March 9, 2021 by David Gambrill
Natalie Higgins, Senior Vice President, Atlantic Canada, Intact Insurance
Creating a corporate environment that supports women in taking chances with their career is near and dear to the heart of Natalie Higgins, senior vice president of Atlantic Canada for Intact Insurance.
Higgins’ 17-year career in property and casualty insurance has taken many twists and turns since she started with the company in 2004. She credits many women and men at the company who gave her a chance when her resume may not necessarily have checked off all of the traditional boxes.
“When I joined the company, I actually joined in human resources,” said Higgins, who has spent her entire 17-year insurance career at Intact. “I came in as a human resources consultant with the intent to build an expertise in Atlantic Canada that wasn’t previously there.
“And I very quickly started to admire the operational side of the business and a lot of the things that were happening there. It was very fortunate that I had the support of many leaders in the organization who gave me access to be able to participate in business meetings, attend broker events and broker meetings, so I could learn and expose myself to that side of the business.”
After six years with the company, in June 2010, she made the switch from HR to the operations side of the business. “This was one of those times that I was fortunate that I was working for a business that was willing to take a risk with me, to try something completely outside of my wheelhouse, and give me space to grow,” Higgins said.
From there, she has made her mark in various different roles within the organization — from working with underwriting teams, to corporate development (mergers and acquisitions), to corporate communications and public relations. Today, she wears the hat of senior vice president for the teams in Atlantic Canada.
Given her background in HR, Higgins is keenly aware of the importance of having policies and procedures in place to encourage diversity within an organization. It’s also important to provide a flexible workplace that allows women to enjoy the same type of career moves that she has made, regardless of their situations at home.
“Starting out with families can certainly create some early-day challenges for individuals who are aspiring to build their career,” Higgins said. “That said, I do think there are ways to overcome that by creating supportive policies, and making sure that we have the proper mechanisms in place that support work-home balance.”
The pandemic has highlighted the need to support families working from home, as Higgins points out. Canadian families have been working from home to avoid the spread of COVID-19 while juggling care-giving responsibilities, home-schooling, and taking care of the kids at home.
“These are tremendous demands,” said Higgins, “and I think we have seen some people as a result taking the decision to temporarily try and take a step back from their career and their development. I think there is still opportunity for us to do more to support them with those challenges.”
Another key factor in promoting women into senior executive roles involves giving women access and exposure to the inner workings of the organization, Higgins said.
“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity around exposure, getting access, getting a seat at the table, getting that opportunity to be heard,” she said. “I think mentorship has a critical role to play. As leaders, we need to create that opportunity for up-and-coming female leaders to be able to add a voice, to get that seat at the table, and as a result a higher degree of exposure.”
The property and casualty insurance industry can do more to promote diversity in the workplace, she said. “We need to create the space for people to add a voice. We have to make sure that [women and under-represented populations] are getting invited when we’re having important discussions or when we’re making important business decisions. Because that brings such tremendous value.”
The benefits of encouraging women to aspire to leadership roles are many, with Higgins listing just a few. “When we look across the organization, as we reach gender equality, we see such tremendous benefits with respect to employee engagement, our operations, our performance, as well as the customer experience,” she said. “Customers want to deal with diverse, inclusive environments that reflect their realities. I think exposure and mentorship are critical to [having more women executives in the industry].”