Recognising experience in all forms is the next challenge for diversity

11 July 2019

Annabelle Thompson

By Annabelle Thompson
Executive Manager, General Insurance Sales & Service

Suncorp New Zealand executive Annabelle Thompson is joining the panel on developing future leaders at the 2019 Women in Insurance Summit. Here she talks about her experience of diversity and inclusion in the work place and the next big challenge of recognising experience in all its forms. 

This July I’ll be joining a panel of insurance industry leaders to talk about developing and retaining more women as future insurance industry leaders. 

Taking part in this event prompted me to reflect on my own experience in the insurance industry to date and what I think the big challenges are when it comes to strengthening our talent pipeline and diversifying the workforce. 

I think it’s a really positive sign for gender diversity that in my experience developing my career at Suncorp, I’ve never felt advantaged or disadvantaged by my gender. We have a big focus at Suncorp on gender diversity and particularly ensuring that we’re taking steps to remove unintentional bias and questioning why candidates might or might not be considered for a role. 

But for me, the bigger challenge I’ve faced in my career has not been sexism – it’s been ageism.

Age the next big challenge for diversity

Unconscious bias against youth isn’t unique to the insurance industry, and in many ways it’s a natural human reaction and an embedded cultural norm to call on someone with years of experience. 

But I think what we need to start doing in the corporate world – and what we are moving towards as a society – is recognising experience in all its forms. 

Tenure in a role or time at an organisation are a great way to develop valuable knowledge and experience. But drawing on your background (your upbringing, education and culture), your experience from past roles, and what you’ve learned from people in your network are all aspects of experience that you can bring to a role. 

I think we’re moving away from looking just at tenure as the only measurement of ‘experience’ when it comes to finding and progressing future leaders, which is really positive because it allows us to attract really interesting and diverse people to our industry – but there is definitely more work to be done. 

At Suncorp we’re doing a lot to bring about discussion on the different types of experience people can bring to their roles. We have a number of ‘Employee Resource Groups’ which bring people together to focus on specific diversity and inclusion topics, and I chair the Suncorp Millennials Cohort. 

Membership to these groups isn’t limited to the diversity focus of those groups - for example, our Women Connect is for both genders to discuss and influence gender equality. 

The Millennials Cohort is open to all ages, but it does focus on issues younger people are typically more interested in - like sustainability and responding to climate change, technology, mental wellbeing and how to live a purpose-led life. 

The insurance industry is a great fit for people who want to contribute to their communities

Having a focus on working on things bigger than just yourself, and playing a role in your community, is something that I see many young professionals relating to and something insurance enables me to do. 

And I also believe that to make products that meet real customer needs, those solutions need to be developed by a diverse group that represent the diverse customer groups in society. These are some key reasons as to why I think focusing on both gender and age diversity is really important and positive for our industry. 

If you haven’t worked in insurance or don’t understand it, you might think it has a pretty bad reputation. But if you do join it, you start to see what it really means and the role it can play in people’s lives.

I have a humanitarian passion and a desire to be there for my community, and if that’s what you’re about then the insurance industry is definitely for you.

To me, what it stands for is that if something goes wrong someone is there for you, things can be replaced or put back together – it’s the reassuring voice at the end of the phone when you have a major life moment or something bad happens that helps put it right again. 

That’s something that makes me feel I’m working for a purpose driven organisation that plays a significant role in keeping our economy going, our communities resilient and most importantly it gives people peace of mind. 

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