Canadian Underwriter

Debbie Thompson, past president, IBAO

March 12, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

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Debbie Thompson, Manager, Risk and Insurance, Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services

Canada’s P&C insurance industry is making good progress on increasing female representation of women in the C-suite, but more needs to be done to mentor future women as leaders, a former brokers’ association president suggests.

“We have to try to get rid of the pink and blue mentality and just help women elevate their position in the industry,” said Debbie Thompson, a former president and chair of the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario.

“There are still what I call pink and blue ideas about how we conduct ourselves and what we do. It has happened with me. We were going to take a bunch of clients out and we were going to play golf. I might be the lead on the account but they would never ask me if I want to come out and play golf. It doesn’t even occur to them that I do play golf. We have to get rid of those stereotypes.”

Thompson was speaking personally about her own experience in the industry and was not representing the views of either the IBAO or the Ontario government. She is currently manager at the risk management and insurance services branch of the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

Before joining the provincial civil service in 2018, Thompson worked for more than 20 years in senior roles for several firms, including A.M. Fredericks Underwriting Management Ltd., Beyond Insurance Brokers Inc., and Sinclair Cockburn Financial Group. She was president of IBAO in 2013.

The industry is making progress elevating women to the C-suite but still has a ways to go, she suggested in a recent interview with Canadian Underwriter. “For some women, and it has happened to me, when you show forcefulness, you get labelled a certain way, and that does not happen with men. It’s, ‘She’s the B-word.’’’

Thompson was interviewed shortly after she watched a webinar titled Brokerage Executive Outlook: What’s ahead for 2021. Thompson said she was pleasantly surprised to see two women – Sarah Robson, president and CEO of Marsh Canada, and Tina Osen, president of Hub International Canada – on that webinar, hosted by Canadian Underwriter.

Had she watched the same webinar five years earlier, Thompson suggested, all of those senior executive panelists from top-tier brokerages likely would have been men.

“So there is some glass now on the floor, meaning when you are breaking the ceiling and the glass is shattering, it is making people walk differently because it seems to be changing.”

That said, more needs to be done by the industry to provide mentorship for women who aspire to the C-suite.

Here’s where Thompson sees the challenge for brokers: if the brokerage does not already have a female senior executive, then a junior woman who aspires to rise up the ranks would have no female mentor at her own organization.

To address this gap, an industry association could have a program whereby female executives act as mentors for women at other firms within their industry, Thompson suggested.

“For kids, we say things like, ‘You could be an astronaut. You could be a doctor. You could be anybody you want to be.’ But then when you get into the working world, those dreams are quickly shattered if there is no one there to help and mentor you.”

She re-counted her own experience when she was chair of IBAO 10 years ago. “There was no mentor for me to look to another woman in the same position in a non-profit organization, because there were only four women before me [at the time] who held that position in the 100-year history of the association,” she said. “So who would I have looked to as a mentor? And how would I navigate this table I was sitting at, which is still primarily men?”

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