Guardian Life's chief risk officer, Sarah Williams, 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?
I think so. It's not rare to see a woman executive anymore, so that helps remove the perception of a glass ceiling. However, I do think it depends on the workplace culture which can vary significantly across companies. Good cultures are inclusive and truly value diverse opinions.
What has been your experience as a woman in a male-dominated insurance industry?
When I was younger, there were many times when being the only, or one of a few, women in a room made it pretty intimidating to speak up. I was much more comfortable with speaking in a group that was predominantly women.
That was a hurdle I had to mentally get over in order to progress in my career. It's also a piece of advice I like to pass on to women who are early in their careers – don't be afraid to speak and have your voice be heard.
What other female leaders, both inside and outside of insurance, have inspired you in your career?
I have been lucky to have worked for a few female leaders during my career who became both friends and mentors. I have always looked to identify the best qualities in the people I work for to try and emulate. That's included things like fairness, thoughtfulness, boldness, among others. Seeing what I would consider successful traits in other female leaders gave me confidence to do the same.
How can the sector encourage the next generation of women to work in insurance? Should insurers have mandatory gender targets?
I think it's important to start introducing the insurance industry as a viable career path to girls as early as high school age. Although it's not always thought of as the most exciting career, especially for young people, insurance does offer a wide range of job opportunities for almost any interest.
I also think that young women need to be able to see themselves as leaders in order to stay engaged. If a person doesn't believe they can ever compete at the top, that can be very disheartening. So, it is really important for companies to have diversity in their leadership teams and foster a culture that is inclusive.