The Ardonagh Group Celebrates International Women's Day

08 March 2021

To mark International Women’s Day, we sat down with a few of our female colleagues from across the Ardonagh Group to speak about the challenges they have faced during their working careers and in their personal lives. We’ll share an interview every day this week amplifying female voices and shining a light on the broad spectrum of experience and insight from across the Group.

Our final interview is from Lynsey McCabe, Operations Manager for Geo Sports, Leisure and Entertainment, who reveals how becoming a mother unleashed her inner voice and why women deserve a seat at the table in 2021 – even if they are outnumbered.

 

I haven’t always worked in insurance; I worked for the RSPCA for a while triaging emergency callouts, and spent some time in retail and catering before joining the Broker Support Team here 14 years ago. I actually started out in hospitality after doing work experience at a hotel as a teenager.

At one point my ambition was to be the youngest hotel manager in the UK. Then one day I was working the bar and all the other (male) duty managers got up and went out to play golf and get drunk, and it suddenly hit me that I was never going to be invited, I was never going to be part of their club, and I was never going to get where I wanted to go. So, I went to do something else! I’ve always fought to get where I am, but sometimes there’s no point in banging your head against a brick wall.

Some of the best advice I ever had was from a female manager who told me to pick my battles. Bias in the hotel industry is a big battle. I have experienced discrimination elsewhere too. I think all women have because it’s built in.

With Ardonagh, I once did this great 6 by 6 course that was for future female leaders. I met some brilliant women. We all had very similar stories about not having our voices heard, about the expectations set for us, and the constant guilt as a result.

It’s expected you won’t be able to work as hard or as long, that you won’t be as ambitious, or you will be the one taking time off for the sick kids. That seeps into attitudes and promotions and pay scales – even when people don’t mean it to.

If you’re a woman, there is the expectation you’ll be a homemaker. Even in really equal households it’s still more likely to be the woman doing all the hidden work and family admin, keeping up with the ‘mums WhatsApp’, the home schooling, the washing, what needs to go on the shopping list… On top of their work!

The reality for many is they’re effectively working two jobs, and constantly feeling either the ‘mum guilt’ for not being on hand 24/7, or the ‘work guilt’ for not being on call 24/7.

I’ve got a son and a daughter. I’m really glad they see me working so hard because you don’t get given anything on a plate in this life. I want them to know that you can get where you want to go if you put in that effort. I want my daughter especially to know that anything is possible.

She’s recently been the only girl at school in a class full of boys. That’s where I’ve been for most of my career, so I could tell her to just be herself and to find the common ground. Now she’s pretty much the leader of the pack! That’s what I want for her – that confidence I didn’t always have.

I have challenged gender bias though – I’ve told the Executive men at an exhibition stand that it’s not my job to go and get their coffees! I really found my voice after having my children, because you don’t have time to mess around. I suppose they inspired me to just be the best I can be for the people around me – and not worry about what other people think of me.

I think women have to learn to multi-task, and as a result they can have that umbrella view on things. I also think they bring empathy. However, I’m sick of being told that women are emotional and men are passionate!

I’ve actually been told that I’d have got further if I wasn’t so emotional, or if I wasn’t so direct – if I tried to be more ‘political’. Women are always told they’re too much or too little of things. For me, I don’t see either as a weakness. I build really good relationships with people, I tell it straight – and both make me good at my job.

What does International Women’s Day mean to me? It means we still have to have a ‘day’ for this, which is a bit frustrating in 2021! However I do think things are changing. I’m not the only woman in a room anymore. The industry is increasingly embracing women and looking to promote them, we’ve just got a bit further to go.

I want women to have confidence in who they are and what they bring. Just because you’re outnumbered doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong place. You bring something different to the table, and that’s going to make your team and your organisation better. 

You can read more of our interviews to mark International Women's Day below:

 

Alexa Owen Network Sales Executive at Broker Network and Compass

My role as Network Sales Executive means I’m working to get under the skin of brokers and to show them how becoming a member of either Broker Network or Compass Networks could help them.

What’s it like being a woman in insurance? Well, I still hate that we ask that question, but I suppose we do still have to ask it, because that inequality is still there.

I used to think women could only get as far as Team Leaders – usually in personal lines. Now across our Networks, across the Ardonagh Group and across the industry there are some amazing women like Sian Fisher, CEO of the CII and our own Jamie Swindle in leading, senior roles. One day I’d like to be one of them.

Women bring a different perspective to the industry. We often have different experiences, and as a result different reactions and different approaches. You need that blend to have the most effective team. My boss often says that I secure members that he couldn’t have brought on board, and vice versa.

I think women are often empathetic, and sympathetic, which in a business that thrives on relationships is crucial.

Reflecting back on my career, I’m sad to say that I have had to deal with discrimination at times, comments on what I’m wearing, how I look, what I’m not capable of or even just not listening to my point of view.

