March 10, 2021 by David Gambrill
Jessica Asano, vice president, Thunderbird Insurance Brokers Ltd.; vice president, Insurance Brokers Association of B.C.
For Jessica Asano, vice president at Thunderbird Insurance Brokers Ltd., a defining moment for her entry into a senior leadership role in the P&C industry came when she put her name forward to be a board director for the Insurance Brokers Association of B.C.
She put her name up alongside that of Linda Dolan, who is now an owner and manager at Alport Insurance Agencies Inc., in Port Alberni, B.C. Dolan, who is currently the vice president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada, was president of IBABC in May 2016, when she and Asano were accepted to the board.
Asano said Dolan’s example encouraged her to take a leading role in the association representing the province’s brokers.
“I don’t even know if she [Dolan] realized at the time the impact she had on me,” Asano said in an interview with Canadian Underwriter. “She was just so graceful, kind and driven. She continued to take all of the events that were happening during her presidency with such a calm grace. It made me feel like, ‘Okay, she is a woman with a family, she owns her own brokerage, there were some similarities [with my situation] there.’
“And I thought, ‘If she’s encouraging me to [become a board member], then maybe there’s more I can actually achieve beyond being a broker in my own little office on my own island here on Vancouver Island.’ So I started as a director, and then I became a member of the executive. I am currently vice president, and I will be up for election to president in June.”
Asano started her ascent in the industry more than 10 years ago as a Level 1 CSR in her family’s brokerage. Thunderbird has been around for 47 years, and growing up, Asano’s family played an instrumental role in introducing her to the industry. “Early on in my career, in my upbringing, we were raised that women and men, everyone, deserves the same opportunity,” she said.
Once she got some foundational experience under her belt, she became interested in joining the Victoria Insurance Brokers Association (VIBA), which ultimately became her springboard to her current role at IBABC. The experience at VIBA “really allowed me to feel comfortable in interacting with all levels of management — all the way up to underwriters and CEOs — because they would come to these social events that we had.”
Thinking back on her own path to executive leadership, Asano said many women in the industry’s middle management level might not necessarily be aware of the opportunities available to them to rise in the leadership ranks. That’s in part because women don’t see their own day-to-day realities reflected in how men have historically comported themselves in senior executive roles.
“When you are a mid- to early-30s woman with three children and you are working part-time to full-time, you are just trying to maintain status quo,” Asano explains. “When you look at the boards, and you look at the executives, and you look at the CEOs, a lot of them were men in the later stages of their career. They were not on the floor answering the phones and dealing with AutoPlan [auto insurance] clients. They were on the golf course. They were enjoying six to 12 weeks of vacation. It seemed very unmanageable and just hard to reach.”
But seeing women on the executive boards of VIBA and IBABC got Asano thinking that she would be welcomed with open arms into a senior leadership role; the possibility of being a leader seemed less remote. “I started to notice Linda Dolan and a couple of other women who are [now] no longer on the board [of IBABC] as directors, and I thought, ‘Well wait a minute, the opportunity is there.’ I think seeing that and being exposed to their success allowed me to believe that I, too, could be there one day.”
But attaining the ranks of leadership isn’t just about an individual realizing that an opportunity is there, Asano said. The industry has to be more intentional about inviting women into the ranks of leadership. And that’s where mentorship plays a critical role.
“It is really about the CEO, or the board member of a company, or someone from upper management extending a hand to [a woman in] middle management and saying, ‘Let’s bring you up here. Let’s talk. Let’s communicate about what you want to do.’ A lot of women at that level don’t realize that the opportunity is there unless it’s discussed.”