Deborah Laferriere, Partner & Principal Broker, Purves Redmond
Partner and principal broker at Purves Redmond, Deborah Laferriere entered the industry as a co-op student and has never regretted her decision. She did three work terms with Marsh while earning her business degree at Laurier. She got her brokerage license during that time and was hired with the vision that she was going to be a full-time broker.
It all came down to an interview on campus with a very dynamic, charismatic leader who sold her on the industry, and her father, who was also in insurance.
The only road bump she’s encountered came when she had children. “It was difficult to have young kids and work in a demanding job, so I left the industry for a short time.”
That bump, however, opened a new door. In 2004, Laferriere had a choice between heading back to Marsh or joining Purves Redmond. She decided to give the latter a try. Two years later, she made partner. In 2015, she was named principal broker and, four years after that, a board director. Though some shares came with the partnership, she was given – and took – the opportunity to buy more.
“Sometimes women don’t take risks,” she says, “but I think it’s important for us to put our money where our talent is. I made a conscious decision to buy as much as I could possibly afford. If you own it, you will reap the rewards.”
Though a scary prospect at the time, Laferriere made the sacrifice with the support of her husband.
“It was difficult while raising three kids, but we managed because we had a good partnership. I think a lot of women want to be supermom and super CEO, but you need a team on both sides: a home team and a work team.”
Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t challenges beyond work-life balance. In Laferriere’s opinion, unconscious bias plays a much larger role.
“If you ask a leader if women and men are equally capable of becoming leaders, universally they would say yes. But unconsciously, subconsciously, there’s bias. It’s not anyone’s fault really. We tend to favor people who are like us.
“For example,” Laferriere says, “if people are going out for a round of golf with a client, guys tend to invite the guys and that same thing can happen when they think about who to promote. They go to their friends, their people.”
To create change, leaders need to actively unpack this bias and point it out when they see it. They also need to sponsor women formally and informally, in meetings and at dinner with friends. They need to invest their personal time and clout as leaders to advocate for them, defend them, be their brand managers.
“I was lucky enough to have great sponsors,” says Laferriere, “and that’s probably the biggest difference. There are a lot of very talented women in this industry and the problem is not them, the problem is the unconscious bias around promoting women. Women just need to be given more opportunities to lead, and they will succeed.”