March 10, 2023 by Alyssa DiSabatino
Natasha Mascarenhas, VP Talent and Learning, Aviva Canada
Although she had a background working in financial services, Natasha Mascarenhas didn’t set out to work in the insurance industry. Rather, insurance picked her, she reflected.
After being approached by someone about an opening at Aviva, she landed the role. One of her first tasks as Aviva’s vice president of talent and learning was to create a robust succession plan for the company.
Building those succession pipelines, she said, “has led to us tripling our female successors on our succession plan, and quadrupling our visible minorities for future leadership positions. And that’s just because it was all about focusing on how we can make a difference in succession.”
Given her experience in HR and talent development, she was aware a lack of representation can be a barrier preventing workplace progression for women and other diverse talent.
“If you don’t see people like you in those rooms, it can create feelings of self-doubt — that imposter syndrome,” she said. “As leaders, we need to do a better job of allowing women or anyone, for that matter, to feel open and encouraged to be able to speak up and challenge.”
Getting talent through the door is one thing, but establishing a system of support and encouragement is a whole other ball game. Companies can facilitate this by developing programs specifically designed to bring women and diverse talent into the pipeline.
“What we’ve tried to do is create co-op and specific STEM programs for women and diverse talent, so they can start coming into the insurance industry earlier.”
Prudent, she said, since potential recruits don’t always view the industry as an exciting place to work.
“We have to start selling the insurance [industry] to people earlier so they can actually see the excitement that insurance can drive,” she said. “It’s not just the policy plan you get, [but] insurance makes a difference in people’s lives. We need to be able to sell that better.
“Once we get them in the door, we can show them…what their career can give them. Then it’s about creating those programs and helping them to further their career growth.”
Making space for women who are already in the workplace (through women in leadership or top talent development programs) can also be a step toward removing the representation barrier.
Mentorship is also key to this, and has been critical in her own career, Mascarenhas said.
“I’ve had the privilege of having mentors, both internally in an industry, and externally. I think they definitely made a difference because they ground you. They help you to see what difference you can make,” she said.
Mentors may have already encountered the problem an individual is facing and can provide valuable steps for overcoming those barriers.
“I think they play a huge part in really helping people see not just what’s holding them back, but also, how what they’ve done in the past could lead to [solutions that] can be done in the future. I think having a trusted ally in a mentor is very important in anyone’s career.”