It’s hard to believe that it’s 2022 in the evolution that the industry has gone through. When I first began in the practical side of insurance over 15 years ago, as a practicing risk insurance manager, specialized in construction risk claims and equipment breakdown.

Vinita: It was very much a technical facet of insurance, which was extraordinarily male-dominated. It’s actually part of what drew me to the fraternal aspect of joining the Toronto Insured Women’s Association, which became a very safe way to navigate what at the time was an extremely male-dominated industry.

Vinita: In Canada, we’re extraordinarily benefited by the Insurance Institute of Canada’s Demographic Research. Which actually over 15 years ago, started to track the demographic issues or challenges that the industry had faced both from an age and succession planning standpoint and a gender diversity standpoint.

Vinita: Professionally speaking, we were still in an era of time of women holding women back. But, as we look at the true numbers in Canada, at least we’re nearly 70% women.

Vinita: In the property and casualty side of the insurance industry. So a very strong pipeline of talent that goes from new entrance to about middle management. But even in 2022, we’re still extraordinarily challenged with that pathway towards executive leadership and then ultimately getting into corporate governance board of directors role, which really tends to be the lever of change for many multinational organizations.

Vinita: I’d say the climate today is vitally different than five years ago or 15 years ago when I walked in, and I’m sure our lovely friends on the podcast will share much more about this and how this aligns with personal journeys.

Misha: No, absolutely. And I really appreciate just your insight into kind of that landscape of where we stand. You know, I’m just gonna ask to Theresa and Jennifer, do you see a similarity? I’ll open the floor to Theresa first and then Jennifer if you’ll bring us in home on the US side.

Theresa: I’ve been in Asia on and off since 2009. And I do see developments, and we have more and more women entering the industry, but it is still a very male-dominated industry.

Theresa: And even, you know, if you look at countries like Thailand, where you have a lot of women in management positions, But if you are looking at financial services or especially insurance, you will still find that it is very male-dominated. So that is one thing. But, I do see a lot of change, and I do see amazing women coming up all over the region. InsureTech Australia, for example, has now their second female CEO, right? We are seeing CEOs leading insurance companies as well as successful insure techs in Asia.

Theresa: So I can absolutely agree with Vinita. We do see change happening, but it is still not where it should be. If we are looking at the statistics right, I think we have around 45 insurance companies in the Fortune 500, only four of these companies have a female CEO. That is less than 10%. And, until we have women equally represented in management positions, have women have a spot at the table. This is what we need to achieve. So, I think there’s still a lot of work to be done, but also we are seeing change. And that is amazing.

Theresa: So, Jennifer, your view is on this?

Jennifer: Yeah. So it’s interesting. I wasn’t planning on talking about this for the podcast, but what Vinita said in the opening just triggered a conversation. I was recently asked what would I change about the industry right now.

Jennifer: And, you know, I reflected on that. And said I think we’re headed in the right direction. The only thing I would change is just to see us get a little bit further, a little faster. But from my perspective, I oversee cyber claims and employment practices, liability claims, and what I’ve seen in the past, say.

Jennifer: Six years is I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in our industry, as Vinita and Theresa both said. Like, this is a very male-dominated industry. It’s a very white male-dominated industry. And yet, in a very short amount of time we have seen following the Me Too movement, we saw companies forced to put women in leadership positions, put women on, on boards, in leadership finance decision-making positions, and I think that clients are very receptive to that.


Jennifer: From the broker’s perspective, when we’re going to RFPs, we’re seeing women in the buyer’s position, and they are asking us, what are you doing with respect to equality? And who do you have in leadership positions by way of female executives? We’re also seeing a lot of change in diversity.

Following the Black Lives movement recently, we’ve seen a lot of clients demanding to know what we are doing for diversity. We’re seeing a lot of companies investing in diversity, inclusion DEI Programs. I can speak to HUB International. We just recently hired a director of DEI.

Jennifer: And so a lot of companies are investing in areas that I think three or four years ago, they wouldn’t even have thought of. So, I think the progression is very positive. And I think that in the very near future, we’re going to see a lot more women and a lot more diverse leadership.

Vinita: It’s funny, Jennifer, because from that perspective with DEI and especially the work that we’re doing with Dive In, it seems like in a post-Black Lives Matter, post-pandemic reality, in many ways, the initiatives were actually accelerated and that transparency from a buyer perspective. We see that across the industry, not just within insurance, it’s understanding that DEI needs to be baked into the core of a company, how they staff, how they procure goods and services, and in a way, although it’s taken this amount of time to come from, A to D let’s say at the end of the day in the short, last two years of this pandemic, it certainly seems like we’ve made great spades in a very short duration of time.

