March 10, 2021 by Greg Meckbach
Valérie Lavoie, President, Chief Operating Officer, Desjardins General Insurance Group
Family responsibilities and unconscious biases are among factors that can hold women back from advancing into the C-suite, says Valérie Lavoie, a senior executive with Canada’s second-largest P&C insurance carrier.
“Often women are the only ones mostly taking care of the family at home,” said Valérie Lavoie, president and chief operating officer of Desjardins General Insurance Group, which had Canada’s second-largest market share of 9.15% in 2019, according to the 2020 Canadian Underwriter Stats Guide. “They can struggle with their family and professional career.”
Unconscious biases can also prevent women from gaining access to senior leadership roles within the industry, Lavoie said in an interview leading up to International Women’s Day. “We probably have some bias sometimes. We are most likely to hire people who are like us and it’s really probably unconscious bias.”
To help women succeed, the insurance industry should continue to offer flexible work arrangements, Lavoie said in a recent interview. “As an industry, we need to provide mentoring programs for high-potential women to provide them visibility, as well as provide opportunities for them to gain strategic experience.”
The industry also needs to set clear objectives also around diversity and inclusion, added Lavoie.
“The first step is to always be aware of what’s happening. Let’s say we could measure the representativeness of women or members of cultural communities within the organizations and compare it at every level of the organization, at every leadership role within the organization.”
If a gap is discovered, companies can review their hiring processes to both explain and rectify the gap. Key metrics may include the percentage of people within a group who are being considered for a position during the interview phase following the initial review of resumes; and what percentage of people within a group are interviewed.
Lavoie has a degree in biology and actuarial science from Université Laval. After joining Desjardins in 1994, she held several positions in actuarial services and distribution before being appointed to her current role in 2019.
“During my career, honestly, I have had more men than women as bosses,” she said. “They felt that they wanted to support me; at the same time, I think that as women, we need to say loudly what is important for us. We have to know ourselves very well and we have to know what our limits are. We have to have this conversation with our boss, with our colleagues, and put our priorities at the centre of the table.”