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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 Wilma Schreuders, Head of Design Professional, Canada, and Sarah Tung, Senior Underwriter in Casualty.

How long have you been working in insurance?
WS: I started my career in insurance over 35 years ago as a broker and then moved to the insurer side starting as an underwriting assistance.

ST: I’ve been working in the insurance industry for 17 years in various roles including management as well as technician.

What attracted you to the insurance industry?
WS: Initially, I was not attracted to the insurance industry. I actually started my career in accounting. I interviewed for what I thought was an accounting position at an insurance brokerage, but it turned out that they had already filled that position and the interviewer thought I was applying for a position as an insurance broker. It was actually the funniest interview I have ever had. I guess you could say I “bombed” the interview to be their accountant, but they did offered me an entry level position as an insurance broker. It was the beginning of a wonderful career.

ST: As a young person, I knew little about insurance when I started. I took a gamble on a job that didn’t exactly fit with my finance background, and I was pleasantly surprised. My colleagues were from all walks of life, and my eyes were opened to industries and businesses that I otherwise, never would have gotten to learn about. I knew that should I decide to stay and build a career, there were many opportunities to move into management or to specialize as a technician. That the industry is “recession proof” was also a nice perk.

What has surprised you most about the insurance industry during your career?
WS: There have been many surprises but the biggest one was that as an industry that predominately employs women there were very few women in senior or management roles. Not only was there a glass ceiling but it was actually very low. A lack of female mentors or role models.

ST: What has surprised me the most is how ever-changing the industry is, and must continue to be, to meet the demands of our customers as the world evolves. Insurance is so much more than what its reputation portrays. As insurance professionals, we have the ability to work with cutting edge organizations that are disrupting their respective sectors, as well as create insurance products for exposures that never before existed.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How have you dealt with/ conquered those challenges?
WS: I have faced many challenges in the industry not only as a woman, but also as a person of colour and a mother. I dealt with the challenges by becoming an expert in my field, professional liability insurance for design professional, and am continuously gaining knowledge and understanding all aspects of E&O insurance and the design/construction industry. It is a niche area so my goal was to be “that person” who’s knowledge was sought after both internally and externally. Sharing my knowledge and empowering others are steps towards changing the future.

ST: As a female minority, I have certainly felt pressure to prove to myself and to others that I deserve the roles that I’ve earned. I do not fit the mold of those who walked before me, and I’m fortunate to have an opportunity to represent a different perspective. While the workplace has come a long way in the last few decades in terms of opportunities, pay, and corporate culture for women, we are still living in a time where very few females ascend to the highest-level roles. To deal with these challenges, I make an effort to be visible in the industry and to be the mentor I would have liked to have, as a younger person. I’ve learned to be proud of my achievements and stand by my successes, while at the same time, advocate for and celebrate the accomplishments of other women. We can all have success if we lift each other up.

What advice would you give your younger self as she enters the industry?
WS: Success is measured by the person you are and how you conduct yourself. Integrity, honestly and respect for both yourself and others is what will make you successful; know that there will be a stern price to pay but it will never surpass how elated you will feel by being able to look yourself in the mirror and know you have been guiding by the mantra of “always do the right thing”.

ST: To my younger self, I’d say that the decision you make now is just one of many you’re going to make along your professional journey. Don’t be scared to make a mistake because those will be some of the most meaningful lessons in your career. Also, get outside of your comfort zone. Getting involved in organizations external to your company will allow you to see outside of your regular day-to-day experience and give you a broader perspective, which will take your career to the next level.

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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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