March 10, 2023 by Jason Contant
Katherine Dawal, Senior Vice President, Risk Management, NFP Canada
Women in the Canadian P&C insurance industry who want a ‘traditional’ family and work life may find that prospect nearly impossible, said Katherine Dawal, senior vice president of risk management with NFP Canada’s Complex Risk Solutions Group.
“Our industry is full of dinners, evening events and conferences,” said Dawal, who is also the president of the Saskatchewan chapter of RIMS. “There’s just so many relationships there, and a lot of them don’t happen between nine and five.
“Those coffee shop chats, that’s where you really build that rapport. You build those relationships with people so that you can call them up when you have something that isn’t quite sitting right, or you just want to [run it] past someone.”
Dawal was discussing potential obstacles for women in the industry who want to get into more senior roles. For younger women just joining the industry, not having a network could be a barrier. For others, a traditional family life — where a mother stays home or is the primary caregiver — will be out of reach.
“It was always very acceptable for men to be on the road to travel to do all the evening events and the women to be at home and watch the kids,” Dawal said. “But I do see that changing. So that’s exciting. I’d say in the past that was definitely an obstacle.”
She told the story of a woman who’s been in the industry for more than 40 years who had to decide not to have children so that she could focus on her career. “Nowadays, women can have both — you don’t need to choose between children and career. You just need to maybe define balance a little bit differently.”
For Dawal, who has two children aged seven and four, quality time with them is much more important than quantity. “Find balance, whatever balance means for you.”
But despite the progress made over the years, maternity leaves are still viewed in a negative light. And women can be passed up for promotion or opportunities if it’s believed they will be off on leave. Some may even question whether they can go off on maternity leave soon after starting with a company.
“It’s terrible,” Dawal said. “How bad is that, thinking about those kinds of things? I can’t believe you have to think about planning when you want to have your babies based on your career.”
Early in her career, Dawal filled in for a woman who went on mat leave but wanted to return four days instead of five. The employer refused the request, prompting the employee to quit. “That was plus-10 years ago,” Dawal recalled. “If that same situation were to occur right now, I think the company would be a lot more flexible and would have allowed her to continue to work, potentially working from home that extra day.”
For Dawal’s second mat leave, she had flexible work arrangements — three days in the office and two days working from home (pre-COVID). She was also able to help and support her fill-in, and was not required to return her phone or computer, as she had to do for her first mat leave.
“I was completely shut off from my work life,” Dawal said of her first leave. “I had no idea what happened in my position for the next year.”
Women who want to take leave should have the opportunity to stay engaged in their position and career, Dawal says. “Just because I have a baby doesn’t mean I’m now off-limits. I know what’s best for me, so please trust that.”