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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 Liana Martire, Head of Casualty, Canada, and Stephanie Hope, Underwriter for our Aviation team.


How long have you been working in insurance?

LM: I have been in the insurance industry 42 years. It has flown by!

I started my career in insurance as an assistant in the personal lines space. I took two years off after my second son and returned to the same company but in their special lines commercial branch, where I moved into casualty underwriting. In 1996, I took an underwriting job at another company which was subsequently acquired by XL and the rest is history. I have worked through four global company acquisitions and kept the same phone number. I have been part of the Casualty leadership team since it’s creation here in Canada.

SH: I have been working in insurance for 17 years. I began my career in claims and was a multi-line adjuster for 13 years handling a variety of bodily injury and commercial property losses along with commercial general liability exposures and construction risks. I have been an aviation underwriter for the last 4 years.

What attracted you to the insurance industry?

LM: Like most people who started in the insurance industry at the time, I got into it by accident. I had no idea that this industry even existed. At the time, I just walked down University Ave where most of the large company head offices were located and I walked in and completed job applications. I walked into Zurich’s building, filled out an application and was called in the next day to interview and complete aptitude tests. I was then hired on a temporary basis in the head personal lines filing department. The job became permanent as I was transferred to the head office team working with the head of Zurich’s personal lines in Canada.

SH: The truth is I wanted to wear business attire and work in an office downtown, so I took an entry level job at a local insurer. My dad has always said that insurance is very stable and it’s essentially, “recession proof”, and while the stability is attractive that’s not the main reason why I pursued a career in this industry. Admittedly I fell into insurance, but I stayed in the industry because I saw so many interesting career paths that could be taken. Insurance is present in many aspects of our lives and there are countless unique and rewarding opportunities that cater to different interests and skill sets. I started working in automobile insurance which led me to liability investigations and injury claims which were always unique and thought-provoking. Later I transitioned to a property claims role that I found to be very rewarding as I was helping people rebuild their homes and businesses after catastrophic events had taken place. Later in my career as an independent adjuster I was exposed to highly technical claims for CGL, E&O, cyber, drones and aviation risks. All of these combined experiences brought me to my current role as an underwriter in aviation where I get to develop relationships with clients before a loss has happened and sometimes, I get to fly in all kinds of airplanes and helicopters.

What has surprised you most about the insurance industry during your career?

LM: What surprised me most about the insurance industry is that it is so complex, so interesting and offers so many different careers tracks. You can be an underwriter, an engineer, an accountant, a data processor, and many more. At no time in all my years at school did the prospect of working in this industry arise. No one knew it existed or if they did it wasn’t ever promoted. It was the best kept secret. It has allowed me to grow and learn about many industries through working with our varied clients. I have had the opportunity to work with industry leaders across the country. I have also had the opportunity to learn about this industry around the world due to the global nature of our company. At the same time, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with colleagues around the world, enabling me to develop a deeper appreciation for the differences and the similarities of life and business culture in different countries. I feel I have been fortunate with respect to the career that I “fell into” so many years ago. It is a very resilient industry. Throughout economic booms or recessionary times, we manage to survive and thrive. Other industries count on us to be there when losses happen.

SH: I’ve been surprised by the importance of relationships in this industry. I enjoy working with others to achieve a common goal and I like developing strong relationships with people. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many supportive role models, mentors and fun colleagues in my insurance career. What has continued to surprise me is that many areas of the industry continue to be male dominated. I thought that by 2021 I would be working alongside more women in aviation.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How have you dealt with/ conquered those challenges?

LM: While there has been much change since I started in the industry, it was always very much a “man’s world”. There were numerous women in the industry, especially in Canada, but a large portion of the senior roles were held by men. I had one manager who would blatantly treat the men in the office differently from the women – they were paid more, they were given laptops (when laptops were not the standard) and women were not. Today that would not be tolerated, but it happened to me. I just never stopped fighting for the recognition we deserved. But I can say that this issue still exists. We are working to achieve change, but it is an ongoing process.

SH:
There have been times in my career when my abilities have been questioned because of my gender. As a field adjuster, some clients were shocked or upset that a woman had arrived with a ladder to inspect their roof for hail damage following a severe storm. Remarks like, “Oh, I can’t expect a woman to climb onto my roof, let me go up there for you” or, “I can’t believe they sent a girl to handle this natural gas explosion” unfortunately were not uncommon. I was initially frustrated by comments like this but later used them as fuel to disprove expectations driven by traditional gender roles. I eventually came to enjoy using these situations as opportunities to work on changing people’s opinions and to challenge stereotypes.

Another challenge I face as a woman is to have my voice heard. When I have been soft-spoken on various topics or issues I have been ignored, interrupted or spoken over. I often have to step out of who I truly am in order to fit into what society believes strength is. I stand taller, raise my volume, and speak more assertively in order to be taken seriously. I would love to see a future industry that does not measure strength by how loud you are, how tall you stand or how old you are but rather on your words, actions and experiences.

What advice would you give your younger self as she enters the industry?

LM: If I could go back and give myself advice, it would be to not be so accepting of the status quo at the time. I should have been more forceful and “demanding” much earlier in my career for what I wanted to do and achieve. I should not have waited for things to be offered to me – I should have taken them. In retrospect, I spent my career at only two companies. I could have moved around a bit more – I would have benefited from different environments. Also, it would have created additional opportunities to move up into more senior roles. But at the end of the day, I am very happy to be where I am. I was instrumental in establishing this Canadian branch and have worked to grow our local company and brand. It is very satisfying.

SH: There have been times when I have felt the need to prove myself and to prove my worth. I would encourage my younger self or any young woman entering the industry to trust themselves. Listen to your inner voice and be confident in who you are and what you want. Do the personal work required to realize your own worth, an on that note, go after promotions and raises. Know that you are qualified, deserving, and worth it.

 

Look for more in this Let's Talk conversations with Women in our industry.
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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.
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