Jennifer: Completely agree.

Misha: So, I love how this conversation has evolved. And to our listeners, we came in with kind of thoughts and an outline, and it’s taken a little bit of a pivot, but that’s what I love about these conversations with amazing thought leaders in our space. And so what I wanna shift to with this in mind, right, is now let’s talk about, what are some of those positive or negative experiences that have helped shape the future. And, Jennifer, I’d love to pitch it to you first, and then maybe Theresa, why don’t you bring that question home for us?

Jennifer: Yeah, so I had a somewhat negative situation that I just stepped back and figured out how I can turn it into a positive. When I was first hired, I was brought in as a senior manager. And I think that there were a handful of women managers in similar roles and I was coming in with a little more experience than they had and I don’t think that it was received very well. And I think that everybody was jockeying for a position and these women who were there at the company much longer than me didn’t take well to bringing me on board and they made it quite difficult for me to do my job and be successful.


Jennifer: And after a year of trying to make it work with them, I recognize, you know, they don’t want me in their realm, and it’s not making me happy. And I’m sure that the executive team was exhausted from the battle. And I just took a step back and looked at the needs of the company and found an area

Jennifer: that the company did not have an expertise in and they had a huge need. And I just said, Hey, let me do this instead. I think I can bring great value to our clients. And so I offered to be the Specialty Claims Director and offer our clients a service that HUB hadn’t even contemplated before. Fast forward seven years later, and it’s one of our most successful departments.

Jennifer: Then, following the pandemic, I saw that with the remote working and the explosion of ransomware attacks, I saw another need in the company where we didn’t have hands-on cyber claims experts. So I, again, raised my hand and said, Hey, here’s another need you have; I’m happy to bring this into my department.

Jennifer: And we have been just dealing with the onslaught of ransomware claims and cyber claims. We’re able to offer our clients boots-on-the-ground expertise that HUB wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t just raised my hand and saw the need. So, I think that my advice to folks is, look to find a way to pair your company’s needs with your expertise and see if you can make a match there and bring value to the company rather than trying to force your way into a role that isn’t making sense for the whole.

Misha: What I love about your story. Jennifer is it’s actually one of the themes in my book, and it talks about when we are going in a direction, and then we are hit with a hurdle, we’re hit with an obstacle, and it’s that resilience.

Misha: And it’s that patience to pause, reflect, recalibrate. Pivot and relaunch. And so, your story is such a great tie into what we’re talking about in the GSD Factor book. So Theresa, share with our listeners a little bit about some of your experiences in this same way.

Theresa: I also really love Jennifer’s story here. It’s all about creating a space for yourself where you can add value and where you can make a difference. And, sometimes, that means pivoting. Sometimes that means to do the brave thing of venturing into something new.

Theresa: But yeah, I find that it often pays off, and I can tell the story how I got to start the Asia Insure Podcast. So, I’m doing a lot of conference speaking, and pre-pandemic was quite busy. I was speaking at conferences in several different countries in Asia, and I was at the CEO summit organized by the Asia Insurance Review in Singapore.

Theresa: And I was a speaker there in the morning; pre-conference you have these coffee breaks, breakfast networking sessions. And I bumped into a colleague of mine older European gentleman, like the perfect poster boy for insurance. And we stood there and had a chat, had a coffee, and then three other gentlemen joined, and they immediately handed their business cards, and they completely ignored me. And, I was so frustrated about it because they looked at me and they immediately assumed that I must be the assistant, probably no one who was worth handing out a business card until later I was on stage delivering a talk at this conference.

Theresa: This was the point where I was like, you know what, I’m starting. And I had been talking with Michael Waits about the idea of starting our own Asia InsurTech Podcast for a while. And that was the point where it was like, we’re gonna do this. And you’re gonna know my name before I know your name.

Theresa: And it actually has paid off. Today, I’m one of the experts in Asia on all things innovation, insure tech, and how technology is reshaping the insurance industry. But it also, it just takes that step to put yourself out there. And yeah, I’m not gonna say, I always wanted to be, speaking at conferences, et cetera, English is not my mother tongue, and it takes effort.

Theresa: But, if we want to succeed in something that we are passionate about and we believe in, we just have to put ourselves out there and have to believe in ourselves and promote what we are doing. And I think that is something that a lot of women are not doing enough and are not comfortable doing, right?

