March 8, 2021 by David Gambrill
Kristen Gill, Head of Personal Insurance, Aviva Canada
If more women are to become P&C insurance industry executives, the industry should actively recruit young women in the early stages of their career planning and development, says Kristen Gill, head of personal insurance at Aviva Canada.
Gill’s early start in Canada’s P&C insurance industry is a prime example.
“I was one of those rare people who actually intended to get into the insurance industry,” Gill told Canadian Underwriter recently about her path into the business. “When I was in high school and elementary school, I was really interested in science and I was looking for a career that had something to do with math. At first, I couldn’t really think of something because back then — this was in the late ‘90s — the traditional options were that I could be a dentist, I could be a doctor, I could be an accountant.
“I was from a smaller town [Cornwall, Ont.], and no one really talked about the insurance industry. I just so happened to [know] somebody who was an insurance broker, and he said, ‘Hey, did you ever hear about this thing called an actuary? It might just be right up your alley.’
“And so, I researched it. I found that over the past 20 years or so, the actuary has been rated a good job in terms of job satisfaction. It involves math, stats, and you make business decisions. So, I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’ And so, I signed up for actuarial sciences and computer science at the University of Western Ontario [in London, Ont.], and that was the beginning.”
When Gill first entered the industry, she aspired to a managerial role, but she said she didn’t think far enough in advance to imagine herself as a senior executive. But after her first 10 years of working with an insurance company, and at a time when she was in a middle manager’s role, another friend and mentor in the P&C industry reached out to her with a golden opportunity.
“He just reached out to me and said, ‘I’ve heard of this great job. It’s at Aviva. It’s a VP-level position. I think you would be excellent at it. I think it would be right up your alley, doing insurance pricing, but also some product work, so there would be a little bit more variety.’ I thought, ‘This sounds fascinating.’ That’s how I heard about it and so I applied.”
It’s been about 10 years since then, and now Gill is head of personal insurance at Aviva Canada. She first joined Aviva as vice president of personal lines, pricing and product. Her role has since “morphed” over the years, as she puts it, although she has always remained on the personal lines side. She’s been highly involved in underwriting and “underwriting enablement,” meaning she is looking after the company’s personal insurance rating engines, alongside head office underwriting and a small risk team.
At all stages of her career development, Gill said she has benefited from solid mentorship, both from women and from men. But she is clearly inspired by women she has seen blaze trails before her.
“I can think of one woman in particular as an early mentor,” Gill said. “She was a very senior individual. I thought, ‘Wow, she is really inspiring.’ She had a commanding presence. She always knew her stuff. She was always strategic, authoritative, but also kind and warm.
“She took me on in a mentorship relationship. She showed me the person behind the executive and that made me think, ‘Oh yeah, I could do that, too.’ There’s the portrait of the executive, but then there’s a real person behind that as well.”
There’s something about having more female role models, Gill said.
“The more women you can aspire to become, the more you can see yourself in that role, the more that will help to continue the tide toward change. I do think that formal mentorship, coaching, leadership development, and career planning is very helpful,” said Gill, who has mentored several industry leaders over the years, both men and women.