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09.03.2020

Happy International Women’s Day from APR!

International Women's DaySunday 8 March marked International Women’s Day, a day which aims to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Despite lots of good work by the IFoA to promote diversity, the actuarial profession still has a reputation for being fairly male-dominated, so to celebrate the day in our own way we asked two of our female staff a few questions to find out a bit more about them and their experiences of being a woman in the actuarial industry.

Sammy – Senior Actuarial Associate

Sammy Ford

What does the International Women’s Day slogan, #EachforEqual mean for you in your work life?

To me it means that we all have a role to play in promoting equality, both in the workplace and outside of it. While I’m doing actuarial work within a client team I try and share knowledge with my colleagues as much as I can. It means that everyone has a full understanding of the background to what we’re working on and can meaningfully contribute to discussions whenever we encounter challenges or changing requirements. I think this helps everyone learn. Of course, it’s then important to make sure that other people’s ideas get heard and they get credit for their contributions.

I also lead the graduate recruitment at APR and this is an area where there is a lot we can do to promote equality. The colleagues I work with in running the recruitment programme are all passionate about ensuring we operate a fair process to find the best candidates regardless of background. As an example, we always ensure that the person doing a candidate’s phone interview doesn’t look at the application beforehand so they go into it with no preconceptions.

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a woman thinking of starting a career as an actuary?

I think it’s the same advice I’d give to anyone! I’d say that it’s technically challenging and the exams in particular are a big commitment. However there can’t be that many jobs where you’re going to get this kind of stretch intellectually in your day-to-day life and I certainly see that as a good thing. I really enjoy sitting down with like-minded colleagues to throw ideas around and hash out a solution to a problem we’re having. If that sounds like something you’d like then it’s well worth considering an actuarial career.

I’ve heard plenty to people suggest that women are generally less self-assured than men and that’s certainly something I have felt about myself in the past. If you’re nervous about the academic demands, I’d say have confidence in yourself. That’s admittedly much easier said than done! However, keep in mind that if you’re even considering an actuarial career than you’re probably already pretty good at maths, you maybe have A-levels or a degree; you’re already accomplished. Take a step back to appreciate that and then build on it.

Is there a female figure that inspires you?

I’m a big horse racing fan so I’m going to go with Bryony Frost, a jump jockey who has broken all kinds of records over the last few years. Racing (jump racing in particular) is very physical and there are so many people who believe that the strength required must mean men will be at a huge advantage. But she so often just goes and beats them all, on equal terms, because she’s that good. Plus she always seems to have an incredibly positive attitude.

Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female actuaries?

I think there’s a stereotype of actuaries in general that they’re really antisocial and geeky, which is at least partially true because we are definitely all nerds. However my experience since I’ve been in the profession is that almost everyone I’ve met or worked with has been friendly and supportive. Plenty of people have been generous with their time to help me learn over the last few years.

In terms of stereotyping from outside the finance and insurance industry, plenty of people have no idea what an actuary is. If they do, they probably just think you’re impressively clever. Hardly any of my friends had heard of an actuary before I became one and some my family still ask me what I do when I see them every Christmas. That probably makes it easier as people don’t have a lot of preconceptions.

How do we attract more women to APR and to a career within an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men?

Interestingly, data from the IFoA suggests that men and women enter the profession in roughly equal numbers but that women leave much earlier in their careers, so perhaps the question should be about how we retain female actuaries. We’re lucky that we work in an industry that typically has pretty good benefit packages that might allow for flexible working, career breaks or supporting women while they are on maternity leave. A few companies have started offering generous parental leave packages to both male and female staff and I really hope that will contribute to everyone having equal opportunities for career advancement. The more that younger female actuaries see women in senior roles, the easier it will be for them to imagine themselves there too, which will hopefully encourage them to stay with the career.

In terms of what we can do at APR, this is a question that has been on our minds a lot recently. We have our most diverse recruitment team ever and we’re reviewing our entire process from start to finish to see where we can make improvements. In fact, that would make a good subject for another website post so watch this space. Regarding gender in particular, we have had an increasingly balanced intake of staff in the last few years and that’s still filtering up through more senior levels of the company. We still have three male partners leading APR so perhaps I should make it an ambition to join them!

