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International Women’s Day special: Focusing on our female brokers

To mark International Women’s Day, we spoke to some of our female Members about how they got into broking, their experience as a woman in the industry and any advice they’d impart on other women looking to get into broking.

 “My gender has never held me back or stopped me moving up the ladder”

Yvonne McKnight, Director at Affinity Brokers Limited, got into the world of insurance after her father, an engineer at Royal and SunAlliance, suggested she might want to consider a career as an underwriter. She made the switch from underwriting to broking 12 years ago.

“I’ve been fortunate in my career that my gender has never held me back or stopped me from moving from further up the ladder, however I am acutely aware this is not norm in our industry. You only have to look at the Gender Pay Gap figures being published by the larger brokers and insurers in our industry to see that.”

Yvonne feels Affinity is “pretty well balanced” as they have a 55% male and 45% female split of staff and the senior management team is two thirds female.

To women thinking about taking the leap into insurance broking, Yvonne says, “Go for it! You may want to consider finding a female mentor, someone who can share their experiences of working in and rising through the ranks of our industry. Never let your gender hold you back, it’s irrelevant to your ability to do a job well.”

“Don’t let your gender become a barrier”

For Commercial Director at Insurewise, Mandy Kisbee, it was a Youth Training Scheme at her local college that led her into the industry, with her first role involving writing hundreds of cover-notes from the diary system.

“It’s certainly a very male orientated business and I have very often found myself as the only female or certainly in the minority at meetings or events, however, I have never found this to be an obstacle,” she comments. “Don’t let your gender become a barrier.”

“I’m really impressed with the strength of character of women coming through the ranks”

Rhiannon Bates, Managing Director at The Risk Factor, spent her teenage years the Saturday girl for her dad’s and Grant Ellis’s broking and IFA business. After she left university, Grant offered her a job and she started from the bottom as Office Junior, working her way up through Personal and Commercial lines.

Rhiannon believes the industry is “a lot better” for female brokers than when she was starting out.

“There are many more and more visible women in senior roles now, and what’s more they are now settling into finding their own style, being comfortable with being female in a board room,” she says. “Early in my career, I saw a lot of women trying to be more male than the men were. I think now it’s easier to appreciate and make the most of the differences and bring those skills sets together on a board to get a more well-rounded business proposition. I’m really impressed with the strength of character of women coming through the ranks too. We’re a tenacious bunch.”

Rhiannon adds: “The tendency women have to excel in listening and empathising is incredibly useful when putting together a client service proposition.  After all, sales is mostly listening, and problem solving is mostly about understanding what pain someone needs resolving.  Once you’ve got that, it’s just creating solutions – easy. Play to your strengths.”

“I have never experienced a ‘glass ceiling’ but I have faced challenges”

Gina Dixon, spent 22 years with Royal Insurance, where she became one of the firm’s first female inspectors. Following the merger with Sun Alliance, she took the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy, having been invited to join a local general commercial broker.

Now Managing Director at Watkin Davies Insurance Consultants Limited, Gina explains, “I have never experienced a ‘glass ceiling’ but I have faced challenges along the way. However, I believe my positive attitude, resilience and strong work ethic carried me through.

“It is a fantastic industry, which I believe now operates on a level playing field for both men and women. If you are ambitious and willing to work hard you can be well rewarded but don’t expect to be treated any differently because you are a woman.”

“I feel that there are equal opportunities within the industry for men and women”

After being around broking from a young age, Lucy Thornhill joined her family’s business, Thornhill Insurance, around eight years ago.

“Although it is a male dominated industry for sure, I am a strong character, as those who know me would agree, and as such, I can definitely hold my own in most situations. On the whole, the industry is welcoming and supportive network, everyone knows everybody and we all understand the challenges.

“I feel that there are equal opportunities within the insurance industry for men and women in 2019 and look forward to working in the industry for many years to come!”

“Whatever walk of life you come from, broking is a fabulous job”

Suzy Middleton, Commercial Director at South Essex Insurance Brokers, says she fell into broking, following a trip to her local careers office, which raised the question – ‘what did she find interesting?’. Her love of cars led her to join a high street brokers as a Motor Clerk.

“In the early 1990s, when I commenced my career it was a very male orientated environment. At one company I was the only female account executive in the UK and the only other female employee in my office was the receptionist! Do you know what? It actually made me better at my job!

“Whatever walk of life you come from and whatever your gender, broking is a fabulous job. I don’t think anyone chooses to become a broker, however if you find yourself on that path or you have specifically taken that route, the trading and the diverse work you can be involved in gives you a buzz.”

“Be genuine and work hard and you will be supported”

For Carla Preston, broking is in her blood, having worked for her family business, Robert Gerrard, for the last 32 years, moving up from Office Junior to Managing Director.

“I’ve found that people are more concerned about you doing what you say you are going to do, rather than your gender. Be genuine and work hard and you will be supported within whatever industry you are in,” she says.

Carla believes that women’s knack for forming connections can be a valuable asset in broking. “Most women have a natural ability to build relationships with those around them, which is one of the most important parts of being an insurance broker. The majority of people can learn the technical aspects of insurance, but being able to build relationships and have empathy for people and want to help them is what makes a great insurance broker, and those are qualities many women have.

“Even though I am quite into ‘girl power’, I honestly feel that it’s all about having the right team on board. Whether they are male or female makes no difference as they both have different strengths and as long as they are all pushing in the right direction you will reach your goal. As I say to my hockey team, ‘team work makes the dream work’!”

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