March 10, 2021 by Adam Malik
Selena Fredericks, Chief Operating Officer, Nomadic Specialty Underwriting
She was 25 years old and fresh in the insurance industry when an inappropriate conversation took place with a male peer at an industry conference.
Selena Fredericks remembers that day well. She also considers herself blessed that she has been able to find the confidence within herself to ward off such comments and speak out to such a person directly. But the chief operating officer of Nomadic Specialty Underwriting knows she’s one of the few.
“There are women who are not so secure. There are women who think they’re going to lose their jobs. They’re thinking, ‘He’s the CEO of a company. I’m just a co-ordinator. If I say something, then they’ll fire me for causing problems,’” she told Canadian Underwriter.
Still, she admits that she didn’t say anything to the male colleague in the moment; to this day, she wouldn’t name that person or the others who have done similar things. “I didn’t even tell anyone right away,” Fredericks said. “And it’s like you feel you did something wrong. But that’s not the case.”
Having been in the industry for a dozen years, she finds young women are now coming to her to ask for advice. “Our industry still has some serious #MeToo issues,” she said, referring to the social movement that highlighted sexual abuse and harassment, often by high-profile and high-ranking people. “I was at an event when a younger female came to me to say, ‘You’ve been in the industry for so long. What do you think I should do? This is what happened to me. My boss will never understand.’”
The story provides an example of how uncomfortable women can feel about going to their own management or human resources department to talk about the issue.
“Management and HR departments within organizations need to be aware,” Fredericks said. “There needs to be some sort of safe place for women to go and say, ‘Hey, this is what happened.’”
Before the pandemic, the insurance industry hosted many evening events, especially after conferences. That’s where women are experiencing such uncomfortable and inappropriate moments. For some, they stop attending such events. The result is many negative cascading effects for the industry.
“What happens is two things — you have these young, bright females who can become leaders one day and they’re leaving the industry because they don’t want to be in that position anymore and it’s turned them off,” Fredericks explained. “Or, you have it where they say, ‘I don’t want to be going to any of those events anymore. I don’t want to do the conference circuit or the tradeshow circuit.’
“And so they’re turning down some really great career-building opportunities all because of the #MeToo-esque behaviours that still exist, unfortunately, in our industry.”
The situation is even more challenging when the inappropriate comments are made by people who work at different companies. Those who are subjected to the comments can’t go to their own HR or to the HR department of another company to complain. “So there’s no actual recourse,” Fredericks said.
Fredericks doesn’t know the best way to change such behaviour, but she said calling it out may be the first step towards stopping it.
“The companies need to look at it in a way so that if someone reports it, it’s not causing a problem. It’s speaking out,” she added. “We need to flip how we’re looking at it.”
Another area that needs help is representation, according to Fredericks. “Hiring practices at the executive level positions, as well as representation on boards of our industry, is where there’s a lack of women,” she said. “[And], I think, there’s a lack of females of visible minorities. We need to recognize that in the industry and all work together to do a better job of being inclusive.”