12 June 2018Analysis

Empowering women in captives – the challenges and the opportunity

Despite the success of women in many aspects of corporate life, they remain under represented in leadership roles including in the risk transfer industry and while much has improved, there is still a long way to go.

That was the topic of discussion in a Monday afternoon panel at the annual  Bermuda Captive Conference, which is taking place at the Fairmont Southampton Hotel on Bermuda this week.

The session, called Women in the Captive Industry: Empowering Industry Awareness, was chaired by Dawn Simons, executive vice president, Aon. The panelists comprised of: Stacy Apter, assistant treasurer, the Coca Cola Company; Sophia Greaves, director, Conyers Dill & Pearman; and Laurie Forkas, senior assistant general counsel, Marsh & McLennan Companies.

Simons outlined some of the deeper issues including how social and cultural factors can impact the likelihood of individuals becoming successful leaders. With this in mind, she asked the panelists to comment on any factors in their background that have helped them succeed.

Greaves said she was brought up to have a very strong sense of self-worth, something she sees as very important in a world where women are still objectified. She acknowledged there remain significant gaps in the representation of women in the industry and said that, in her opinion, the focus should not always be on identifying specific under-represented groups, though this is important, but rather ensuring each individual can fulfil their potential.

“One of the obstacles can be the pressure of having to fit a certain mold,” she said. “That can be hugely defeatist in many ways because, even if you are a woman being encouraged, it is somewhat conformist and may not fit who you actually are. People need to be able to pursue their passions and unique skills, whatever they may be and whoever they are.”

Apter said she was brought up in a way in which she felt free to pursue her passions – something she sees as important in a childhood. “I wanted to do math and that was fine in my household. It never occurred to be that was unusual for a woman in my household,” she said.

Forkas agreed that she had a very balanced upbringing; her mother was a social activist and her father treated everyone with dignity and respect. She also summed up the scale of the gender gap in the world, pointing out that according to the World Economic Forum, based on analysis of the gender gap in 2017 globally, it will take 217 years to achieve gender parity. “There is a long way to go,” she said.

Apter discussed the importance of companies allowing flexible working. She said she was lucky enough to benefit from this early in her career and once she arrived at Coca Cola. “It was unusual then but times have changed and this can make a big difference to helping individuals achieve their potential within companies. Plus, technology helps and that really helps as well,” she said.

The panel also discussed the importance of mentorship within companies and all acknowledged that real changed must come from a true change in the mentality of companies’ leadership teams – as opposed to it being a tick-box exercise.