Theresa: And I see this again with the podcast. So many times, if I reach out to a man and say like, Hey, we would love to have you on the Asia InsurTech Podcast. I don’t think there was ever a man who said No, I don’t; I’m not sure if I have something worth sharing. You know how many times this happened to me with women where I approach them, and they are like, like all of us here, right? Accomplished women in senior leadership positions. So many times, they get back to me and say Oh, I’m not sure if I have something, you know, that is worth sharing. I’m not sure. You know, we have to change that. I can tell from my experience, it pays off to go out there and present yourself. You know, that is really something positive. I drew from this quite frustrating situation. I found myself in all those years back.


Misha: I love your story. And again, I am loving the tie-ins into my GSD Factor book. And this is where I love how the conversation just organically goes with the four of us. The GSD Factor life right, is built on six main attributes.

Misha: And one of those attributes is confident assertiveness. Because, especially for women, but also for men, it’s that confidence to know that they are worthy and that they have something to say, and we talk about their voice is their strongest weapon. But, it’s also that assertiveness to say, yes, I have something to say, I have something to contribute.

Misha: And I love the confident assertiveness of, you will know my name before I know your names. Thank you for sharing that story. Vinita would love for you and I, as we wrap up this podcast today, what would that advice be that you give to your younger self?

Vinita: Oh boy. Thinking so much about what Jennifer and Theresa have already shared and so much of the advice I give actually lends to their anecdotes, not dissimilar to Theresa. When I started out in the industry, albeit as a young person of color to be involved in rooms and spaces which were historically meant for Caucasian men.

Vinita: I truly had very much the same experiences as Theresa, whether on a complex property claim or even to this day, occasionally on a construction site. You know, clearly, you must be the administrator or the secretary, and it doesn’t until I speak with some form of authority or provide direction to a team that all of a sudden I’m being called “Sir” on the site. So, even in 2022, that still happens.

Vinita: But, touching on what you just said, Misha, with respect to the pillars of the GSD mantra, so to speak. Confident assertiveness. The interesting thing about women is, you know, at least if I think 15 years ago with the wrong generation, assertiveness meant that it was perceived in a very different way.

Vinita: And I’d say coming full circle, that’s where the tribe of women as the demographics of ages have expanded. And as we’ve shifted perspective to more uplifted support one another versus pinning each other down, that perspective has changed completely. The advice I’d say, I give myself. Have patience and trust yourself in the process and time, and it’ll happen.


Vinita: I was very fortunate in the early part of my career to have leapfrogged a lot of steps, so to speak. And as a result was always much like women who were trying to aggressively climb that that ladder; it was perceived aggressive versus assertive, right?

Vinita: And you know, if I gave myself any piece of advice, looking back, it would be to Enjoy the ride and enjoy the process a little bit more. Trust yourself and have the confidence that the hard work in aligning yourself with the right people will pay off.

Misha: What’s so funny is you guys haven’t even seen you haven’t seen the book yet, cause it hasn’t come out yet.

Misha: But, I talk about the GSD Factor tribe. And I talk about having that tribe of people. I talk about having that GSD Factor board in your life, right? That board that can support you. What’s so important is the call to action for, especially for our female listeners but also to our male listeners, is support one another, right? So many times, women pull down other women, and our male counterparts see that, and it really is troubling to them, right? So, I think what we have to do is just be better humans. We have to be kinder humans. We have to be supportive.

Misha: The advice that I would give my younger self when I share this with a lot of my clients and a lot of when my husband and I have a chance to mentor a lot of students coming out of universities here in Nashville, Tennessee. What I tell my female students is I say “No” is a complete sentence. And you do so unapologetically. Cause I think so many times as women, we’re expected to give an answer, we’re expected to apologize, or we’re expected that we have to give an excuse or a reason. And what I would say to this next generation and to those that are sitting in this generation is you can say“no” and it is a complete sentence, and you can do so unapologetically.

Misha: So with that, Theresa and Jennifer, any other final comments or final tips or words of wisdom you like to leave with our listeners today?

Theresa: Yeah, I just highly resonated with what Vinita and you, Misha shared. And final tips, really what I mentioned already put yourself out there, believe in yourself, and do what you love. And yeah. It’ll all work out.

Jennifer: Final tip for me is don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. If I waited for my company to resolve the issue, I’d still be swirling around trying to, like, make things work out with a group that didn’t wanna work with me. Don’t wait around for somebody to find a solution for you, figure out your own solution, pave your own path. No one is going to pave your path for you.

Jennifer: So figure out what you wanna do, what you’re passionate about, and what brings value. You know, what do you have that you can bring value to the company and do it and raise your hand and offer it.

Misha: Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you, Theresa. And thank you, Vinita. GSD Factor podcast listeners, be sure to connect with these lovely ladies out on LinkedIn. They are connected and tagged with us at the GSD Factor podcast. you never know what synergies there may be.

Misha: And don’t forget to get shit done. Take care, everybody. Bye bye.

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