Challenging discrimination of any type is crucial, when I was younger and just starting out I didn’t challenge as I didn’t know how to. It’s only as I’ve got older I’ve gained the confidence to do so and it’s important that we continue to do so for ourselves and others.

The best advice I’ve ever been given, is you don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room to be heard. The best advice I could give other women in insurance would be that being strong and standing up for yourself is important. But one of the very strongest things you can do is to be vulnerable.

I used to think you had to be tough to get on, or that you had to fit in but what’s most important is just being yourself, knowing your own worth, and not being afraid to bring yourself and your skills to the table. That’s taken me a long time to learn.

What am I proudest of in my career? There are a few things, firstly having left school at 18 with A level grades that weren’t fantastic, I’m really proud to have become a Chartered Insurance Broker! It proves I’m good at what I do and shows a commitment to a career I actually chose.

I’m also proud of my work here at the Networks as a Wellbeing Champion. In that role I’ve helped lots of people. Sometimes it’s a general chat about how they’re feeling, other times it can be about something really specific they’re facing. It’s a challenging part of my role but really rewarding as well. It was important for me to open up to colleagues about my own challenges with mental health. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety, and I still struggle with crowds. Despite having a big mouth occasionally, I’m actually painfully shy.

I’ve brought some of that to life in the LinkedIn videos I’ve started in lockdown, and somehow that’s boosted my confidence even further. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I post about work. Fridays is about me. What I think. My top five rants, peeves, films – whatever is on my mind. And surprisingly I’ve been told it’s really helped other people, too.

 

Tasneem Lulat, Head of Risk Management at Atlanta 

Before my foray into insurance, I actually started out doing a degree in bio medical science. I was all set to do a Masters in Immunology when I realised I didn’t actually have any money and didn’t want to accrue anymore student debt! So a friend got me a ‘temporary’ job in a call centre. I was working in fraud and found I loved it. That led me into risk... and that led me here.

I’ve been really lucky to have some wonderful mentors along the way – including a brilliant woman who first saw something in me, and helped me understand the career pathway risk could open up. I have always been really driven, and she ignited a new spark in me that drove me in this direction.

Since then I’ve had several wonderful female bosses, and a male mentor who was very aware of the challenges I’d face as an Asian Muslim Woman in financial services. We were very much opposite personalities, styles and perspectives, but he helped me find the strength in that and opened my eyes to new ways of doing things that weren’t my way.

I’ve been very lucky at work, but discrimination is still built in. What I’ve experienced has been systemic rather than personal.

Evidence shows there is a real lack of women, and a lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation at Board level across all companies. Historically, the systems in place mean the odds are stacked against you if you’re female, or if you’re black, or from a minority ethnic community. It IS changing and I feel really positive about the change, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

I’ve personally experienced racism throughout my life and I think #Choosetochallenge is such a strong theme for this year’s International Women’s Day.

It is a hard line to tread. Often you are encouraged or expected to laugh at subtle discrimination, to accept it as banter, to normalise it. Not to make a fuss. But we need to challenge it when we can, or it will just never get any better.

In many ways I feel like I’m challenging things by just being me - challenging what people think a Muslim woman is like by having a job, and opinions, and a good laugh, by being good at what I do and working my way up the career ladder.

I feel like I have a responsibility to be that young, Asian, Muslim, female face in leadership that I don’t often see, so that other people can see it and know it’s achievable. I think the support and encouragement available at Atlanta will allow me to achieve that goal.

 

Brandy Rowbotham, Personal Assistant for the Energy Team at Price Forbes

My role here at Price Forbes is funnily enough only my second job! I got a summer job after college more years ago than I care to remember, and never really left.

I loved being in administration from the start, and I was in my first job for 19.5 years, and then moved to Price Forbes, and I’ve been doing this job for 10.5 years. If you find something you really like doing you should keep on doing it!

The best thing about my job is the people. I talk to all sorts of different people all day long, from the Execs to suppliers, clients, travel agents, all sorts.

I’m definitely not backwards in coming forwards! I’m a South East London girl through and through and I’m exactly the same with everyone, and that’s turned out to be a real strength.

I think knowing who you are and being true to it are really important in every area of your life, including at work.

Obviously to be a successful EA or PA you need to be really organised, but I think the main thing is that you do need to be a really good communicator. And when you work across a team like I do you’ve really got to get to know them and know how to bring people together.

If I had to describe myself in one word, I’d say persuasive. Others might say bossy, but what they mean is persuasive. And people usually thank me for it.

The proudest project of my career is the Price Forbes Energy Training Course we usually run every year. It’s great fun getting the venue, speakers and all delegates from across the globe together for what’s a really well-received and highly thought of five day conference.

It’s a complex project with so many moving parts – from the daily seminars on specialist aspects of insurance, to tours of the famous Lloyd’s of London building as well as an evening of entertainment. The results of the event are always phenomenal, and people really view it as a powerful networking and development tool.

