Jeannine Branion, AVP National Claims Field Operations, Co-operators
“The industry needs a top-down commitment to developing a strong pipeline of women for leadership positions,” believes Jeannine Branion, assistant vice president of national claims field operations at The Co-operators.
“This includes providing the funding needed to support development opportunities and meaningful mentorship programs that support and encourage women in leadership,” Branion adds. “This commitment needs to be comprehensive and include the advancement and promotion of women from different marginalized groups.”
As part of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) strategy at The Co-operators, the insurer has ambitious plans to improve gender diversity in its leadership through initiatives related to succession planning, performance management, internal growth, and recruitment.
“We recognize there’s more work to be done,” says Branion, who has been with The Co-operators for more than 25 years, holding different positions in distribution, manufacturing and now claims.
Like many others, Branion says she “stumbled” into the P&C insurance industry when she moved to Kingston, Ont., in 1996 and got a job with the local Co-operators office. She thought it would be short-term.
“A turning point came for me during the Ice Storm in 1998. Seeing how the industry responded first-hand in a time of crisis really impacted me, and I’ve never looked back.”
Branion says her experience as a leader at The Co-operators has been positive and rewarding. “I have had flexibility when needed, I have felt supported and I feel fortunate to have had some great mentors who have helped me advance in the organization.”
While the industry has come a long way towards eliminating obstacles, many challenges remain for women who aspire to leadership positions, Branion says.
“Managing stereotypes is still a challenge,” Branion explains. “When a woman is ambitious, some see that as being aggressive. But a man in a similar situation is usually seen as assertive or forward-thinking.
“If we want gender inclusivity in the workplace, we need to understand unconscious bias better, so I’m happy to see that the 2022 theme for International Women’s Day is #breakthebias. A good place to start is with unconscious bias training, which is something we’re doing at Co-operators this year through our IDEA strategy.”
Work/life balance continues to be a challenge for women at all levels of the workforce, she adds.
“We need the flexibility to help manage work and life, and we need to be able to set boundaries,” she says. “During COVID, managing work/life balance has been even more difficult than ever to navigate — especially with everything happening under the same roof, and with us having to navigate our various personal and professional roles such as caregiver, teacher and professional leader.”
Another issue still facing women in P&C is being able to create alliances and support structures crucial to their advancement in the industry. “This is challenging because that often happens through activities such as golf and sporting events, which are still heavily male-dominated,” Branion says. “I happen to be a golfer, but I took it up so that I could ensure I was included. We need to ensure that opportunities for networking are inclusive and open to everyone.”