Q. On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
LH. Be open to opportunities that come along, even if they don’t immediately seem to fit with your career plans and be prepared to take a sideways move in order to move forward in your career. This may be counter-intuitive for many women who already find it hard enough to navigate their way up the corporate ladder, but sometimes this can be the best way to build the breadth of skills and experience you need to progress. Try and keep an eye on the bigger picture and the doors that could open up and lead to a new or enhanced career path for you.
CB. Within reason, say “yes” to everything. That’s quite hard, as it means taking risks and stepping outside your usual comfort zone – something not many of us naturally like to do. Everything new or different that you experience – even if you fail – expands your horizons and exposes you to a wider network of people who know who you are. That can only be good for your career.
Q. What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field? How did you overcome them?
LH. When I first came to London from Scotland in 1990 most women were pigeon-holed into secretarial or administration roles and obvious career progression opportunities were limited and not just for women. I saw many people promoted based solely on which university or public school they had attended or which gentleman’s club they belonged to! I was fortunate to have a very supportive male boss who didn’t believe in that stereotype and who encouraged me to take on challenges that took me beyond my comfort zone. That support and experience gave me the confidence to push myself and to believe in my abilities as I built my career. Since that time I’ve seen some really positive changes for women in the Lloyd’s and London market, with more and more being recognised for their skills and talent and taking on senior and board positions.
CB. When I first joined the workforce the opportunities at intake level were pretty equal between females and males. But as I progressed my career, I quickly realised that senior management teams were dominated by men and whilst that isn’t necessarily a barrier, it’s easy to think or perceive that you don’t “belong” if you’re the only woman in the room. That can change how you behave and adversely affect your career if you let it.
Q. How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
LH. It means supporting and mentoring people and most of all encouraging them to push boundaries and take risks. That doesn’t just apply to women, I’ve tried to apply the same philosophy with everyone I have worked with throughout my career, particularly as this sort of support in my early career had such a big impact on me personally.
CB. The more women there are in senior leadership positions, the more attitudes and expectations will change for those women just starting out or developing their careers. Seeing female leaders in the boardroom can be an empowering example for others and demonstrates that whatever barriers might remain, it is realistic and attainable to get there. There are some good signs that this is happening with the UK’s top 350 companies recently reporting an increased average of 30% of women now being represented at board level. The insurance industry as a whole still has a way to go however!
Q. Can you tell us about a role model who has inspired you over your career?
LH. For me it’s anyone who has been prepared to break the mould, to challenge convention – even when they know that their actions will be met with prejudice and opposition. Having that confidence and desire to change things doesn’t come easily – you have to work at it – but the rewards for yourself and most importantly for others, are great. This thought resonated recently with the election of Kamala Harris as US Vice president who said in her acceptance speech “That’s why breaking barriers is worth it. It creates that path for those who will come after us."
CB. My Mum. Obviously. In my eyes, as one of four children, there is nothing my Mum can’t do. Whether it was giving up work to raise all of us, or returning to work two decades later, she just got stuff done. She’s calm, collected and good in a crisis – all the things that I hope I am or at least aspire to be at both home and work.
Q. What does IWD and its theme this year, #ChoosetoChallenge, mean to you?
LH. It’s important to challenge anything if it’s not the right behaviour. Women and Men have equal responsibility for calling out all forms of discrimination and stereotyping, no matter who is affected by it. As an industry, insurance is still male-dominated and barriers remain at the highest level. There are still those who can’t see the benefits of diversity, whether that relates to gender, age, race, disability or sexual orientation and we have to continue to challenge those views to maintain progress.
CB. It goes without saying that we all have a duty to call out wrong behaviour when we see it. But for me it also means challenging yourself, pushing boundaries and having belief in your own abilities. Sometimes the only people who hold us back are ourselves – and that’s a choice. So, choose to challenge yourself on the 8th March and see where it can take you!
Q. How does Asta ensure equal opportunities at all levels of the business?
LH. It’s not about quotas and targets for us - if firms are properly inclusive that will happen. New hires and promotions at Asta are based simply on ability and skillset – not gender – and I’m pleased to say that has helped us get real gender diversity at senior level.
CB. A third of our board and 50% of our Senior Management Team are female. There’s more to be done, but that’s good progress for our industry – and a solid foundation for building greater diversity of all kinds across our business in the future.