March 13, 2023 by David Gambrill
Jennette Lee Wah, Vice President, Commercial Insurance, Jones DesLauriers Insurance Management
You don’t have to meet Jennette Lee Wah, vice president of commercial insurance at Jones DesLauriers Insurance Management, very long to know why she has ascended to a leadership role in the P&C insurance industry. And yet, it was a lucky coincidence she landed in the industry in the first place, 19-plus years ago, she says.
“I thought I was going to end up spending my career… with Enbridge natural gas, because I spent all my summers during university working with them,” she said. “They were always saying, “We’re going to have you back full-time [after Lee Wah graduated from university with a Bachelor of Arts degree]. It’ll be great. Just apply.’ So, I applied to a number of different places, and this insurance job bit first. I said to myself, ‘Sure, why not, I can do this.’”
Lee Wah’s career trajectory as a broker has taken several twists and turns since then, each one an example of how she’s always looking to broaden her horizons. She has worked as an account executive or manager in several brokerages, large and small, selling in both personal and commercial lines.
In 2018, she was living in Markham, Ont., with her two girls and sought to work for a brokerage close to home. Since she already had some experience running her own wedding and event planning business, she applied for an account manager position at McLean Hallmark (since acquired by NFP), which was a 15-minute commute from her home. At McLean Hallmark, she met one of her most influential mentors, Patty McNeil, who is now chief operating officer at Jones DesLauriers.
“I went in for a second interview and met some partners. And then Patty called me back and said, ‘You know, whatever you said must have really impressed them. How would you feel about interviewing for a manager role?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely, I’m in.’
Turns out the brokerage had been looking for a manager for their Markham office for six months and had not found the right person – until they interviewed Lee Wah. “That’s all it took, somebody to give you that opportunity and that chance,” she said. “And then I just flourished.”
Since 2020, Lee Wah has worked as a director at Jones DesLauriers, a Navacord company. To help other women attain senior leadership roles, she believes the industry needs to be very intentional about giving women substantial career opportunities and to be aware of hidden hiring biases.
“I’ve spoken to a number of women who feel we tend to second-guess ourselves — it’s very common,” said Lee Wah. “If we don’t personally believe we have every single one of the criteria employers are looking for, we tend not to apply. Men, on the other hand, will look at a [recruitment post] and they’ll just throw their hat in, and not even think twice. They maybe only check off two of the 10 boxes. Whereas I can maybe check off seven, but I tell myself that I probably should not apply for such a big role as a director and overseeing a team [at Jones DesLauriers]. But I did. The interview went well, and at the beginning of this month, I was promoted to vice president of commercial lines.”
Lee Wah said in her new role she will advocate for more diversity with men and woman in leadership roles.
“I hope to use my new role to mentor young men and woman to achieve their true potential within this industry,” she said. “Early in my career, there weren’t people that looked like me in management, let alone women of colour at the executive or C-suite level, so there weren’t many people for me to look up to. It is hard to sometimes persevere when you do not see yourself reflected within your industry.”