Canadian Underwriter

She captured women’s feelings in the workplace with this response

September 16, 2019   by Adam Malik

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From left, moderator Lana Cuthbertson, ATB Financial, Lynn Oldfield, AIG Canada, Sarah Robson, Marsh Canada, Christine Lithgow, Aon Risk Solutions, Yvonne Steiner, Zurich, and Gloria Brosius, RIMS president

Christine Lithgow had one simple response to her employer when they offered her a position that was junior in comparison to the one she left six years prior after the birth of her first child.

“I had to remind them: It was a baby that dropped out of my uterus, not my brain,” the chief executive officer of commercial risk solutions Canada at Aon Risk Solutions told attendees of the RIMS Canada conference in Edmonton, which ran from Sept. 8-11.

Her answer drew rapid applause from the crowd. It was an example of the challenges women face in the workforce, with the insurance industry being no exception.

For Yvonne Steiner, head of property at Zurich, she spent some time in Switzerland. At first, she was the only woman – and North American – in the room. Things changed as more Swiss women came on board but there was something amiss that she couldn’t put her finger on. Her mentor later called it the ‘foreigner forgiveness factor.’

“He said, ‘Well, you’re a North American woman. Your job, your purpose here, is to speak up. We want you to take on the elephant in the room and we expect that you’re going to carry the voice that others won’t,’” Steiner told the audience.

That’s not the way it should be, she thought. The culture needed changing, as well as women’s self-belief that they could speak up. What she was used to back home hadn’t quite made its way across the ocean.

“It was very eye-opening for me that all the things I took for granted – being brought up in Canada, having strong female leaders around me who I could look up to – that maybe there are other places that just don’t have that,” Steiner said.

Lithgow and Steiner were part of the Women in Leadership panel, which included Lynn Oldfield, president and chief executive officer at AIG Canada, Sarah Robson, president and chief executive officer at Marsh Canada, Gloria Brosius, RIMS president, and moderator Lana Cuthbertson from ATB Financial. More than 1,400 people registered for the event.

Cuthbertson asked how much longer such a type of panel would be needed. When can the term ‘women’ be removed?

When Robson looks at the numbers and how few women occupy senior roles in companies, she’s not all that encouraged about the prospect of doing so. She quoted a report from 2018 that showed full time employed women earned 87 cents for every dollar a man earned. It’s a number that is less dismal than, say, a decade ago, but it would still take 217 years to close the global economic gap at the current rate of change, she said.

And while we’re at the height of a curve where issues are being called out, Robson would like to get to the bottom where such issues don’t exist and special panels on women in leadership are not needed anymore.

“So while I would love to say now’s the time to drop the ‘women’ part, I just don’t see that we can do that at this stage. The reality is, we need to call out the discrepancies and the inequalities [and] highlight the successes in order to promote and challenge and change,” Robson said.

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7 Comments » for She captured women’s feelings in the workplace with this response
  1. Frank Cain says:

    I have been long enough in this business to remember that in the early ’50’s, when I began, the only women employed in the office of some 150 employees where either receptionists or part of the typing pool. And the odd thing is, in looking back, these women could easily have replaced any of the men. They were educated and had brilliant minds and on many occasions came to the rescue of the junior underwriters, of which I was one, including senior underwriters, to save our bacon. They knew more about the business than we did, yet their identity in the system of corporate status stalled their becoming more than they were. They could have fulfilled the chair as department managers, or regional senior representatives without even trying.

    As pre-twenty year olds at the time, we didn’t know any better about why this was the dominant make-up of a large general insurance company. We thought we had enough to do about learning the business, and listening, and focusing our attention on the jobs we had to do, all the while this unaccountable disparity was going on all around us. What we did take exception to, or were led to think by those older in our ranks, was why did the president of the company take a separate executive elevator to his office from the one we took. It was all part of what existed then as a “we” and “they” working rule and mentality.

    Luckily for the insurance companies at that time that even soft risk played a minor role in the overall exposures to loss because frequency and colossal dollar outlays were never heard of. Company execs basked in the realization that getting up in the morning to go to work was likely the only depression they would meet that day. And to relate in part to what Christine Lithgow alluded to, one of the most astounding rules of this one company was the Ontario General Manager’s visit to all departments one day to warn all employees that any reference to Regina Saskatchewan was forthwith to be pronounced “Regeena,” and he was emphatic enough to tell us he wasn’t kidding. I guess that tells you more about life in the insurance business in the ’50’s than I could ever relate.

  2. Eric says:

    My wife and I just had our first child in January. Planning on 2 more, at least. She took a year mat leave. I took 2 weeks off. We sat discussing the reality of what her absence did to her business. They took a hit. They can’t replace her. No temp hire would workout. Not only is she out for a year. She was not 100% there for a period prior to giving birth. A pregnant woman in the 3rd trimester is not the same as a non-pregnant woman. She’s going to return to work in January and is already in discussion for reduced work hours and work form home. Of course, we’re not willing to compromise on the money. As we continued this discussion, I point out the obvious difference. I’m now working harder than I did pre-birth. I tell my co-workers I have no choice now. I have a family to feed, clothe, and house. I always had ultimate bargaining power at work, now I have none. I have to take it. My company has me by my figurative ****. ( I hope my boss isn’t reading this). Once the truth was revealed, my wife openly admitted, she would never hire women if she had a choice. My ex-wife said the exact same thing. Honest women all say the same thing.

