To understand more about what it takes to be a successful woman in insurance, we asked three women in senior positions in the business to share some of their experiences.
Lesley Jackson, Louise Hilton and Victoria Wilkinson may all be on the way to the top in very different parts of the Ageas team, but they all have one thing in common: one way or another, they are all prepared to work exceptionally hard to be the best.
The drive to succeed comes from inside – not as a result of external pressure
Victoria says that the drive to be the best has been with her all her life: “the pressure I put myself under comes from my personality. Not from the fact that I am a woman.” For Lesley, who has worked in the industry for more than 25 years, “there has been a lot of change during my career, but the times when I’ve had most success are the times when I’ve been most completely myself. Women need to be confident that they can succeed without trying to be what others expect them to be.”
Of course, there are some times when women do need different kinds of support from men – for instance, when mothers return to work. There is still a feeling that responsibility for childcare is more of a woman’s job than a man’s job, and for working mothers who are committed to building their career, that can be a tough challenge to solve on their own.
We all need somebody to lean on – formal and informal support when children are young
Working hard to maintain a balance between bringing up their children with managing their career is something Victoria, Louise and Lesley are familiar with.
As Louise explains: “it’s not a pressure that comes from outside. It’s more of a feeling that you’re somehow not giving either of your career or your children the attention they deserve. I’m determined not to leave my team that way.
“Some members of the finance team who are coming back from maternity leave have asked my advice about flexible working.
“I’ve encouraged them to think about it, because I think it can be really helpful. This isn’t just about working part time or job sharing. The introduction of laptops means it is now so much easier to work remotely too.”
It’s not only formal working arrangements like job sharing that matter to women in this situation ‘There’s always a lot of give and take, and I’d prefer my team to work from home rather than have to take a day’s holiday,” as Louise says “After all, I know I can trust them.”
“My CEO knows that I’ll always do what needs to be done, so he’s always completely supportive of how and where I work,” adds Lesley.
When children get older, it can be even more challenging to maintain a balance between career and childcare. When her children started at primary school, Victoria left her previous company and retrained as a teacher herself –“I only came back to insurance and joined Ageas when the children started secondary school.” That may not be a conventional career break, but Victoria was welcomed back with a whole host of opportunities to take responsibility for new and exciting areas of the business, including the strategic partnerships with John Lewis and Age UK.
The value of experience – learning from women who have been there and done that
All three women singled out just how much they had benefited from the advice and support of a woman as a mentor throughout their careers. For Louise, it was informal guidance from a more experienced colleague that helped. For Victoria, it was a formal mentoring relationship with a member of the UK Executive Team, and for Lesley it has come in the form of our in-house Women in Insurance programme and the people who lead it: “Alison Neate and Bridget McIntyre from Women in Insurance are both incredible role models – as much from the power of what they have achieved and how they have done it without compromising on who they are. I’ve consciously tried to help younger women coming up through the business in the same way.”
There’s still a way to go
While Ageas is a very enlightened employer that always strives to be fair, there is still more we can do to help younger women coming into the industry to fulfil their potential. Our commitment to the new Women in Finance initiative is just one sign of just how serious we are to making that happen. That means we can all look forward to a business where even more women like Victoria, Louise and Lesley play even more important leadership roles.
The secrets of success
With five decades of experience in insurance to draw on, these are the three top pieces of advice that our rising stars would give to their younger selves (or anyone planning their way to the top).
- Be yourself – there is no need to pretend to be a man, or feel pressured to behave in a stereotypically ‘male’ way in order to achieve success. You are much more likely to succeed by doing things your way.
- Control the controllables – focus on what you can change, rather than what is beyond your reach, especially during periods of change.
- Believe you can find a solution – experience shows that you can find a solution to all the challenges you face, it just might not be the one you expect.