March 11, 2021 by Adam Malik
Georgie Fleck, team manager, HRM and Central Nova Scotia, AA Munro Insurance
At one point, Georgie Fleck decided to stop wearing a skirt to work for a couple of years.
“And when I was asked about it, I did point out that I noticed that only those in pants advance,” recalled the current team manager for the Halifax Regional Municipality and Central Nova Scotia at brokerage AA Munro Insurance. “In my early 20s I took a little bit of stance on that one, I guess.”
Fleck started in the insurance industry at the age of 12. She was paid $2 an hour in the office of the insurance brokerage where her mother worked after her parents divorced. She believes it was the owner’s kind way of having a place for her to go after school. It was “to keep me out of trouble,” she joked.
But no joke was the disparity in how women were treated compared to men. In those days, virtually every single boss was a male. And the women weren’t even respected enough to be called women — they were ‘girls.’
“There were barriers for women. It was an easier path for men,” Fleck told Canadian Underwriter. “So men could not be as qualified at a position and advance.
“Over my long career, I’ve actually trained men that were not as qualified for jobs I wanted. I’ve trained men that didn’t have the experience I did or had no experience and were paid more. So it’s been a long issue.”
Fleck can only remember two or three women who had managerial positions at companies with which she dealt. “And only one who was a field representative. So there weren’t a lot of female role models. It was like you had this wall and that’s where we stopped. You weren’t expected to do anymore.”
At the age of 27, Fleck decided to start her own brokerage. “I didn’t see any place for me to go without creating it for myself,” she said.
The first insurance company she met with sponsored her brokerage licence and gave her encouragement. The next two agreed to contracts. But she’s never forgotten about the fourth meeting.
In those days, the boss sat in his big chair behind his big desk and the guest had a smaller chair in front of the desk. Fleck sat there in the small chair; the manager had his second-in-command at his side for the meeting. They showed her a news article about a woman who started her own business that failed. Seemingly, that was the reason they didn’t want to do business with her: If one woman’s business failed, naturally every other woman’s would too, right?
“I remember thinking at the time, ‘Thank goodness every business ever started by a man must have succeeded,’” Fleck said.
Nevertheless, she ran her brokerage successfully before health problems forced her to sell. “I remember a man coming into my office after I had just opened my brokerage and asked me when I was going to hire a ‘girl,’” Fleck recalled. “And I told him I wasn’t. I was going to hire a nice-looking young fella, which he found horrifying and still amuses me.”
She’s been in the industry for a long time, and she’s seen things change. But there’s still more that can be done.
“For my generation, we had the theme song by Helen Reddy which is, ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’ So you’re fighting against the tide that says, ‘You can’t do this.’ The younger generation of females that I work with don’t even know the song — I think that’s progress,” she said.
As part of that progress, women have more opportunities today, she observed. “It’s historically been a female-dominated industry that’s dominated by men as managers. But you see so many more women in positions of management than you did even 10 years ago.”
But progress doesn’t mean the job is done, or even close to it.
“I don’t think we’re 100% there but you no longer need to be a sniper to hit the target. Women who are assertive are still considered ‘bossy.’ Are assertive men thought in the same way?” Fleck said.
“I still on occasion hear we should worry about so-and-so because of his male ego. I can guarantee you my female ego is just as strong as any man’s. The difference now being that instead of accepting statements like this, we have conversations about them that lead to better understandings.”
Also changed over the past 10 years is the increasing prominence of female role models in entertainment. She pointed to the movie Captain Marvel, in which the title character is the most powerful superhero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which includes the Avengers series of movies.
“I was amazed at all the little boys that don’t think there’s a difference now. They’re cheering on Captain Marvel, the strongest superhero of all, who is a woman,” Fleck said. “You didn’t see that when I was a kid. I watched Mary Tyler Moore get flustered at what Lou and Ted were doing. People grew up with that attitude that women weren’t as capable as men; that we had a place.”
She hopes a time comes where there is no longer a need to celebrate International Women’s Day or have special committees dedicated to women. If there is no difference between the sexes when it comes to opportunities, wages and the like, there is no need to separate them or point it out, Fleck said.