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Head of Client Management, APAC & Europe

There isn’t a CEO or senior manager anywhere that would deny the importance of improving the representation of women and minority groups within the business world and beyond.

Business leaders know that improving inclusion and diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do – the business case for greater diversity is clear. Having a more diverse workforce makes us a stronger organisation, more creative and dynamic and means we can better understand and respond to the needs of our clients, wherever they may be and whomever they are.

Like many large financial services organisations across the world, AXA is determined to work on gender parity and to improve on inclusion and diversity. At AXA XL we are moving the needle on this issue; our stated aim to have 50% of senior leadership roles filled by women by 2023 is a tangible, ambitious and meaningful target. I am excited to see this happen. But it can only be achieved – and sustainable – if we have a strong pipeline of women coming up through our organisation. We must continue to attract women to work here and, above all, retain them when they are climbing the ladder.

Fulfilling targets is a great way to increase the representation of women in various roles. But it is important to ensure that those women who are promoted are ready for the roles and enabled to succeed. Being given the right opportunities early in their careers and benefitting from mentoring are some of the ways in which women can be supported to take on challenges and promotions.

I greatly enjoy – and feel personal benefit from – mentoring other women. In the course of my career, although I don’t believe I was ever held back because of my gender, I have faced bias, like many women, and I find it hugely rewarding to be able to share my experience, and help other women to talk through issues and overcome obstacles.

But it certainly isn’t only women who would benefit from mentoring. Indeed, whereas senior leaders support diversity, I would argue that, as an industry, more could be done to support male colleagues at the middle management level to help them understand that inclusion and diversity can also benefit them.

Managers at all levels within organisations have a responsibility to nurture and promote talented individuals, whatever their circumstances or background. AXA is a company that, in my experience, is good at recognising this; I do not come from an insurance background but have benefitted from the culture at AXA that recognises skills and talent, having been able to hold a number of positions in various fields.

This ensures that there is a diversity of experience across the organisation. For my own part, I spent two years as Chief of Staff to then CEO of AXA Henri de Castries, until he told me that I needed to get out of my comfort zone, and make the move from functional roles to one where I had responsibility for a profit and loss account.

Having a boss who was prepared to back me and encourage me to take a different route, was enormously important for my development. My experience and responsibility grew as I took on new challenges, enabled and encouraged by this great management example.

Being a role model for women is a great honour, and I hope that my experiences can encourage other women to forge successful careers. I don’t, however, believe that it is healthy or helpful for women in senior roles to take on male behaviours – in order to succeed.

Indeed, as we begin to emerge from the challenging COVID-19 period and start thinking about the ‘new normal’, I believe that some of those skills typically – though of course not exclusively – associated with female managers, such as empathy and listening skills, may be needed more than ever as colleagues grapple with the challenges of returning to shared workspaces and changed environments. Managing these challenges in deliberate manner will be vitally important to ensuring the wellbeing of colleagues and equipping our teams for whatever lies ahead.

Managers at all levels within organisations have a responsibility to nurture and promote talented individuals, whatever their circumstances or background.

Room for improvement

In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the case for flexible working. With the majority of us forced to work at home for extended periods, managers have seen at first hand that colleagues do not need to be sitting at their desks, in an office environment, from 9 to 5 to get their job done – and done well.

Working in different ways has been proved to work for many organisations over the course of the pandemic. But it is important to recognise that flexible working is not, in itself, the key to achieving gender parity and greater inclusion and diversity. It can be a hugely important way to enable women and other groups to progress in their roles, but it does not necessarily work for everyone, and isn’t the panacea.

The pandemic has also highlighted more than ever before the additional challenges faced by some of our colleagues. Many have had to juggle home-schooling or childcare alongside their ‘day jobs,’ others have had to care for elderly or sick relatives, while for others the challenges of mental or physical health conditions have been magnified by the pressure of lockdown conditions and concerns about the pandemic itself.

Creating a culture in which everyone can bring their whole selves to work and which nurtures and develops the individual characteristics of each colleague will make our company a better place to work – and will help us to perform better too.

A greater recognition of some of the challenges faced by our colleagues, and creating environments where they feel safe and comfortable sharing issues they face, is crucial to this. For example, maternity and paternity leave is, of course, a hugely important benefit for parents welcoming children into their lives. But parenthood is often complex and can present different challenges for different people at different times. Take the example of colleagues facing fertility problems, undergoing IVF treatment or going through the adoption process. This can be enormously stressful, and exert a physical and mental toll on colleagues, of whatever gender. But it isn’t always easily and openly talked about.

We all need to focus on creating workspaces where colleagues feel able to be open about these types of issues and where their needs can, therefore, be better understood and accommodated.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I look ahead with some optimism. Over the course of my career so far, we have seen great strides towards gender parity – but there is still some way to go. I urge all my colleagues, whatever their gender, to reflect on the steps they can take to improve the representation of women in our business and to adopt this year’s International Women’s Day theme; Choose to Challenge.

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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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.