Rhianna – Business Manager

Rhianna Hutchins

What does the International Women’s Day slogan, #EachforEqual mean for you in your work life?

For me #EachforEqual means we are all responsible for ensuring that every person has access to opportunities; that access to these opportunities isn’t blocked by gender, sexuality, race, religion or disability. Establishing a platform of equal standing and opportunity is the best way to ensure a creative, innovative and productive work environment where all individuals can openly engage in the business. #EachforEqual states that each of us has a responsibility to take action for equality.

It’s important to me that I challenge stereotypes and call out bias in all parts of my life. Change won’t happen overnight, but we all have our part to play. I’m proud to be a part of a team at APR that is dedicated to reviewing our policies and procedures and making meaningful change. Moving to the UK from a country where universities all hold equal standing in the eyes of employers (New Zealand doesn’t have a grade given upon completion of a bachelor’s degree), it was shock as an outsider to see the class-based system in force. A highlight has been reviewing our recruitment programmes to make sure our recruitment process is fair to all candidates.

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a woman thinking of starting a career as an actuary?

Finding a job in any field after finishing secondary school or university is hard work. It takes a lot of persistence and determination to get to where you want to be. If you’re looking to become an actuary, then it’s going to require commitment. Managing a full-time job while studying for the exams isn’t going to be easy. I think it’s very important to take a moment to appreciate where you have come from. Keep your head up and never think that you aren’t good enough – take control of your career and sit in the driver’s seat. If you ever need a helping hand, then there’s always a support network available to you.

Is there a female figure that inspires you?

I moved to New Zealand from the UK when I was 5 years old and lived there until I graduated university. Since I left New Zealand, the country has been rocked by tragedies.

Following the Christchurch terror attack in 2018, our prime minister, government and local communities showed the world the positive impact of a compassionate response over the acrimonious contempt which has typified other nations’ reactions. Jacinda Ardern, alongside the New Zealand public, unequivocally stood against the terrorist and rejected his notions. Jacinda fights for the importance of inclusivity and equality in society which I believe is an example to all, and perhaps more importantly to current world leaders.

Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female actuaries?

Admittedly, this a harder question to ask as I think there’s plenty of stereotypes still attached to gender in society more widely. Stereotypes have become so ingrained in our culture that they manifest an unconscious bias in each individual’s perspectives. Because of this, it’s important that we all continue to challenge the status quo.

An individual’s capabilities as an actuary are not defined by gender. My understanding is there are more males in this industry, and although this gap is closing, more work is needed. Before coming into this role, I had no idea what an actuary was and many of my colleagues tell me troubles they have explaining what they do to family and friends.  As a more niche profession, the general public’s perception of our industry is informed by our interactions with others and how we present the profession to the public. I believe we could each bring about positive change by presenting the actuarial profession as something open and diverse.

What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Moving to the UK with my partner was scary and also exciting. Packing up our lives to live on the other side of the world where we knew virtually no one was a challenge. I wasn’t prepared for how small things were the same yet so different. Navigating the supermarket, the lingo and public transport was not an easy feat. We put ourselves outside of our comfort zone and tried something different to our friends back home and do not regret it. It hasn’t been without its challenges but what we’ve learnt has developed me as a person. My journey has exposed me to many different cultures, religions and ways of life.

How do we attract more women to APR and to a career within an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men?

At APR we have been focusing on how the company can implement ways to ensure a diverse workplace. Across many industries, males continue to dominate senior leadership roles. It’s important females are recognised and promoted through the ranks. There is a lot of nepotism in society and I believe this is a contributor to the ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents women from reaching these positions. Developing positive change in our workplace could be achieved by implementing more flexible working arrangements, creating a culture that embraces diversity and by making recruitment processes more inclusive. The APR Diversity and Inclusivity team the company has recently set up is an important step towards positive change at APR. This year’s International Women’s Day marks how equality plays an important part in an enabled word.

Cari Wilson

March 2020

Carianne Wilson