Chelsea Fitzpatrick, Vice-President of Operations, COO, Park Insurance
Chelsea Fitzpatrick joined Park Insurance as a fresh graduate after receiving encouragement from Park’s President and CEO — her father.
“There’s two sides of getting into insurance: you fall into it by accident, or you are related to somebody who’s in insurance — so that was my way in,” she reflects.
Although reluctant at first, it couldn’t have been it more perfect fit, she says. “I was dragging my feet. I swore up and down I would never work in the insurance industry, ever.” But after working her first day in the office, “it was an easy fit. I begrudgingly started and then never looked back.”
Fitzpatrick has worked in every department at Park Insurance and worked herself upward to a senior position.
Initially, however, she was cautious of how others would perceive her thanks to her age, gender, last name and tattoos and piercings. “I needed to prove myself against all of those. Speaking as a woman, I think a lot of us feel that we have to prove ourselves.”
She no longer worries about how others might perceive her. “Those things I had against me [were] just what I was perceiving as threats…to my credibility, but they weren’t actually the reality of the situation.”
For most small- to medium-sized brokerages, Fitzpatrick says, “I think we can all agree there’s a majority female presence in the office. I only ever had women as my mentors, other than my father and one other man in our organization. I was empowered and shown that I could move up and be taken seriously at the table, because that’s how we run things at our brokerage.”
So, while barriers don’t exist at her brokerages, ground-level — with her colleagues or her clients —Fitzpatrick recognizes it’s different on the corporate level.
“I don’t feel there are biases or barriers towards me at all when I’m at work in my own organization, or when I’m dealing with our clients, when I’m dealing with insurance companies to a certain extent, and then in the community and local businesses. The barriers really do come in at the association level, and [in] feeling like we have representation there.”
One incident at an association event in particular left her feeling discouraged.
As Fitzpatrick recalls the situation, there was a particularly bad board meeting at which sexist comments were made about the women insurance professionals. She noted a male executive of the organization failed to step in. She took to the mic at the following Annual General Meeting and addressed the crowd.
“I said to our executive board of men…’There’s more diversity on the marketing material behind you right now on the stage than there is in your executive team. You do not reflect who I am serving as a broker, who I work with as a broker, or who anybody else in this room is like.’
“There were people who were cheering and hooting and hollering and gasping. And a woman came up to me [after] and she said, ‘You know, women aren’t supposed to be up there because men have analytical minds, and we don’t.’”
In countering this woman’s comments, Fitzpatrick observes a diversity of thought strengthens an organization. Research studies over the years have shown that having more women executives correlates with better company performance.
She sympathizes with the woman and recognizes she is “conditioned” to believe what she was saying. “They’ve done their time, they’ve put in and worked in a very male-dominated industry for decades,” Fitzpatrick observes. “Whereas, we’re coming in younger and saying, ‘It’s not good enough yet.’ So, I understand why [the older generation is] responding that way.”
Fitzpatrick says the incident stood out to her. “A hundred men can disrespect me, and I will brush it off my shoulder and keep marching in my heels up to the front of the room. But if a woman…criticizes or says something contrary to my beliefs, that will stop me in my tracks.”
While the corporate world becomes better for women each year, she emphasizes how important it is for women to have each other’s backs. “Eventually there will be…more women who are fighting louder or supporting each other in those higher positions to keep pushing that glass ceiling up.”