Canadian Underwriter

Yvonne Steiner, Zurich Canada

March 9, 2022   by Brooke Smith

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Yvonne Steiner, Head of Property, Zurich Canada

While at university, Yvonne Steiner was looking for work as a student. “I had an opportunity to work for part of a company with an insurance division,” she says. Steiner wanted to challenge herself with the skills she was learning in her study of international relations: diplomacy, trade, economy. “I surprised myself by forcing discomfort.”

That discomfort has helped her navigate parallel and vertical moves throughout her career. “I’ve always been attracted to challenging roles and open to international moves — that has helped a lot,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot more about who I am, my own culture, how I associate myself with others, and how people receive information.”

She also received important advice from a colleague early in her career: “See as much as you can, early in your career, and put your hand up for as much as possible.”

Of course, no career is without its challenges. Steiner says the workplace is competitive and people can get emotional. “I had a great female mentor who said, ‘Are you going to be passionate or are you going to be emotional?’ “Passion comes from facts, and I’ve held to that. Emotion isn’t a bad word; it’s how you channel it.”

Along with channelling her emotions, she has also had to shirk off being concerned about what others think or how she’s perceived. “Being authentic to who you are, being true to yourself,” she says. “There are a lot of women, people who identify as female, who think that that means a certain context of how they dress, how they appear, how they present themselves. You have to be who you are first; the rest is secondary.”

As for the P&C industry itself, Steiner doesn’t see so much an issue with gender as with  unconscious bias — those social or cultural expectations we place on somebody because they look a certain way or they’re at a particular stage in their life. “We need to get to that place where we actually recognize this and stop ourselves in that moment.”

And though most organizations have a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy, people need to make themselves accountable to it, she says. “The key thing is the belonging piece. None of this matters unless people can see themselves and can identify spiritually, emotionally, physically with people that are around them or that are in more senior positions,” she says. “That’s critical to the success of these initiatives.”

As for how the industry can help women attain more senior roles, Steiner says “the responsibility’s a collective one. Anybody in an executive role needs to encourage people to continue gaining exposure. When you see talented people, give them the opportunity. No one is ready. It’s about tapping people on the shoulder and saying, ‘I’m thinking about you for this role. What do you think?’ And then keeping yourself accountable to delivering the opportunity.”

And avoid stereotypes. “Don’t assume somebody doesn’t want more responsibility because they have young children or they’re a supporting spouse,” she says. “You have to be intentional about it and ask.”