March 11, 2021 by David Gambrill
Jodie Kaufman Davis, Corporate Senior Vice President, H.W. Kaufman Group; Managing Director, Burns & Wilcox Canada.
Jodie Kaufman Davis, managing director of Burns & Wilcox Canada, entered the Canadian insurance industry while she was making a tough choice about her career in corporate law.
After eight years as a corporate lawyer, and expecting her second child at the time, she faced the difficult choice of whether she wanted to apply for partner at the firm. She began discussions with her law firm and then went on maternity leave when she started to think critically about her next career move. At the time, the family specialty insurance business (managing general agent) started by her grandfather in 1969 had expanded into Canada.
“My initial role was to go in and review what was happening in Canada, and how we could best maximize our corporate resources to take it to the next level,” Kaufman Davis told Canadian Underwriter. “After a few months, it was clear that we had significant opportunities to build a strong Canadian presence, and in spring 2014, I became the managing director. It was literally rolling up my sleeves and doing the best that I could to learn as much as possible about our business, about the industry, and about how we could move forward. That’s how I ended up in the role that I’m in now.”
When she initially took on the role, Kaufman Davis wasn’t thinking about it as a path into a senior leadership position. In fact, it was supposed to be part-time. “I had a new baby and a very young child, and I really wanted to explore what the business would be. When I saw the opportunity to become more involved, I got very excited, and I really never looked back.”
As a young professional, Kaufman Davis was walking into insurance executive meetings surrounded by a lot of insurance veterans, who were primarily men. Kaufman Davis felt like she had two obstacles to overcome: 1) Her youth, and 2) the fact that she was a woman in executive meetings largely dominated by a male presence.
“I felt like I had a double challenge,” she said. “I can recall one meeting in particular where insurers came to our office. It was a group of two or three men, and they focused the entire meeting on grilling me to determine whether I had enough knowledge to work with them. That was probably one of the most difficult entry points into the industry. I really felt like I had to prove myself instead of being taken at face value.”
As it turns out, Kaufman Davis describes herself as “very driven” and enjoys a challenge. As a corporate lawyer, she was used to the fast pace in the board room and could hold her own. That said, she thinks women need to see more of each other in these types of executive meetings to feel inspired to take on these leadership roles.
Mentorship is critical, she says.
“As a professional, you are looking for others who resonate with you and inspire you to see that career advancement is possible,” Kaufman Davis said. “In some parts of the industry, there just hasn’t been enough of a presence of women in these roles to encourage others.”
Kaufman Davis is involved in several mentorship groups and programs to encourage the development and presence of more women leaders in the P&C industry, including the Insurance Supper Club (a women’s executive network for leaders). Within her role with ISC, she created a program in Canada called ‘Aspire,’ which identifies women deemed to be future leaders within their organizations.
“We [at the Insurance Supper Club] provide them with mentoring and tools, with networking opportunities — we are creating a cohort of women in the industry who have great potential, and I think this extra effort really makes a difference.”
Raising young families, frequently cited as a potential barrier inhibiting some women from aspiring to senior leadership roles, can be overcome when women are encouraged to be their “whole selves” in the workplace, Kaufman Davis observed.
“I’m extremely transparent and authentic with the people with whom I interact, and I think that makes a difference,” she said. “The way I work with both men and women is to try and encourage them to be their whole self. That means if you have kids, or you are caring for elderly family members, or you are single, or whatever it is that you are, I don’t think that there’s any need to hide that.
“The more people in the industry who embrace that, and who have that inclusive persona in how they conduct their business, the better off our industry will be. That means not only showing up authentically, but also embracing others to be authentic. This approach enables your associates to succeed in their roles and creates positive business results.”