    To modify my sentence before, a pregnant woman in the 3rd trimester is not the same as a non-pregnant woman is not the same as a single man is not the same as a man with family. It’s not even close actually. Any one who is using reason and not feelings will see the truth. People everywhere are starting to see it. They’re just not saying it.

    • B says:

      Disagree here. Just because YOU are different post child at work doesn’t mean everyone is. It certainly very much depends on ones individual circumstances. Maybe the guy doesn’t pick off and drop off of children. That means not working late. But can he just make the time up or otherwise work more efficiently? Is the company actually losing production?
      As for women, who cares if she is a bit different during pregnancy. We all go through stages in our lives where personal circumstances effect our work. A few months is a drop in the bucket compared to the other life events that have impacts on our work over 40 year careers.

      For me the most important thing we can do to even our career discrepancies between men and women is simple, have men take equal time off. Period. Thus no thought every need be on oh maybe she’s go off on mat leave for a year or few. If men take equal time off well just assumed whatever s younger person may we’ll have kids at some point and they will take some time off. And we’ll deal with it. There is usually a good 6 mk the notice to help with planning.

  3. N says:

    Mat leave is about primary infant care and maternal recovery, the main reasons new mothers are given ample mat leave. This is not about “time off”.
    People who have heart attacks or diseases are given ample disability time for treatment and recovery. The difference here is that the new mom was not ill, and in some respects completing the biological cycle is healthier (e.g. reduced risk of breast cancer).
    I know men who partner in raising families – they now can take their laptops home and go back online after the kids go to bed.
    There is no excuse to underpay or hold back qualified women just because years ago she took mat leave. and yet…that happens.

  4. Alan McNulty says:

    My favourite economist, when a undergrad economics major, was a woman, a contemporary of Keynes, Joan Robinson, who asserted beautifully,one ‘studies economics to avoid being fooled by other economist.’ Women are not underpaid, relative to men, when all variance factors are calculated. Actual wage discrimination, today, is not just intolerable, its illegal. (I remember my mother could not get a bank loan on her own signature, the bank wanted my father on title and mortgage) Are we not in the insurance business? Doesn’t everyone have employment practices legal liability to rectify the alleged discrimination?
    Tom Sowell (black) spent a lifetime studying economic and cultural discrimination domestically and world wide. The two groups, with the highest incomes, were in fact highly discriminated against historically: those of Japanese and Jewish heritage, about 150-160% of the national average We Irish were at 105%. (Many alcoholic policemen) Career women, (spinster) black, were at 110%, long before legislation was introduced in the 60’s-70’s to eliminate their “discrimination.” Blacks from the Caribbean, moving to the US, out-earn American blacks and the national average. ( think Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Gen Colin Powell). If women are actually now discriminated against, on comp, deriving 75%-87% of what men earn, what a fantastic business and economics opportunity! Lets take the enterprise public. The firm has a significant wage advantage. Superior profitability should result in dividends providing better long term compensation for those suffering earlier wage discrimination, elsewhere. The comparison of two companies must be valid. A law firm doing wholly family law, will not, on average, earn as much as one specializing in mergers-acquisitions, or product liability. The first year sociology college grad will not earn what a petroleum engineer commands in the oil patch.
    College grads, of female gender, now earn close to 110% of their male counterparts. This is wage variance. Those promoting the mantra that women are structurally discriminated against, entirely illegal today, and generating a civil-legal risk, must now step up to the intellectual bar and demand that employers stop discriminating against male college grads.

  5. C says:

    I am a woman that has been in the Insurance Industry, Broker side over 36yrs. I’ve seen and been thru a lot. I will never forget the most blatant discrimination over earnings I ever faced as a woman. Back in 1991. I had been managing an Office for a large Brokerage with many offices. I want to point out as well that I am very good at what I do, so those reading this, don’t be thinking well you probably made what you were worth. That wasnt the case at all.

    For example, the first annual budget I prepared I was told, “well this is a little aggressive you will not hit these marks but you will learn and do better next year.” Our profits, every month exceeded that budget I prepared. They were so impressed with me that they even made a point at our Christmas party to point it out publicly to my peers. I was so proud of that moment. They even pointed out that this enabled them to expand faster than they expected. I received a standing ovation. That bubble would soon burst when a few months later I would learn that one of my part time male employees was being hired to work full time by our Company at a significant higher salary than myself. I had encouraged him every step of the way to move into Insurance full time. Even mentored him. He had very limited insurance knowledge, working 1 day a week only doing autoplan, basically keeping his license active. As much as I liked the fellow, finding out that he was now being paid way more than myself upset me and I asked for a meeting with my higher ups to discuss it.. Both men. I asked them directly why and let them know I was really insulted. It was explained to me “you are an asset and he is a liability. In time he will be an asset too.” I responded “exactly, I am an asset now, so why am I being paid less to take on all this responsibility yet you will pay someone more to be trained, someone that will take years to get to my level of expertise?” They just sat there uncomfortably. So I addressed the elephant in the room and responded angrily “well obviously it must be because he has b*lls and I don’t.” They sure didn’t like that much but it was the truth. They had no intention of paying me more. They told me to “take a walk and cool off” I took their advice and came back and gave them my notice and never looked back. I’m glad I left them. There was no way I could ever be happy working for a Company that discriminated against women this way. I hope pay discrimination disappears it has no place in any workplace.

  6. woman says:

    Awesome post! Keep up the great work!

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