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As part of our Women in Finance focus this week, we’re exploring the perceived barrier to progression for women in Financial Services. Today, we’re delighted to publish a Q&A with Karina Lo Dico, qualified Actuary, gaining her insight into this prevalent and current topic.
1. Research would suggest that there has been an increase in the number of women entering the financial services profession. Would you agree? Do you think this is reflective of a wider cultural shift?
It is certainly a pattern that I have seen in the actuarial sector. Among the new graduates, there seems to be no real distinction in terms of gender, and actually a wider range from diverse backgrounds and overseas. From the outside, insurance is not seen as such a male dominated competitive environment as say banking.
2. What obstacles do you think are still preventing women working in insurance or thinking of doing so, from realising their potential?
The answer is still role models! At my previous company, the line to the top was actually all women on the commercial side, but there were very few senior women on the actuarial side. It took a lecture at Institute of Actuaries to find out that there had been a female actuary who was trailblazing in her time and had been the chief actuary at the UK division in the 1970s. There was no corporate story-telling about this, and such corporate story telling provides the sort of inspiration to break down barriers.
3. There is a perception from people outside of Financial Services that career progression opportunities for women in insurance are still obstructed due to attitudes in the workplace – would you agree?
I would not necessarily agree with this. Insurance companies seem to work actively to promote diversity, in my experience. However there are limited senior roles, and while the current generation of senior roles may be dominated by men, this represents the progression of past cohorts of intakes into the profession.
4. Rather than cultural or logistical obstacles, do you think it’s a lack of self-belief and confidence that’s holding women back in a male dominated profession?
Yes, to some extent. There is a reduced support network and few role models. Women and men are quite tribal and so the solution probably lies in breaking down barriers between genders rather than creating further segmentation to encourage women.
5. What three major steps do you feel have been taken to attract women into the insurance profession?
i. On the actuarial side, the strong influx of graduates from a wide range of backgrounds brings a more balanced cohort, as females seem better represented.
ii. Insurance companies score well in in surveys about women and mothers in the workplace.
iii. The use of IT solutions has created the ability to work flexibly when needed. This is particularly important for women with families, where there are opportunities to work flexibly rather than work late.
6. What advice would you give to young women wishing to pursue a career in insurance that are disillusioned by the profession due to its current reputation?
I would advise that the profession has changed significantly over the last twenty years, and will continue to change. The profession offers not only a great intellectual challenge for mathematicians and statisticians, it also requires careful and balanced decision making, taking in a wide range of opinions and numerical analysis. It is an environment where women can thrive across a wide range of skills.
7. Please explain the path you have taken to your current position.
I come from a background where my parents are immigrants and very hard working. They believe strongly in education, a privilege they were not given, and have supported me through my studies and created the eagerness to learn. Having decided to pursue the actuarial exams, I finished them in 2 years and a month, and then had to wait to attain the professional experience (3 years!) to call myself an actuary.
I progressed through an actuarial modelling consultancy, then Ernst & Young, Aviva and Prudential. In the middle of all this, I had five children, and completed an MBA between my first two, as a little intellectual pursuit. At my last role in Prudential, I moved from an actuarial role to a commercial role to a commercial team to gain a wider experience of the P&L of a business unit, the customer and the operational aspects of the business. Finally, an opportunity presented itself to become Chief Actuarial Officer, of Foresters Life, a small and ambitious life office to help them take the next step forward.
8. What interested you in entering the actuarial profession?
It is one of those careers suggested to good mathematicians. An actuary once said to me that a company picks you rather than the other way round. At a younger professional age, it can be difficult to know what you want to do, so I followed his advice to begin with!