Managing something so complex and which makes such a deep impact is incredibly rewarding – I really missed doing it last year and hope that we will be able to run it again soon.

One thing I did do in 2020 that I’m proud of is co-ordinating the team to do a fitness week to raise money for Go Green Day, the Group’s annual charitable fundraising event. It was inspired by a friend of my daughter who we lost to suicide in May.

When you do care about people and you can’t help them, I think you can feel very helpless, and I don’t like to feel helpless. So, I reached out to the team and asked if they’d help me do something active and raise some money for MIND. The response was brilliant.

Those of us taking part counted up our steps or miles on a bike, and those that couldn’t take part sponsored us to do it. It was a great team-building exercise all round, and I couldn’t believe it when we raised £1,620!

I’m trying to keep up with the exercise, but it’s difficult to fit it in at the moment. Like so many others – and particularly other women – I’m working from home and home schooling my 13-year-old at the same time, and let’s just say the novelty has well and truly worn off! I’m also doing a lot of stuff for my parents who are still shielding.

That is definitely something that’s affecting women in the workplace. Our team is 38 strong and those sorts of caring responsibilities – for whatever reason – do fall more on the women than on the men. In my house it’s because my husband works nights, so he’s going to bed as we’re getting up to start the day.

The fact is that despite what everyone says about women and multitasking you actually can’t do everything, however organised you are. And I’m very organised.

 

Celine Greene, Managing Director at Capital Insurance Markets

I’ve been Managing Director at Capital Insurance Markets since August 2020. We’re a wholesale broker attached to Arachas. As part of my role on the Executive team I sponsor the Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) programme in Ireland.

I wanted to be a maths teacher originally, but I got a job at an insurance firm while I was waiting for my exam results and I was there for 30 years.

To start off with, I was doing all the donkey work – filing, making tea and fetching things for the boss. It was when I looked at the BDMs travelling around meeting brokers I thought, “I want to be doing that job”. So, I made it happen.

It feels good looking back on how far I’ve come, but the first 20 years were hard going! I have loved the journey and I’ve always worked hard, but in that time I felt I had to work twice as hard as male colleagues to get the promotions.

I remember being told once that I wasn’t going to get the promotion I went for as it involved working with Lloyds of London and the view was they preferred working with men. They were planning to give the job to my male counterpart, but I’d really be doing the work. I wasn’t having that – I went on to have a very large successful scheme with different Lloyd’s syndicates for 20 years.

Things were different then. I used to attend big insurance seminars, with 200 men and five women in a room. I’d study up on football facts – which I had zero intertest in – so I’d be able to barge my way into conversations that weren’t about what I was wearing.

Nowadays I’ve the confidence to talk about whatever I want and be myself – without having to go up to my room every hour to get a pep talk!

It’s a hard ladder to climb, and I’ve coped with it by developing a tough skin; something I still have. As a result people sometimes think I’m hard. I’m actually a softie, but I’ve had to learn not to take any nonsense.

I’ve also learned that sometimes people think of professional ambition more negatively if you’re a woman. I’ve had people tell me I’m a ‘weekend mum’ because I work long hours during the week. I only took 8 weeks off when I had both my babies, and people also look at that badly. I don’t regret it and I have a great relationship with my kids, but if I hadn’t been afraid my job wouldn’t be there when I got back I probably would have taken longer.

As it is, my now ex-husband was a house husband. If he hadn’t have taken on that role there’s no way I could have had the career I have, and I am really grateful for that support.

It’s great that nowadays we encourage and support those going on maternity leave.

Now we need to support women to come back to work and pick up where they left off. Too many middle manager women stay at that level after their babies because they’re not supported, and that means we’re halving the talent pool rising to leadership levels. As part of our I&D programme in Arachas we have introduced support systems for all colleagues as they go through different stages in life.

I’d want other women coming into insurance now to know that I didn’t sail through to being an MD without a lot of hurdles! I don’t want other women to do it my way and go through what I went through.

There are always going to be hurdles. And ultimately, it’s up to you to find your way over, under, around, or through them – whatever works. But it’s also up to us to make the track a little less challenging and at Arachas we are addressing this in our I&D programme which is fully supported by both our CEO Conor Brennan and the Executive team.

I was diagnosed with MS after my daughter was born. I was told not to tell anyone because I’d never get promoted again. But like always, I didn’t do what I was told – and I have always received great support.

There was a time when I would have been afraid to show any weakness, but now I think that being human and showing your humanity is a strength.

I invest a lot of time in developing key relationships, and I’m good at making decisions, which makes me good at my job. I was head of the household at 18 so I had to learn, and learn quickly. There’s very rarely a decision so bad it can’t be fixed – and learned from. Getting things done is absolutely key to getting on.

I think women have great instincts and great empathy, and those are really important skills for this industry. Our emotions can be a superpower, because they make us passionate, and they make us relatable.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given or could ever give would be: Go with your gut. Make use of all the support and mentoring offered. And don’t let anything get in your way if you want to do something.