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A look at the opportunities and challenges facing women in our industry.

We spoke to some of the women leading our Canadian operations to learn about their career paths, the challenges they faced, and what advice they may have for others thinking about entering this industry. In this installment, we talk with Gloria Asare, Head of Pricing, Canada, and Farzina Coladon, Underwriting Manager of AXA XL’s Fine Art & Specie team in Canada.

How long have you been working in insurance?
FC: Close to 25 years – I can’t believe it’s been that long!! If I’m in a social informal setting, I’ll throw in an ice breaker and say “I started in the industry when I was 7”.

GA: For 11 years now!

What attracted you to the insurance industry?
FC: It started out as a summer job and the money was what attracted me at first, especially since I was a student. My mom worked for the organization I interned at for the summer and that was her first job when she arrived in Canada, and 34 years later she retired from that very same company.

GA: I’m an actuary and thus insurance is actually the traditional field that we end up in though some actuaries pursue other financial industries (e.g. banking or consulting among others).

What has surprised you most about the insurance industry during your career?
FC: I’d have to say the opportunity to move around within different insurance sectors – not just regionally, but globally. As an example, I started out in personal lines, was headhunted twice for opportunities to advance which led to moving to Vancouver, then back to Toronto where I switched over to the commercial sector with a focus on specialty lines.

GA: Not too much has surprised me in general about the insurance industry. Perhaps because some of my university courses prepared me to enter it. I was however surprised when I first learned about celebrities insuring their talents and parts of their bodies.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How have you dealt with/ conquered those challenges?
FC: Two of the recurring challenges I faced early on in my career were gender parity and being a woman of color. Instead of just focusing on getting the job done and moving on to the next task, I made it a point to invest as much energy in the relationships with the people I worked with. I also had a few mentors along the way which I found very helpful with not only keeping me grounded but encouraging me to come out of my shell and showcase my abilities.

GA: I’ve been very fortunate that there is a strong female presence in the leadership of the AXA XL actuarial department. I have therefore been fortunate to have multiple amazing and talented women who are comfortable being themselves, to learn from over the years. It has encouraged me in past challenges – particularly during my journey to complete all my professional exams to earn the Fellowship credential with the Casualty Actuarial Society. Knowing of other women’s experience studying for and passing the exams while they too were pregnant and/or raising little children was encouraging. I also still benefit from them today not only as I continue to develop my leadership style, but in having managers that can directly relate with my challenges in striking an appropriate work-life balance.

What advice would you give your younger self as she enters the industry?
FC: You have to make really strong decisions about what you’re going to do personally and professionally, and you can’t do it all, so you have to decide what it is that you’re going to focus on to do it well.

GA: I would encourage her to: (i) not be discouraged if/when things do not go according to plan, but continue to press on regardless; and (ii) boldly try out a variety of new things, looking at each new challenge as an opportunity to learn something new.


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US- and Canada-Issued Insurance Policies

In the US, the AXA XL insurance companies are: AXA Insurance Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., XL Specialty Insurance Company and T.H.E. Insurance Company. In Canada, coverages are underwritten by XL Specialty Insurance Company - Canadian Branch and AXA Insurance Company - Canadian branch. Coverages may also be underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003. Coverages underwritten by Lloyd’s Syndicate #2003 are placed on behalf of the member of Syndicate #2003 by Catlin Canada Inc. Lloyd’s ratings are independent of AXA XL.
US domiciled insurance policies can be written by the following AXA XL surplus lines insurers: XL Catlin Insurance Company UK Limited, Syndicates managed by Catlin Underwriting Agencies Limited and Indian Harbor Insurance Company. Enquires from US residents should be directed to a local insurance agent or broker permitted to write business in the relevant state.