Robyn Petersen, Lombard Broker Partners & IIWC Deputy President
The short-term insurance industry in South Africa has yet to find a cure for the age-old male dominated boardroom pandemic. While our industry is seemingly unbiased, navigating our way up the corporate ladder in heels and a skirt has proven challenging to say the least.
Reflecting on my career journey thus far, I have been fortunate to have crossed paths with a few influential female leaders who have become, not only my mentors, but also my friends. The sad reality is that by a few, I mean three. While this is not unique to the local industry, I struggle to understand why this transformation has not evolved at a much quicker rate.
This then brings me to the question: Are we doing enough to uplift and support our fellow women in insurance and young females who are looking to break into the industry? And the simple answer is no.
So how do we proceed to find a cure?
I believe that the following three quotes provide insights to help build “immunity” to the challenges faced by women.
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will” Anonymous
Realizing that as a female I sit in the 30% minority in the boardroom, self-doubt immediately rears its ugly head.
Fortunately, I am employed by an organization with gender neutral policies and very clear values. One of which is “Make it happen!” Thinking about this value and how I am going to implement it in my routine is exactly what I needed to remind myself as to why I have been placed in a position of leadership. Someone believes that I can make it happen, so best I start believing it too.
Get rid of the self-doubt and believe in yourself. It starts with YOU!
“Speak up even if your voice shakes” Anonymous
I generally do not have a problem expressing myself and speaking to large groups of people. But yet I find myself intimidated by the male majority around the table. Sitting silently, waiting patiently for my turn is what I have done. That was until I kicked self-doubt to the curb.
Ensure that when you speak, it contributes positively to the session and that you have done your homework. Avoid speaking just for the sake of having something to say. Instead, speak with confidence and conviction and be certain that you are able to justify your comments.
“Women helping each other – coaching, mentoring and providing tips – is a great way for us to be our own force.” Indra Nooyi
Having mentors in my own career has played such an important part in molding who I am as a professional. I cannot begin to express how thankful I am for the valuable tips and lessons they have taught me over the years. I remember my first day on the job as an Underwriter at a large global insurance company. That morning I shared the elevator with the Sales Manager. She was tall, professionally dressed and a well put together lady. I figuratively and literally looked up to her in every way. I greeted shyly, and let her lead the way into the office. She was not aware of how I had perceived her at the time and many years later, came to know how she had positively impacted my career and the choices I had made over a period of time.
Always be a good example, you never know who is watching you.
Investing time in our youth and younger people entering this industry is vitally important. This bridges the gap in technical knowledge and skills. In addition to technical mentorship, we also need to share our narratives from a personal perspective. For example, how to be successful at finding the work-life balance.
The Insurance Institute of the Western Cape RISE (Redefining Individual Skills & Education) program was birthed from this very passion. The purpose of this program is to uplift and educate the members who are under the age of 35. It aligns itself to the core pillars of the institute which are Getting, Growing and Giving Together.
There is so much more that can be said but I believe that if we start by implementing these three points we will be setting a good foundation to generate some much needed change and eradicate the challenges faced by women in the short term insurance industry.
By fighting this boardroom pandemic, we will ensure that women remain covered for the long-term.