Pooja Rahman: Focus more on emerging talent

09 March 2023

Pooja Rahman, chief risk officer at Protective Life, shares her views on the state of gender diversity in the insurance industry 

Is it becoming easier for women to hold senior positions at insurance companies?

Pooja RahmanI’ll answer it a bit differently. Once we get to the point of being considered for a senior position and if all else is equal, I do not believe it is harder for women. However, several things go into the process of getting to the point where all else becomes equal.

Out of chance or choice, women don’t always have perfect career trajectories that round them out for the next big opportunity. We need mindsets that elevate potential along with past experiences, and we need this well before we are talking about those senior roles.

It is also extremely helpful to be part of a company that is prioritising equality as a key initiative and supporting women in and outside of the workplace, whether that be through formal or informal opportunities.

Finally, not all women have a genuine interest in social events, like golf or football, that draw senior executives, which happen to be primarily men.

Opportunities for mentoring and sponsorship will not occur naturally. We must be more intentional.

What has been your experience as a woman in male-dominated insurance industry?

I have been in the life insurance and investments industry for well over two decades now. 

When I am recruiting talent for my teams or when looking at recruitment more broadly within my company, I remain extremely aware that we all need to do more around increasing the number of women leaders. To arrive at that objective as organically as possible, we need to do more around emerging talent.

However, when I look at myself and how I am possibly perceived by others, the fact that I am a woman and a woman of colour is usually in the background.

People connect with you, or they don’t. It’s a fit, or it’s not. As it relates to me, I’d like to believe my own trajectory had little to do with me being a woman.  

What other female leaders, both inside and outside of insurance, have inspired you in your career?

I could go on here, but I’ll share one name within the insurance sector and one outside.

Within the insurance sector, I would point to Betsy Ward who is the chief financial officer at MassMutual. I’ve had the opportunity to engage with Betsy, primarily via industry events, for well over a decade now.

She is always very generous in sharing her thinking and approach around many topics, and it has been wonderful to observe how she successfully influences outcomes at her firm.

Outside insurance, I am self-confessed fan of Indra Nooyi who is the former CEO of PepsiCo. While I have never met Indra, her experiences as a first-generation Indian immigrant woman balancing work and family are captured beautifully in her book “My Life in Full” and resonated deeply with me.  

How can the sector encourage the next generation of women to work in insurance? Should insurers have mandatory gender targets?

Focus more on emerging talent. And if you think you are doing enough, do some more.

If women can hold their own in schools and colleges, they can do that in the workforce. However, we must keep the realities of family and work in mind.

As for mandatory gender targets, although I can understand the rationale, I am personally not in favour of them. Perhaps it is idealistic or even delusional, but I would like to believe I arrived where I did without mandated targets being the differentiator.

That said, I did have the advantage of programmes such as free education for girls when I grew up in India. Anything that can help us build that stronger bench of emerging talent I mentioned before is something we should, at a minimum, consider and discuss.