Erin Fischer cites good fortune as a reason why she was able to succeed in the Canadian property and casualty industry. And having a good support network, too.
“I’ve always had people who believed in me, and I took risks by going into roles where I didn’t necessarily have all the expertise and really had to challenge myself.,” Fischer says. “I’ve had the benefit of strong mentors inside and outside of organizations where I’ve worked and have proactively sought feedback from peers, colleagues and leaders.
“It’s critically important that we, as leaders, are listening – and I think we need to do more listening than talking. And then reflect on what we can do as an organization to help people achieve their career aspirations and remove any barriers they’re facing.”
Women have accomplished a great deal in the workplace, but there’s much more to do, says Fischer. Hidden or unspoken assumptions remain to be challenged.
“Early on in my career, when I was in the banking industry before moving to insurance, there was a situation when I was working in what was a traditionally male-dominated role,” she recalls. “We had someone come in and speak with us and they mistakenly assumed that I was there to take notes. That experience stayed with me for many, many years. Thinking about it today really reminds me of the importance of not making judgments about people and who or what they think they should be. It reminds all of us to check our unconscious biases.”
Fischer says she’s “proud” that two thirds of Wawanesa employees are women, and 44% of its senior leadership are women – including the Catherine “Kay” Best, the first board chairwoman in the company’s 124-year history, and Carol Jardine, president of Canadian P&C operations.
But while the industry has made great strides, there’s still more to do, Fischer says. That includes greater recognition of the important role played by indigenous women, women of color, transgender women, queer women, those who identify as gender binary, disabled women and working mothers.
“We’ve started to form employee resource groups, such as groups for black employees and LGBTQ2S+ employees,” she says. “What we hope that these groups can do is serve as inclusive spaces for employees to connect and share experiences; but also places where we as leaders can turn for advice on a broad range of topics including how to provide more equitable career opportunities. It helps both managers and employees to create these functional environments.”
Everyone has unique experience, and so “we are listening hard to understand what barriers might be faced by any individual trying to achieve their career aspirations. And then asking how we can help to remove those barriers.”
The pandemic has exposed some gaps in corporate culture, “and we’re looking to fill those gaps with our distributed work program,” she says. “It allows people to have flexibility to look after families, to be able to work remotely and to handle some of the challenges people were facing.
“There’s a battle for talent in our industry, and we want to be a progressive employer of choice, and one that supports and is reflective of diverse communities. We believe it’s a differentiator for Wawanesa in the market and in attracting talent and retaining talent.”