Kathy Curran, Vice President, Business Platforms, Definity
Canada’s P&C insurance industry is more widely recognizing the value of mentorship to help women succeed and lead, says Kathy Curran, vice president of business platforms in personal insurance at Definity.
“We see the industry starting to develop more mentorship programs, providing women leaders at all levels the opportunity to be partnered with inspirational leaders who can coach, listen, and build the skills and confidence needed for women to develop their careers,” Curran says.
Curran joined the industry at Definity (formerly Economical) 24 years ago and credits her own mentors as having played a critical role in getting her to where she is today.
“My mentors, current and prior leaders, and peers have all played a valuable role in allowing me to shape my leadership style, be confident in who I am and empowering me to bring the best of myself every day,” Curran says. “Definity has a heavy focus on diversity and inclusion. I am grateful for the many opportunities the organization has afforded me to grow my skills and career, starting with frontline underwriting to where I am today.”
Many obstacles face women in P&C, but three stand out for Curran.
“Culture is the first,” she says. “Financial services are traditionally male oriented and dominated. P&C is not always an industry of first thought for women as the opportunity for careers, the types of roles and their fit within the industry is not always obvious. Education programs, marketing, and the celebration of successful women across the industry verticals will work to change the lens.”
Exposure and opportunity is the second obstacle. “Sometimes, career paths and opportunities for advancement are not well established, widely communicated, or available to women,” Curran explains. “Becoming engaged in succession and career planning, actively seeking out these paths and confidently putting themselves and their skills forward is at times viewed differently between men and women. However, that is another area where women can help direct and drive their career and begin to remove barriers.”
Third, women still face gender stereotypes and bias. “Having to decide between family and personal life and success in your career is not the only option — women can have both,” Curran says. “The typical gender bias around how women and men can be perceived differently for exhibiting the same behavior can be challenging.
“Many women believe they must change who they are and their approach to progress in leadership. They don’t. It’s exactly those differences that collectively drive results, create a competitive advantage, set examples for others about what is possible, drive innovative thinking and create the right culture in the workplace,” says Curran. “It is important for women to celebrate their innate traits and ways of thinking. One of the biggest assets women can have is confidence – in who you are, what you can do and that you belong.”
To complement mentorship, Curran believes the industry should also invest in more formal and informal networks for women. “Networks are essential to allow forums for all women to share and shape their experiences and to test approaches and ideas for engaging with others. It can open doors to new opportunities and to gain insights into the journey of others.”
The industry needs more programs focussing on women, Curran says. “We need to adapt how we talk about insurance, focussing not only on the technical aspects, but one the more human aspects as well. For example, discussing how diversity among people who sit in leadership positions is critical to drive innovation and culture.”